How Much to Keep in Cash Reserves?

Bag of coinsHello,

I am wondering whether you have any guidelines about a good amount of cash to keep in reserve, or what to use as a basis for determining the amount of cash. We have a substantial surplus, growing every year despite our efforts to price classes at a close to break-even rate.

Thank you!
Shaun S in Minnesota

Shaun,

What a wonderful position to be in-cash reserves growing each year! Many for-profit businesses are not doing that well!

It’s a little difficult to be specific without knowing how you operate, such as do you collect all fees at the start of the semester or do you operate month to month.  Can families drop out or join mid semester? Do you offer refunds of fees paid if a family drops out? etc…

Basically, the tighter you run your cash flow (i.e., only collecting a month at a time), the more you need in reserve.

I recommend that you look at your sources of income.  Imagine any one item being eliminated, such as a major fund raiser. How would you run your co-op without that source of income? Sometimes when a nonprofit loses a major source of funding, it needs to fall back on cash reserves for a while.

Here are a few guidelines to help you determine the amount of cash reserves needed:
1. Have at least 10%, maybe 15% of your income in reserve for emergencies, damages or disasters.
2. Have at least one or two month’s rent in reserve in case you need to move locations.
3. If you pay employees, have at least three months of their pay  in reserve.
4. Consider creating a future plan of major purchases (like a computer or software) or programs you’d like to offer. Your surplus could be applied to your “wish list.”
5. Have at least enough in reserve to cover the deductibles on your liability and medical/accident insurance.

Here are a few ideas of what to do with your cash surplus:
1. Offer reduced fees to hurting families. In my homeschool co-op, we have a widow and another family with a disabled father, so they get free access to our co-op classes.
2. Offer reduced fees for significant volunteer efforts. We offer teacher discounts and discounts to our co-op director.
3. Make a contribution to the location you are renting if  it is a church or community organization.
4. Have an end of year party with a catered dinner.
5. Give appreciation gifts to all your volunteers.

I hope that helps!

Carol Topp, CPA

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