How To Keep Track of Cash At Special Events

Rolls of cash in U.S. currency.

If your nonprofit organization hosts fundraising events, conferences, banquets, auctions, or any other type of revenue-generating special event, you’ve probably had to keep track of a cash box at one time or another. Although many organizations also accept checks and credit cards at these events, cash is still king. Unfortunately, cash can also be risky and difficult to track.

There are several ways you can minimize the headache of accounting for nonprofit fundraising events. First, make sure everyone who is handling cash at your event receives training on cash collection procedures. We recommend keeping directions for cash collection inside every cash box, so there’s no confusion on the day of your event. Designate a person (such as your Executive Director or Finance Manager) to be responsible for overseeing cash receipts, and make sure there are always two people around when cash is being transported. If you are taking payment at multiple locations, consider separating your cash boxes by payment method - that way, all cash is received in one central location. You will also want to limit the number of people who handle cash, and ensure it is deposited to your bank as quickly as possible after the event concludes.

You can maintain smart cash controls in other ways too, depending on the size of your organization and the type of event you are hosting:

  • Use a cash log to document who is in charge of each cash box, and the amount of cash in the box when the event began. Staff or volunteers handling the cash box should sign in and out of the log.

  • Do not allow cash to be used for personal purchases. For example, staff should never take money from the cash box to go buy lunch, even if they intend to pay the money back later. Keep personal funds separate from organizational funds.

  • Do not use money from the cash box to pay for last-minute purchases on the day of the event. This makes it extremely difficult to accurately track income and expenses.

    • An exception - some organizations host events in other countries, where it might make sense to minimize currency conversion and foreign transaction fees. For example, if you are collecting cash at an event in Europe, you may wish to pay local vendors directly with the euros you’ve collected, rather than converting them to dollars at an unfavorable exchange rate. In these situations, restrict the number of transactions and be sure to keep detailed records of all income and expenses.

  • At the end of each event (or each day, for a multi-day event) task two individuals with counting the cash independently.

  • If you’re selling concessions, numbered tickets, or merchandise, reconcile your inventory to the cash receipts. Keep track of exactly who is handling each inventory item, and investigate any discrepancies immediately.

With some thoughtful preparation, you can minimize the risk associated with cash receipts at special events while keeping clear financial records for your organization. Your accountant will certainly thank you!