Cloud-Based Financial Software Aids a CharityBy Samuel Greengard Print
DonorsChoose.org, an educational charity that gives equipment and supplies to schools, takes a dollars-and-sense approach to fundraising with financial software.
Over the last few years, crowdsourcing has taken off in a big way. However, managing the financial data and gaining visibility into operational metrics can be challenging, and organizations that address this burgeoning marketplace require increasingly sophisticated software and dashboards.
One organization that fits the bill is DonorsChoose.org, a $75 million charity that allows individuals to help teachers and students by providing equipment and supplies, which range from crayons to iPads, as well as cash. Founded in 2000 by a Bronx, N.Y., history teacher, it has grown by a factor of 15 times over the past decade. Today, the organization has the support of numerous celebrities—including Anna Kendrick, Stephen Colbert and Russell Simmons—as well as corporations such as Google, Twitter, Kia, 3M and Chevron.
However, all the growth and gains have also introduced some pain. A few years ago, the charity was struggling with a siloed general ledger and a lack of visibility into financial and operational data crucial for business decision making.
"We run 100,000 individual projects and have a teacher base of about 200,000," explains Taylor Chang, vice president of finance. "We were using Excel spreadsheets and an old accounting system, and that made it difficult to manage things smoothly."
Making matters worse, legacy and manual systems created obstacles for tying data into other cloud-based systems and dashboards that the finance team could access for key reports and performance metrics, such as program expenses, cash balances and accounts receivable. In fact, internal processes and workflows revolved almost entirely around paper, mail and faxes.
"People had to walk invoices to finance so they would be paid," Chang says. "We had piles of boxes full of invoices."
For a high-tech company, the resulting inefficiency was unacceptable. As a result, DonorsChoose decided to migrate to a more advanced platform—one that would seamlessly integrate with other cloud customer relationship management systems.
Drill-Down Visibility Into Financials and Fundraising
After surveying the marketplace, the organization selected cloud-based general ledger and financials firm Intacct. Today, DonorsChoose has drill-down visibility into all aspects of financials and fundraising. However, the application also has streamlined donation processing and other functions, Taylor says.
For example, in the past, it could take as long as 10 minutes to resolve paperwork and print a check (or issue an electronic payment). Today, the task rarely takes more than about 30 seconds. "We also have strong reporting functionality for Salesforce.com," she adds.
Today, the organization has no paper invoices to review or manually sign, and the accounts payable processing time has dropped from a full day to an hour. In addition, monthly check-writing time has been reduced by about 10 hours per month. What's more, end-of-month reports that used to take about an hour to build now require only a minute or two.
Finally, "We now have full visibility into the grant lifecycle," Taylor explains. All of this allows staff members to operate more strategically and focus on value-centric tasks. She estimates that the finance team is about 20 percent more productive than it was in the past, and this allows the organization to grow without adding staff.
DonorsChoose is now looking to use the Intacct platform for travel and expense reporting and for other financial functions. "We have taken a huge step forward," Taylor reports. "For a nonprofit organization, all of this is incredibly important."
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