New Assets: Initial Recognition of Fixed Assets for Nonprofits

In a nonprofit organization, the initial recognition of fixed assets refers to the process of accounting for and recording the acquisition or creation of tangible assets that are intended for long-term use in the organization’s operations and not for resale. Fixed assets, also known as property, plant, and equipment (PP&E), include items like land, buildings, machinery, equipment, vehicles, and furniture. The initial recognition of fixed assets is an important accounting process that involves several steps to properly document and value these assets on the organization’s financial statements.

Here’s a breakdown of the steps involved in the initial recognition of fixed assets in a nonprofit organization:

  1. Identification and Classification: Nonprofit organizations first need to identify the assets that meet the criteria for classification as fixed assets. These assets must have a useful life exceeding one year and be used in the organization’s activities, rather than held for resale. Each asset should be classified based on its nature, such as land, buildings, equipment, etc.
  2. Measurement: Fixed assets need to be measured at their cost of acquisition or production. Cost includes all expenditures that are directly attributable to acquiring, constructing, or producing the asset. This could include purchase price, legal fees, transportation costs, installation expenses, and any other costs necessary to get the asset ready for use. If the asset is acquired through a donation, its fair market value at the time of donation should be recorded as the cost.
  3. Capitalization: Once the cost of the fixed asset is determined, it is capitalized on the organization’s balance sheet. This means the asset’s value is added to the appropriate asset category account (e.g., “Buildings,” “Equipment,” etc.) on the balance sheet. This capitalization process typically involves creating a new account for the specific asset or updating the balance of an existing account.
  4. Depreciation: Fixed assets, except for land (as it is assumed to have an indefinite useful life), gradually lose their value over time due to wear and tear, obsolescence, and other factors. To reflect this decrease in value, nonprofits apply depreciation to their fixed assets. Depreciation is the systematic allocation of the asset’s cost over its estimated useful life. Various methods can be used to calculate depreciation, such as straight-line, declining balance, and units-of-production.
  5. Amortization and Impairment: In addition to depreciation, if the nonprofit organization has intangible fixed assets (e.g., patents, copyrights, goodwill), they might need to be amortized over their useful life or assessed for impairment if their value declines below their carrying amount.
  6. Financial Statement Presentation: The initial recognition and subsequent accounting for fixed assets are recorded in the nonprofit organization’s financial statements. The initial costs, subsequent depreciation or amortization, and any impairment losses are disclosed in the balance sheet and the notes to the financial statements. The fixed assets’ carrying amount (original cost minus accumulated depreciation or amortization) is also presented on the balance sheet.

It’s important for nonprofit organizations to follow generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) or other relevant accounting standards specific to their region (such as the Financial Accounting Standards Board, or FASB, in the United States) when recognizing and accounting for fixed assets. Properly recording fixed assets ensures accurate financial reporting and helps stakeholders understand the organization’s financial position, performance, and asset management practices.

Caroline Grimm

Caroline Grimm is an accounting educator and a small business enthusiast. She holds Masters and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration. She is the author of 13 books and the creator of Accounting How To YouTube channel and blog. For more information visit:

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