In the bank or on the ground : an examination of financial reserves in Australian international aid organisations

Booth, Michael Stephen (2012) In the bank or on the ground : an examination of financial reserves in Australian international aid organisations. Masters by Research thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


This study contributes to the understanding of the contribution of financial reserves to sustaining nonprofit organisations. Recognising the limited recent Australian research in the area of nonprofit financial vulnerability, it specifically examines financial reserves held by signatories to the Code of Conduct of the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID) for the years 2006 to 2010. As this period includes the Global Financial Crisis, it presents a unique opportunity to observe the role of savings in a period of heightened financial threats to sustainability.

The need for nonprofit entities to maintain reserves, while appearing intuitively evident, is neither unanimously accepted nor supported by established theoretic constructs. Some early frameworks attempt to explain the savings behaviour of nonprofit organisations and its role in organisational sustainability. Where researchers have considered the issue, its treatment has usually been either purely descriptive or alternatively, peripheral to a broader attempt to predict financial vulnerability.

Given the importance of nonprofit entities to civil society, the sustainability of these organisations during times of economic contraction, such as the recent Global Financial Crisis, is a significant issue. Widespread failure of nonprofits, or even the perception of failure, will directly affect, not only those individuals who access their public goods and services, but would also have impacts on public confidence in both government and the sectors’ ability to manage and achieve their purpose. This study attempts to ‘shine a light’ on the paradox inherent in considering nonprofit savings. On the one hand, a public prevailing view is that nonprofit organisations should not hoard and indeed, should spend all of their funds on the direct achievement of their purposes. Against this, is the commonsense need for a financial buffer if only to allow for the day to day contingencies of pay rises and cost increases. At the entity level, the extent of reserves accumulated (or not) is an important consideration for Management Boards. The general public are also interested in knowing the level of funds held by nonprofits as a measure of both their commitment to purpose and as an indicator of their effectiveness. There is a need to communicate the level and prevalence of reserve holdings, balancing the prudent hedging of uncertainty against a sense of resource hoarding in the mind of donors. Finally, funders (especially governments) are interested in knowing the appropriate level of reserves to facilitate the ongoing sustainability of the sector. This is particularly so where organisations are involved in the provision of essential public goods and services.

At a scholarly level, the study seeks to provide a rationale for this behaviour within the context of appropriate theory. At a practical level, the study seeks to give an indication of the drivers for savings, the actual levels of reserves held within the sector studied, as well as an indication as to whether the presence of reserves did mitigate the effects of financial turmoil during the Global Financial Crisis. The argument is not whether there is a need to ensure sustainability of nonprofits, but rather how it is to be done and whether the holding of reserves (net assets) is an essential element is achieving this. While the study offers no simple answers, it does appear that the organisations studied present as two groups, the ‘savers’ who build reserves and keep ‘money in the bank’ and ‘spender-delivers’ who put their resources ‘on the ground’. To progress an understanding of this dichotomy, the study suggests a need to move from its current approach to one which needs to more closely explore accounts based empirical donor attitude and nonprofit Management Board strategy.

Impact and interest:

Citation counts are sourced monthly from Scopus and Web of Science® citation databases.

These databases contain citations from different subsets of available publications and different time periods and thus the citation count from each is usually different. Some works are not in either database and no count is displayed. Scopus includes citations from articles published in 1996 onwards, and Web of Science® generally from 1980 onwards.

Citations counts from the Google Scholar™ indexing service can be viewed at the linked Google Scholar™ search.

Full-text downloads:

207 since deposited on 07 Nov 2012
20 in the past twelve months

Full-text downloads displays the total number of times this work’s files (e.g., a PDF) have been downloaded from QUT ePrints as well as the number of downloads in the previous 365 days. The count includes downloads for all files if a work has more than one.

ID Code: 54669
Item Type: QUT Thesis (Masters by Research)
Supervisor: McGregor-Lowndes, Myles
Keywords: ACFID, AusAid, Australian Council for International Development, charity, financial vulnerability index, FVI, international aid, net assets, nonprofit, not for-profit, overseas aid, ratios, reserves, savings, SCOA, Standard Chart of Accounts, taxonomy, viability, vulnerability
Divisions: Current > Research Centres > Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > QUT Business School
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 07 Nov 2012 05:15
Last Modified: 03 Sep 2015 11:27

Export: EndNote | Dublin Core | BibTeX

Repository Staff Only: item control page