Budgeting for Nonprofits

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A key component of financial sustainability is the commitment of board and staff to financial management that includes timely review of financial reports and advance planning. One way that board and staff plan for income and expenses in the future is by creating a budget. Approval of the annual budget is one of the fundamental building blocks of sound financial management.

For nonprofits with employees, creating the annual budget is usually staff’s responsibility, but board members often review the proposed budget and the full board typically adopts the budget at a full board meeting. The approved budget then serves as a guide for financial activity in the months ahead. Budgets should not be written in stone, because the financial position of the nonprofit may change during the year.

A budget is a guide that can help a nonprofit plan for the future as well as assess its current financial health. It is good practice to periodically review the budget as well as compare it to the actual cash flow and expenses, to determine whether they are playing out as expected during the course of the year. It may be necessary to amend the budget during the year.

Budgets may be requested by parties involved in financial transactions with the nonprofits, such as banks, or by donors/grantmakers considering a gift to the nonprofit.


Board members and staff who are new to the charitable nonprofit context may wonder, "Does a nonprofit’s budget have to break even?" "Can there be a profit?"

  • In Should Your Budget Balance? No!, Kate Barr of Propel Nonprofits argues that break-even budgets are not only not required, but they are the biggest barrier to building reserves and ultimately a financially healthy organization.
  • When is a Deficit OK? (Propel Nonprofits)

Understand – and budget for – true program costs


Tools you can use

The National Council of Nonprofits is pleased to suggest two practical software tools available for purchase, the Budget and Cash Flow Toolkits, developed with the needs of small nonprofits in mind by the financial experts at the New York Council of Nonprofits. 

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