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FASB proposes new rules on contributions, grants

Tammy Whitehouse | August 11, 2017

Companies may soon have some new instructions to follow in deciding how to account for various types of grants and contributions.

The Financial Accounting Standards Board has proposed an accounting standard update that is intended to clarify and improve the accounting guidance on any contributions an entity might receive or make. While it’s intended mostly for not-for-profit entities, it affects all entities that make or receive contributions, like grants or donations.

The focus of the guidance is to sort out when a contribution is actually an exchange, meaning it might have conditions attached that would make it more like revenue to be reflected under the new revenue recognition standard. “This will help organizations more consistently apply the guidance, and would make the accounting for contributions more operable,” said FASB Chairman Russ Golden in a statement.

The proposed guidance would help organizations evaluate whether a resource provider, like a government agency making a grant or a company making a donation, is receiving value in return for the contribution it makes. If there’s reciprocal value, it’s not a gift or a donation, but it’s a transaction that should be accounted for as revenue.

The new rules would establish a better framework in GAAP for determining whether a contribution is conditional or unconditional. It also would draw a clearer line between donor-imposed conditions and donor-imposed restrictions, which affects whether a contribution is inside or outside the scope of revenue recognition guidance.

FASB says the proposed amendments would not apply to transfers of assets from government to business, but it would apply evenly to both those receiving contributions and those making contributions, to produce more consistent accounting on both sides of the arrangement.

The proposal is open for public comment through Nov. 1. FASB is planning to wrap up the amendment so it can take effect at the same time as the new revenue recognition standard that public companies are adopting in 2018.