7 steps to brevity and completeness

Say everything necessary. Don’t say anything unnecessary.

Both people who read reports and people who write them find themselves pressed for time, wanting to make sure nothing important is left out but also wanting to cut through clutter. This can be especially tough for nonprofit managers conveying information to numbers people, such as CPAs.

During the American Institute of CPAs (AICPA) Not-for-Profit Industry Conference, Michael T. Burns offered several ideas for making reports as brief and yet as comprehensive as possible. For example:

  • Compare internal reports to the board with external statements. Try to make the measures of operations (which boards scrutinize sharply) as close as possible.
  • Follow common presentation practices. Most nonprofits offer single column balance sheets rather than by net asset class. See what other organizations are doing.
  • Check footnotes to see if they are stale. Remove or reword references that are no longer relevant. Get to the point.
  • See if the description of the organization has been updated. Check the Website, promotional material, even the 990.
  • See if immaterial items have their own financial statement line and disclosure. Look for lines less than one percent on the balance sheet or statement of activities.
  • See if there is information on the face of the financial statement that is better suited to a footnote, or vice versa.
  • Make sure policies and footnotes follow a logical sequence relative to the basic financial statements.