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    Audit Fees at U.S. Non-Profit Organizations
    research summary posted May 2, 2012 by The Auditing Section, last edited May 25, 2012, tagged 02.0 Client Acceptance and Continuance, 02.01 Audit Fee Decisions, 10.0 Engagement Management, 10.06 Audit Fees and Fee Negotiations 
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    Title:
    Audit Fees at U.S. Non-Profit Organizations
    Practical Implications:

    This study identifies relationships between attributes specific to non-profit organizations (see above) and external audit fees, and it has practical implications for non-profit organizations as well as auditors in negotiating audit fees.  The audit fee model can be useful for non-profit organizations that seek to benchmark their audit fees.  Additionally, this study shows that non-profits with higher quality internal oversight are willing to incur additional costs for monitoring by external auditors. Further, this study shows that Big 4 auditors earn a premium for their services in the non-profit sector (similar to the for-profit sector).

    Citation:

    Vermeer, T. E., K. Raghunandan, and D. A. Forgione. 2009.  Audit Fees at U.S. Non-Profit Organizations.  Auditing: A Journal of Practice and Theory 28 (2): 289-303.

    Keywords:
    Non-profit organizations, auditing, liquidity, audit committees, benchmarking
    Purpose of the Study:

    The purpose of this study is to examine audit fee determinants for non-profit organizations.  The study examines audit fee determinants applicable to all businesses, as well as non-profit specific attributes that are associated with audit fees.                   

    This study is motivated by recent scandals and governance failures in non-profit organizations (United Way, New Era Philanthropy, and American Cancer Society), which have led to increased scrutiny and regulations over these organizations and have resulted in increased external audit requirements.  Given the significant differences between non-profit organizations and for-profit businesses  culture, organizational structure, financial needs, accounting rules, financial reporting, financial statement users, and audit risk environment), the role of auditing can be significantly different for non-profit organizations.  Despite the economic significance of these organizations, little is known about determinants of audit fees for non-profit organizations.  

    This study uses survey data from large non-profit organizations to determine whether the following factors impact audit fees at non-profit organizations: 

    • Complexity, including size and asset composition
    • Need for resources, including donor contributions, external debt, and single audit requirements (federal awards)
    • Monitoring mechanisms, including internal audit and audit committee
    • Control variables, including financial stress, Big 4 auditor, industry, and non-audit fees
    Design/Method/ Approach:

    The authors obtained data on fiscal 2002 and 2003 audit fees and background information from surveys sent to chief financial officers of the largest non-profit organizations per GuideStar, Inc. Financial data are obtained from the GuideStar database. The authors used these data to examine the relationship between audit fees and the factors listed above. 

    Findings:
    • Traditional determinants of for-profit audit fees appear to have a similar impact on audit fees for non-profit organizations.
    • Larger asset size and greater complexity are associated with higher audit fees.
    • Non-profits in poorer financial condition pay higher audit fees.
    • Greater debt leads to higher audit fees.
    The Big 4 audit fee premium also exists for non-profit clients. 
    • Non-profit organizations with a single audit incur higher audit fees. 
    • Audit fees are lower for non-profits in regulated industries (healthcare and education). 
    • Monitoring by external auditors complements, rather than substitutes for, other internal monitoring mechanisms such as audit committees and internal auditing departments. This is evidenced by the following:
      • Higher quality audit committees (i.e., audit committees being fully independent, having at least one CPA or other financial expert, and meeting at least twice per year) are associated with higher audit fees.
      • The presence of internal auditing is associated with higher audit fees.

    The authors argue this suggests that non-profits with quality internal oversight are willing to incur additional costs for monitoring by external auditors. 

    • Greater non-audit fees as a percentage of total fees leads to lower audit fees.  This suggests that the joint provision of audit and non-audit services may lead to increased efficiencies in auditing.
    Category:
    Client Acceptance and Continuance, Engagement Management
    Sub-category:
    Audit fee decisions, Audit Fees & Fee Negotiations
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