SYNOPSIS: Not-for-profit entities’ audited financial statements are considered proprietary information, but the World Wide Web provides easy access to financial information from Form 990, the information return filed annually with the Internal Revenue Service. However, Form 990 return does not include potentially useful information for donors, creditors, and regulators such as cash provided by operating activities. Because of articulation of financial statements inherent with the double-entry system, it is theoretically possible to derive operating cash flows from revenues, expenses, and balance sheet accounts that are included on the return. The objective of this study is to determine whether cash from operations can be accurately calculated from Form 990 data. Our analysis includes both simple and more elaborate formulas because complexity may reduce potential usefulness even if accuracy increases. Using 254 observations from two industry groups (higher education and conservation/environmental protection), we compare five formulas. The mean absolute percentage errors of our computations were extremely large for all formulas. Even the formula with the smallest errors produced an amount for cash from operations that was correlated with the actual number for only one of the two industries. The paper also describes articulation problems encountered when a small subsample was examined in more detail. As with similar studies of business entities, it appears that an accurate estimate of cash flow from operating activities cannot be derived from the other financial statements. Therefore, based on the results of this study we recommend that Form 990 should be revised to include selected information from the cash flow statement.

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