Non-profits speak to their mission, and why cloud ERP matters - live at Intacct Advantage

Jon Reed Profile picture for user jreed October 28, 2016
A non-profit customer panel at Intacct Advantage challenged assumptions on how non-profits think. These cloud ERP projects are directly connected to achieving bodacious - and necessary - organizational missions. Agile ERP also got a new catchphrase: "front porch accounting."

From left - Hart, Kusairi and Atkinson

Intacct Advantage 2016 managed to surprise me on several occasions. One welcome jolt was the significant non-profit presence amongst attendees. That essence was captured during a terrific non-profit customer panel in the day two keynote.

Moderated by Kent Hollrah, Sr. Channel Executive - Nonprofit at Intacct, the panel included Shannon Atkinson,
Chief Financial Officer, Raising A Reader, Mizmun Kusairi, Vice President, Strategy & Finance at GuideStar, and Velma Hart, Chief Financial Officer, National Marine Sanctuary Foundation.

The panelists spoke to missions that drive them, and their experience with Intacct's cloud financials. But instead of a disjointed talk about mission versus accounting, what struck me was the connection between the two. The panelists offered a convincing view of how modern/cloud ERP systems can be instrumental in supporting the organizational mission.

Each of the panelists has a distinct organization purpose. Kusairi kicked off by talking about GuideStar:

We like to think of ourselves as the Bloomberg for the non-profit sector. We're the largest source of information on non-profits. We provide data we think will lead to better decisions and eventually, a better world. That's decisions for individuals, who are looking for nonprofits to donate to. It's also decisions for non-profits themselves, to understand how they compare to other non-profits. And it's for professional service organizations that are looking for a more effective way to work with their non-profit clients.

Atkinson's focus at Raising a Reader is child literacy:

Atkinson at Intacct Advantage

Raising a Reader is a national non-profit organization that is focused on early childhood literacy and family engagement. We've all been virtually bombarded by the message that we should read to our kids.

With Raising a Reader, what we're doing is partnering with schools and other agencies to help families make it easy to take that 'should' message and make it a real thing. We're providing resources and other tools that allow families to develop book-sharing routines. These simple routines develop into an inspired love of learning, deeper family bonds, and ultimately greater academic success.

Hart, who was already featured in a powerful video about her ecological concerns, added:

The protection of water pathways or regions, oceans, etc is critical to human survival. The National Marine Sanctuary Foundation plays a critical role in that by ensuring that water protection measures are in place, that legislation to ensure that protection stays intact, that enforcement for those who do not-so-good things in the ocean is in place. We do that primarily through our partnership with NOAA, a government agency, and we have a lot of fun at the same time.

From sharing log-ins to "front porch accounting"

Prior to Intacct, these non-profits were struggling with operational efficiency. Kusairi shared the story of their pre-Intacct, one-log-in-at-a-time accounting system:

Kuzair at Intacct Advantage

We wanted to delay our audit and our 990 filing, because I thought our accounting and finance team needed a new solution... We were using a really outdated on-premise system that people had to take turns logging into. When someone was in it, someone else would say, "I can't get that report to you Miz, because Terry's using that system now."

Live on Intacct, their organization operates on a whole new level:

Now, I have my other colleague, who is based in Orlando, who can run our accounts receivable on the system. We don't have to take turns and ping each other... I told Joe, "I don't need you to run that report to me. I can pull it up, and drill down." Just having that real-time access in a cloud-based system, accessible from everywhere.

That led Kusairi to coin a new phrase: "front porch accounting". Doing her job from anywhere:

I can be on my couch, or in a café somewhere. It's been really transformative for us.

For Atkinson, Intacct has brought a whole new level of operational visibility:

On the business side, we measure our success though our capacity to reach more and more children every year.. We're ten months into using Intacct, and I can honestly say, we know more about our business in those ten months than we've ever known before. [That gives us] incredible opportunities to just change direction and do things in a different way.

Atkinson's example? The instant motivation of good and bad trends via dashboards:

It used to be our goals were just these ideas out there, and they were never really measurable... Now, what we've done is taken Intacct's dashboard tool and created opportunities for all of us. Every person within the organization has instant access to where we are, and where we stand against our goals. Even our non-financial staff members understand what a green thumbs up or a red frowny face means.

As Hollrah joked, nobody likes to see those red frowny faces. But as Atkinson says, they do light a fire:

It keeps us all motivated. It keeps us all on task. It's just changing everything at Raising a Reader.

Hart at Intacct Advantage

Hart reinforced those views, emphasizing Intacct Dimensions, a way to slice and dice dashboard data that several customers told me good things about. She also spoke to the pain of audits:

Two aspects of how Intacct has changed the way the Marine Sanctuary Foundation does business are: dimensions and the dashboard. Dimensions allow us to slice and dice data in ways we never could before. I don't know how many of you all out there deal with federal funds and specifically, the UG audit. The comprehensive, detailed analysis that is required for those types of audits... You know, my hair was much longer at one point.

Auditing time has shrunk:

Auditing was normally four months for us. Now, from start to finish it's a window of about three and a half weeks. That was unprecedented. Remember, we're still in our first year of implementation, so where we can go from here? Maybe, we'll start giving the auditor back time.

The wrap - non-profits need agility and profitability too

At the risk of blaspheme, I didn't see a big difference between non-profit finance executives and for-profits at the show. Hart spoke to that:

We had our last board meeting about two weeks ago... I think I got fifteen minutes on the agenda. They took some minutes back from me because they were so comfortable with what we presented to them. They acknowledged that was an unprecedented turnaround for them. It allowed them to focus not on the back office of the operation, because they now understand what's there, but on the programmatic, forward-facing agenda of the organization. That allows us to achieve our goals, so they're really happy with that.

Referencing a prior panelist who said his successful Intacct project got him bumped up to VP, Hart joked:

I may get a promotion.

The panelists all expressed enthusiasm for Intacct's new reporting capabilities, the only real paint point that came up at the show (see my prior piece, Sparta Systems shares cloud financials project insights – live at Intacct Advantage). Kusairi spoke about how they hope to use Intacct to help all the non-profits they serve move beyond accounting chores to understand true cost. Hart gave the thumbs up:

I'm thrilled to hear that... One of the myths that I've talked about repeatedly is that non-profits have to make a profit. Go figure. They have to operate like a business.

Atkinson sees new possibilities on the horizon:

Raising a Reader hopes to serve millions of children a year across the country, every child across the country. We with the new information we're learning through working with Intacct, combined with [our new] digital program, for the first time ever, that's a possibility.

Alas, behind all this optimistic talk are serious issues. Hart's organization is fighting to save sea animals from extinction events that could have terrible consequences. She called for "big, bodacious thinking" in the face of it:

We're talking about certain extinction outcomes if we don't act. It's really big, bodacious thinking. I think if we can get our focus off the operational aspect and on our mission, that goal is possible for us.

To which I can only say: keep on keeping on.

Updated 10/30/2016, 11:00 pm U.S. Pacific time to clarify the comment about an Intacct project leading to one customer attendees' promotion.


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