Restrictions on Contributed Assets Explained

Restrictions on contributed assets in a nonprofit organization refer to limitations or conditions placed on the use or disposition of assets that have been donated to the organization. These restrictions are often specified by the donors themselves, and they dictate how the nonprofit can use or allocate the donated assets. Understanding and accounting for these restrictions is crucial for nonprofits to properly report their financial activities and ensure compliance with donor wishes.

There are two main types of restrictions on contributed assets in a nonprofit organization:

  1. Purpose Restrictions: These restrictions specify the intended use of the donated assets. Donors may want their contributions to be used for a particular program, project, or activity within the organization. For example, a donor might give money to a nonprofit to fund a scholarship program for underprivileged students, or they might donate assets to be used exclusively for building a new community center. These restrictions ensure that the organization uses the donated resources in alignment with the donor’s intentions.
  2. Time Restrictions: Time restrictions pertain to when the donated assets can be used or spent by the nonprofit. Some donors may specify that their contributions must be used within a certain time frame or for a particular period. For instance, a donor might give a grant to a nonprofit with the condition that the funds must be spent within the next two years. This prevents the nonprofit from holding onto the assets indefinitely without using them for their intended purpose.

It’s important for nonprofits to properly account for restricted contributed assets in their financial statements. Generally accepted accounting principles (GAAP) and nonprofit accounting standards provide guidance on how to handle these restrictions:

  1. Unrestricted Net Assets: Donations without any specific restrictions are typically classified as unrestricted net assets. These funds can be used by the nonprofit for any purpose deemed necessary by the organization’s management.
  2. Temporarily Restricted Net Assets: When a donation comes with time or purpose restrictions, the nonprofit records the funds as temporarily restricted net assets. These restrictions are typically released as the specified conditions are met. For example, if a donation is intended for a specific project that will be completed within two years, the restriction is lifted once the project is finished, and the funds become unrestricted.
  3. Permanently Restricted Net Assets: Some donations come with permanent restrictions that stipulate the funds must be invested to generate income, and only the income can be used for specific purposes. The principal amount of these donations remains intact in perpetuity.

Properly tracking and reporting on restricted contributed assets is essential for nonprofit organizations to maintain transparency with donors, adhere to legal and regulatory requirements, and demonstrate accountability in using donated resources. Nonprofits should maintain clear records of the nature and terms of the restrictions, as well as any releases of restrictions, to ensure accurate financial reporting and effective stewardship of donor contributions.

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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