Who in Your Nonprofit Should Have Access to Financial Information?

The finances of a nonprofit organization can range in complexity from simple donations-based accounting to an organization that uses many grants and government funding.

Determining who should have access to financial information within your nonprofit organization depends largely on how complex your financing is, but three basic financial functions should always be present: clerical, operational, and strategic. As long as you have staff for all three of these functions, you should be able to have adequate control over your nonprofit’s finances.

Clerical Support Staff

Your nonprofit should have people who handle the organizational and clerical aspects of accounting. Basically, clerical staff assists by filing, copying, and making deposits. They provide support and take care of much of the mundane tasks necessary for meticulous bookkeeping. Only a basic knowledge of accounting principles is required, but attention to detail is crucial.

Operational StaffKey to worldwide financials for NFPs

Operational staff takes care of a wider range of functions, including compiling financial statements and paying bills. This requires a greater understanding of nonprofit accounting, and therefore staff should have relevant experience managing grants and working for nonprofits.

Strategic Staff

Finally, strategic staff will guide the development of your nonprofit’s financial goals. This will include analytics and planning, and would require a high level of knowledge and skills about accounting and many years of experience.

It’s possible to cover all three of these areas without hiring a large full-time staff. Many smaller nonprofits will hire financial consultants to work on a part-time basis. You can also use accounting software, which takes much of the burden off of the clerical and operational staff, as well as helping with the analytics and planning of the strategic staff.

Whether your staff is large or small, your finances need to be clearly mapped out. Executives must have complete control over the financial functions of the organization. The people who have access to financial information within your organization should be part of your overall accounting strategy, either working in the clerical, operational, or strategic functions.

InsideNGO 2014 Annual Member Conference

The annual InsideNGO Conference is right around the corner, and we couldn’t be more excited to exhibit again this year.  We’ll be showcasing our flagship nonprofit accounting software solution for NGOs, Serenic Navigator Enterprise, which continues to gain notoriety among InsideNGO members for its unique functionality designed for global organizations.

We look forward to seeing our long-time customers, as well as meeting new folks doing praiseworthy work around the world.  There’s a few times at this year’s conference where we can catch up:

  • Swing by our booth (number 24) to try your luck at winning a lap-top bag or $150 Visa gift card.
  • Our Vice President of Sales, Chris Stevenson, will be participating as a panelist in the Roundtable, “Financial System RFPs: Content Considerations” for those planning to prepare an RFP for a new financial management system this year. The Roundtable will be on Wednesday, July 30th from 9:30 am to 10:45 am in room 207A.
  • Serenic clients are invited to a Serenic User Group Lunch on Tuesday, July 29th at 12:00 pm in room 306. Let us know how we’re doing, speak with company representatives, and mingle with other Serenic Navigator users. Let us know if you’ll be there by emailing mwier@serenic.com.

There’s no doubt that this year’s conference will be as enjoyable as years past for both attendees and exhibitors. See you in D.C. July 29th through the 31st! For updates on the conference, follow InsideNGO on Twitter:  #INGO2014.

2013 InsideNGO Conference

2013 InsideNGO Conference

Nonprofit Accounting: Plenty to Account For

Nonprofit organizations add value to their communities and the world in ways that many for-profits cannot because they are focused on serving and taking care of the needs of society. While their success often comes from volunteer workers, it also comes from the effective use of donations and related funding. So, of course, accounting for the expenses and funding coming into your organization is crucial for its success. There are two critical questions to keep in mind when you are accounting for a nonprofit.

What is the Primary Mission?

What is the main reason your NFP does what it does? As the name implies, nonprofits are not built with the goal of earning a profit. That’s one of the reasons these organizations receive special tax treatment from the government. So what do you look for instead when accounting for your nonprofit organization? Because your primary mission isn’t to produce a profit, your NFP should have a secondary mission of keeping revenue above expenses, which seems simple, but many nonprofits fail at this and find themselves operating in the red within just a few years.

Crucial aspects to a superb financial statement

What is in Your Financial Statements?

When you are accounting for a nonprofit, you will notice that there are some distinct differences in the financial statements that are used.  While a for-profit will use balance sheets, income statements, cash flow, and statements of stockholders’ equity, a nonprofit will use statements of activities, expenses, and financial position to judge where they are in relation to their goals. These different metrics really require a different set of financial tools for tracking and reporting.

How Serenic Navigator Can Help

Fortunately, Serenic Software has been working with nonprofit organizations like yours for over 15 years to provide an efficient way to manage all the accounting details specific to the NFP and public sector world. Serenic can improve the efficiency of any nonprofit by keeping them within compliance of grant requirements, cutting down on spending for projects, reducing labor costs, and simplifying the auditing process.

