Reimbursable expenses are an operational cost — not an office perk
Kathryn Engelhardt-Cronk, MissionBox co-founder and CEO, offers her response to the MissionBox DoubleTake — a column that offers opinions about the peskier aspects of working in the nonprofit sector. The opinions offered here are based on the author's personal nonprofit experience and may not reflect the opinions of MissionBox, Inc. These opinions should not be considered legal advice or used as a substitute for professional legal consultation. MissionBox readers are invited to submit alternative responses, which may be published here as well.
Money at my nonprofit food bank is tight. Although I'm allowed to be reimbursed for mileage, I never claim those expenses. I feel like I am taking away funds from clients who need food, diapers or formula.
It’s not that I can afford to do this — I really can’t. I drive my own car a lot for my job, picking up donations and meeting with funders. Still, my situation isn't as bad as for our clients — my children aren't hungry and I can pay my bills.
My partner has been pressing me to request the funds, but I’ve been resisting. I was thinking maybe I could claim the money as unreimbursed employment related expense on my tax return?
What is your opinion?
Kathryn says …
I have done the same thing and I don’t think it is a good idea for several reasons:
- Nonprofits need a complete picture of their operational costs. How can your nonprofit understand the real expense of providing services if they don’t take employee expenses into consideration? For all the good that nonprofits do, they still need to run as a business, which means understanding how to create and fund a realistic budget.
- You are worrying about how your behavior impacts your family. Soon, that worry could lead to resentment of your nonprofit. Long-term resentment could result in you leaving your organization and a mission to which you are obviously committed.
- I am not a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) or lawyer, so you would have to ask an expert about your tax return. I have been told by my own CPA that I could not claim these expenses if my nonprofit’s written policy allowed for such reimbursement and I voluntarily chose not to take it.
Go and talk to your executive director about your quandary. I have no doubt that he or she will tell you to request reimbursement.