Financial tips for nonprofits with Momentum Counselling
Dive into the different banking needs for nonprofits and advice to set your organization up for success.
By ATB Financial 28 November 2023 7 min read
The need for the support of nonprofit organizations is at an all time high across the country, while giving hit an all time low.
In a 2022 Ipsos poll, 22 per cent of Canadians reported plans to access some form of charitable services to make ends meet—an increase from 14 per cent just 10 months earlier. Canada Helps’ The Giving Report 2023 discovered that the overall percentage of people who donated to charities dropped to 28 per cent from 36 per cent between 2010 and 2022 among individual households.
With the critical conditions for Albertans in need and the organizations that support them, it’s never been more crucial for nonprofits to hone in on their financial operations so they can focus on what they do best. Thankfully, there is support in our province for those who have done so much to support others. Here’s Momentum Counselling’s experience.
Mental health accessibility for all Albertans
Like many nonprofits in their early stages, Momentum Counselling’s co-founders used their personal funds alongside a small group of passionate partners and funders to launch the organization in 2012. As a mental health counselling agency, Momentum supports clients ages 12 and older province-wide who wouldn’t be able to access conventional counselling because of long wait lists or financial barriers—a reality for many Albertans.
“Our goal is to help each and every person who reaches out to us, regardless of their situation,” shares Angela Ross, Executive Director of Momentum Counselling. “We believe being mentally well is a right that should be accessible to all.”
“It’s incredible to see the practitioners who volunteer their time with us, when we know they could be earning sometimes triple the salary in a private practice, yet they still show up for the clients to give back their time to those who need it,” shares Tracy Fox, Director of Finance & Administration for Momentum. “Seeing them be so generous with their time is one of the biggest motivations for me in my work.”
With the support of a dedicated group of partner agencies and funders who share Momentum’s vision, and specialized financial expertise, the organization has seen significant growth in the years since their bootstrapped beginnings—including the opportunity to expand beyond their Edmonton origins to offer support across the province. Although, it hasn’t been without its challenges.
It’s a question of funding
“Fundraising and donor management are a full-time job, with their own specialized career path,” Angela explains, “and we haven’t had the ability to hire specialized fund development staff. So we rely on our volunteer board of directors, and our three salaried staff to do this—and other roles—on top of their everyday work.” Their dedicated team of three works with limited time and education resources, and maxes out their capacity daily to make sure Albertans are taken care of—something Angela notes take a toll on their own health.
“It’s also difficult to get funding for operational expenses, including salaries, rent and IT equipment,” Angela goes on to explain. “Most funders will only provide funding for programs and services. However without operational funding, programs cannot be run.”
Tracy adds that it’s also been a hard sell to ask for donations for primarily adult counselling services. “I’ve found that most people are drawn towards donations that go towards children’s or youth services. Money is tight for everyone, and I’ve found that due to the stigma around mental health, the attitude can often be ‘why should I pay for another adult’s mental health care?’ And a lot of people still think it’s covered by Alberta health care.” These factors add up to not being a natural consideration when people are thinking about where their donation dollars should go.
Finances for nonprofits: a unique approach
Distinct challenges demand an open minded and specialized approach to running a nonprofit in many areas, including finances.
A nonprofit’s banking needs are different from their for profit counterparts. Angela notes the requirement for dual approvals on outgoing payments to align with nonprofit governance and financial policies. She also highlights that banking fees aren’t funded by donors, so they take away from their already limited operational dollars.
John Evans, Culture Banker at ATB’s Branch for Arts & Culture has partnered with many nonprofit organizations to discover a way to make banking work for them—including Momentum. “Banking is different for nonprofits compared to standard small businesses in the way that there is not often a shareholder structure involved,” John explains. “When looking to lend, this can add some extra steps and some unique strategizing.”
There are also far more frequent changes to signing authorities, as folks come and go, or shift roles in an organization. It’s important to have a strong relationship with your banker and keep them in the loop with these changes, so business can continue to run as usual.
“Oftentimes, nonprofit organizations are set up with a two-to-sign structure—that means that two people are required to approve a transaction—which changes a lot of interactions with the bank,” John explains. “You’ll want to find a financial institution that allows for multiple individuals to sign off on transactions digitally, so you’re not restricted to using cheques.”
Finding a financial partner who understood their unique needs as a non-profit was crucial to Momentum’s ability to serve Alberta. “Whether it was modernizing our payroll processes, incorporating auditor feedback or supporting us with upgraded products to maximize our limited finances, ATB has always been willing to work with us towards innovative solutions,” Angela shares.
Financial tips for nonprofits
John and Tracy’s number one tip: invest in proper bookkeeping and accounting.
While this will make your everyday operations much less of a headache, it’s also crucial to get what you need from your bank—whether that’s lending or otherwise.
“With a for profit business, we can rely on personal guarantees from shareholders to structure a loan. Because there are typically no shareholders in a nonprofit, we’ll often have to look at other ways to structure loans, like making them cash secured. Typically this looks like using a secured account like a GIC to hold an amount of cash equal to the loan amount, so it’s earning interest for the client and we as the lenders have the money available to draw from in case they can’t pay the loan back.
The only way to work around relying on cash security is if your organization has been around for years and that you’ve had an accountant prepare proper year end financial statements—making good bookkeeping essential.”
In April of 2021, Momentum moved from Quickbooks desktop to online to manage their finances. “This allowed us to manage our finances in real time and remotely,” Tracy explains. Use the most updated versions of online accounting softwares, she goes on to recommend.
Inevitably, key leaders and team members will move on to new opportunities outside of your organization. Having a succession plan prepared for when that happens can give your team and operations stability during times of transition. “Keep good meeting minutes so that your entire team is clear on what’s going on with the business, and key plans and strategies for the future in case someone leaves the team suddenly,” John advises. “This way everyone, including your bank, isn't left in the dark about how your organization will move forward.”
Momentum switched to fully digital record keeping, allowing them to keep all of their documents up to date and organized. “This allows us to search and find documents or items with ease, and helps with the flow of finances and grant writing all year long,” Tracy shares. To make sure your team knows how to navigate and maintain digital storage, Tracy recommends investing in training for the cloud software you choose.
Tips for managing donations (from a banker)
- Keep a separate bank account for Alberta, Gaming, Liquor & Cannabis (AGLC) purposes if you’re planning on partnering with bingos and casinos for fundraising—it’s required for auditing.
- You need to be a registered charity for two years before you can give a charitable tax receipt to your donors. If that’s an important component for you or your donors, you’ll want to register as soon as possible.
- Speak to your bank about setting up electronic fund transfers (EFTs) so your supporters can donate automatically on regular intervals.
Find a financial partner for your nonprofit
Want to partner with a bank that gets what your nonprofit needs? Connect with a Culture Banker from the Branch for Arts & Culture. They are artists, creatives and members of nonprofits themselves, so they have both the passion and expertise to help your organization thrive.
Support Momentum’s mental health mission in Alberta
“The most significant way to support us is by donating,” shares Angela with enthusiasm. All donations are used towards helping more Albertans access mental healthcare. “Tracy and I donate our own money towards Momentum monthly. I used to think that I give enough of my time, so I donated elsewhere. But I’m deeply invested in the work we’re doing.”
“Another way to support is to share our services and fundraising needs with the people you know, in person and online,” Angela explains. "The more Albertans know about the services they have access to, the more people can get help they need, when they need it."