Money flows into nonprofits; accountants track every penny

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At the height of the Waldo Canyon fire, the Care and Share Food Bank for Southern Colorado website was getting two or three cash donations per minute for fire relief efforts.

In the midst of it all, someone sent in $50 for the children’s school “send hunger packing” program, where children get a backpack filled with food for their family.

“I just had to smile, someone was thinking about the school backpack fund,” said Jennifer Kleinschmidt, Care and Share CFO.

The backpack money and fire relief money are kept separately. Although donations are coming in to Care and Share at breakneck speed for fire relief, staffers and volunteers are tracking every dollar to make sure each donation goes into the right pot — exactly where the donor wants it to go, Kleinschmidt said.

It’s the accounting of a disaster. And those who have been in the thick of disaster recovery understand that the community wants to know how their donations were used.

“We make sure and record it as per their wishes,” Kleinschmidt said. “The ones for fire are earmarked at the time of deposit.”

That’s important to the little girl who set up a lemonade stand to raise money for firefighters. It’s just as important to the person who wanted her money to go toward a child’s “send hunger packing” backpack program.

Breads of the World, franchisee of Panera Bread in Colorado, donated $20,000 to Care and Share specifically for fire relief efforts, said Missy Robinson, Panera Bread senior marketing manager. The money will help buy fresh fruit and vegetables for the families affected by the fire. Care and Share, she said, has kept the company updated on the use of the donated funds.

“Care and Share Food Bank will provide Panera Bread with detail on how the donated money will be put to use,” Robinson said.

By noon July 9 — 16 days after the fire started — Care and Share had received $365,041 in cash donations for fire relief. Some of the money will be spent on fresh fruit, vegetables and meat for two free farmers markets set up exclusively for people affected by the fire.

“We will have a community impact report available on our website,” said Shannon Coker, Care and Share community relations director.

Accounting for it all

Most nonprofit agencies have a system of tracking donations, especially agencies that run multiple programs, said Ellen Fisher, Stockman Kast Ryan + Co. senior audit manager. Typically, agencies track donations in spread sheets, with a different column for each program.

“It’s very common for nonprofits to get restricted donations, especially for a cause or a program,” Fisher said. “They don’t have to keep it in a separate bank account, just track it separately.”

In the case of the Waldo Canyon fire, or any disaster, nonprofit agencies may choose to report to the public how the donated money was used. What counts from an auditing standpoint is that the agency can show the expenditures were used for their intended purpose, Fisher said.

Catholic Charities of Central Colorado already tracks donations by the donor’s intended use, said Michael Rohlena, president and CEO. When donations started coming in for fire relief efforts, he opened a separate account.

Rohlena is co-chairing the Waldo Canyon Fire Long-Term Recovery Group, about two dozen nonprofit and faith-based organizations that have banded together to share resources to help families and businesses hurt by the fire.

“We look at the donor intent,” he said. “We have received donations for the fire, we set up a separate donation fund, and we track it. We take the accounting very seriously.”

Within the long-term recovery group, each agency likely will maintain its own fire relief donation fund, Rohlena said. The long-term recovery group may decide to designate one agency as the keeper of the fire relief funds. So far, the group has only met twice and still is working out the details.

“My hope is that this group eventually becomes a standing committee,” he said.

Long-term recovery

The state’s Emergency Operations Plan calls for creation of a Long-Term Recovery Group, said Jon Wallace, FEMA voluntary agencies liaison. In Colorado Springs the group will pool its resources, including funds donated specifically for fire relief. Every family, person or businesses affected by the fire will be assigned a case manager to assess needs and find the right organization to help, he said.

That means donations for fire relief may continue to come in long after the fire is completely knocked down. And that means agencies will need to track it, he said.

“There will be other issues related to the fire that comes up,” Wallace said. “That is why it’s long-term; what happens when the family has received all they can from insurance and still has needs?”

The long-term recovery group also serves to verify the family’s needs to ensure donations are wisely spent, he said.

“Nonprofit organizations, on a daily basis, are concerned with those issues,” Wallace said. “They have systems in place and auditing in place — this process is well-established in disasters.”

Individual agencies within the recovery group already have had an increase in requests for assistance, said Michelle Swanson, First Presbyterian Church associate for local missions and co-chair of the recovery group. The agencies aim to provide financial assistance, housing, child care, spiritual care, small business recovery and disaster case management. It could be years for recovery, she said. One agency already has had an increase for assistance with daily living expenses from people out of work due to the fire.

“Our responsibility to each other extends beyond cleanup,” she said. “We don’t know what insurance will cover. We want to be there for the long haul.”

At Care and Share, one of the last checks and balances for donated funds is the “thank you” card. Volunteers have sent out more than 2,400 cards thanking donors for fire relief funds. If fire relief was not the intended use, the donor can call and re-designate the money, Kleinschmidt said.

“The contributions from the community have been so generous,” she said. “We will accommodate their wishes.”

Waldo Canyon Long-Term Recovery Group

Who: About two dozen faith-based and nonprofit organizations working together to help families hurt by the fires.

Where: Disaster Recovery Center, 105 N. Spruce St., open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily; or call the 2-1-1 line.

Care and Share Free Farmers Market

Who: Exclusively for those affected by the Waldo Canyon Fire, including firefighters, first-responders, former or current evacuees, displaced, or unemployed because of the fire.

When: 2 – 6 p.m. July 20; and 8 a.m. – noon July 21

Where: Care & Share warehouse, 2605 Preamble Point