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The impact of accounting regulation on non-profit revenue recognition

Charles A. Barragato (College of Business, Stony Brook University, Stony Brook, New York, USA)

Journal of Applied Accounting Research

ISSN: 0967-5426

Article publication date: 3 May 2019




The purpose of this paper is to examine the requirement that non-profit organizations recognize unconditional promises to give as assets and revenues in the year promises are received as mandated by Statement of Financial Accounting Standards (SFAS) No. 116.


Using the adoption of SFAS No. 116 and financial information reported on Internal Revenue Service Form 990, the study examines the requirement that non-profit organizations recognize unconditional promises to give as assets and revenues in the year promises are received. Combining insights derived from a model developed by Dechow, Kothari and Watts (1998) with the rationale applied by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB) in mandating recognition treatment, it adopts the view that information about promises to give is relevant if it useful in assessing probable future cash inflows. The study also employs relative tests of predictive ability to assess competing specifications.


The study finds that recognizing unconditional promises to give as assets and as revenues in the year received improves predictions of next period’s cash inflows. It also finds that accrual-based contribution revenue consistently provides information content that is incremental to cash-based contribution revenue.

Research limitations/implications

This paper has implications for several other lines of research as well. First, an ancillary concern expressed by many organizations in the non-profit sector was that the recognition of multi-year promises to give would adversely affect trends in long-term giving. In this regard, another promising line of inquiry would be to empirically test the Standard’s impact on the time-series properties of contributions and short- and long-term giving trends. Second, future research might consider conducting tests after partitioning by NTEE/NAICS classification, as well as substituting or supplementing the SOI data with financial statement data. Third, future research might consider applying the approach used in this study to other industries or groups for which market prices are not readily ascertainable. Data constraints, including the calculation of cash flow information indirectly from the balance sheet, impose limitations on this study.

Practical implications

This study documents that by recognizing unconditional promises to give as assets and revenues in the period received, donors, creditors and other users gain useful information about probable future cash inflows – a fundamental element of the accrual process and one of several important factors used to evaluate an organization’s ability to sustain future operations. This information is valuable to stakeholders and practitioners who rely on this information to make informed decisions. It is also helpful to standard setters in establishing guidelines that improve the usefulness of financial reporting for non-profits.


The paper contributes to existing literature by operationalizing, in a non-profit setting, a model that describes the relationship among revenues, accruals and cash flows. It fills a gap in the accrual literature regarding the relevance of non-profit revenue accruals. The study is the first to employ a relative information content approach to assess non-profit standards, which provides useful input to policy makers and end users. It affirms that many of the key conventions and elements embodied in the FASB Concepts Statements apply to non-profits as well, which heretofore has not been studied extensively. The results are also consistent with Accounting Standards Update 958, Not-for-Profit Entities, which requires that non-profits provide users with information about liquidity, including how they manage liquid resources needed to meet cash requirements for general expenditures within one year of the date of the statement of financial position.



Data availability: data used in this study can be obtained from the public sources identified in the paper.


Barragato, C.A. (2019), "The impact of accounting regulation on non-profit revenue recognition", Journal of Applied Accounting Research, Vol. 20 No. 2, pp. 190-206.



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