How it works

Serenic Navigator is nonprofit accounting software that works alongside your business processes and mission to organize, simplify, and ultimately streamline all of your fund accounting. This integrated approach enables you to provide complete transparency and remain accountable in order to secure future funding. This also keeps organizations aware of where they are in relation to their milestones and goals, so you are always tracking your secondary mission while remaining focused on your primary one.

If you are looking for a way to improve the accountability and management of your funding, see why so many other nonprofits are choosing to simplify with Serenic Navigator.

Photo by Sam

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Support is a Top Priority at Serenic

We survey our clients after each interaction with our support team.  Over the past few months, the ratings for Serenic Support have been increasing, and we’re excited to share the results.  The responses are so close to a perfect score!  We track how each client rates their interaction from a number of perspectives.  They include:Support Top Priority

  • Was the initial response received in a timely manner?
  • Was a resolution for this case reached in a timely manner?
  • Was the technician courteous and professional?
  • Was the technician knowledgeable in the area of the customer’s issue?
  • Was the issue resolved to the customer’s satisfaction?
  • Would the customer recommend Serenic Support to others?

According to Rhonda Shuptrine, Sr. Director of Customer Care, “This team continues to amaze me as they continue to strive for excellence with our customers.”

Customers are quoted as saying…

  • “Sarah is the best.  She always resolves my problems quickly and teaches me a little bit each time so I can better use the software… She is very knowledgeable and creative to solve any issues I have.” – research org
  • “Dave provided exceptional service.  Very speedy response time, much appreciated.”– diocesan org
  • “Barrie was excellent… She is terrific, very helpful, patient and persistent.” – health org
  • “Every support rep I’ve dealt with has been exceptionally helpful and accommodating – often going well above and beyond the original issue to come up with a solution for us.  Most appreciated!” – religious org

At Serenic, we have built a very strong team of resources who are ready and willing to enable our nonprofit and government customers to achieve the utmost efficiency in their day-to-day operations and mission attainment.  We understand that our financial and nonprofit accounting software must do more than provide customers with clear visibility into operations, real-time financial analysis, and robust reporting, it must create an opportunity for them to do more good, to affect more lives, and to make a greater difference. Therefore, we hold ourselves accountable to their success and to all those who benefit from what they do.

Thank you to our support folks. Their hard work is appreciated :) .  And thanks to our customers, who make the world a better place!

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The Importance of Listening

Every day, I speak with nonprofit organizations about their processes, their challenges, and their complaints as they navigate the complex world that is fund accounting. I hear them, but some days I worry that I’m not really listening. It’s a challenge that I think we all face at one time or another – conflicting priorities, repeated conversations, focusing on the negatives, all conspiring to allow people’s words to swirl around us without truly finding fertile ground.

When your job is to really listen to what the client or prospect is telling you, not just hear the words but actually listen to the underlying challenges and find solutions … well, you can’t tune out. And it’s something I’m passionate about – our clients are passionate about helping others according to their mission, while I’m passionate about helping them.

The most enjoyable time in my job is that point when I find a solution in my software that will save a client time or money, or both. When they make that connection between what Serenic Navigator Express or Essentials can do and what they’ve been trying to do in an accounting program designed for for-profit organizations or with Excel spreadsheets. Or when we design new accounting software features as we’ve been doing for the last several months.

Recently, we were working closely with several clients, talking about the tasks that were taking their time and the difficulties they were having. And from those conversations, we’ve added a memorized reporting feature that will help our clients every single day, one that will make the software even more useful to power users and casual users, alike. We designed it over a matter of days and with the power of a cloud solution, our clients were using it within a week.

Memorized reports

Other features include expanding the power of nonprofit reporting with columns that filter by both different dates and account ranges.

Filter by dates and account ranges

And I got to feel that feeling, when I know that I’ve not just heard my clients, but actually listened to what they need and translated that into business requirements and computer code.

Some days, my job is like magic.

7 Steps to Avoid Buying the Wrong Accounting Software

You’ve been tasked with finding new nonprofit accounting software for the organization’s leadership to evaluate. Where do you start? How do you find the financial software that will be the best fit for your organization?Avoid Buying the Wrong Software

We get that question often, so we’ve created an infographic to help guide you through the process. “7 Steps to Avoid Buying the Wrong Software” will help you take the right path, leading you to the best software to serve your nonprofit and governmental needs. The infographic provides a sytematic approach to help your prepare and know what to expect.

At Serenic Software, we work with nonprofits like yours to help them manage financials and foster better relationships with your donors and volunteers. We know how important it is for you to find the software that will:

  • Support your strategic initiatives,
  • Improve workflows across departments,
  • Provide a clear return on investment,
  • Be easy for users to learn and adopt.

At Serenic, we are dedicated to empowering nonprofits and government agencies to achieve their missions more effectively. Yes, we would like you to choose our software, but we genuinely want you to find the best solution for your unique situation.

Don’t miss any of these key steps in your software search, download the infographic to share with your director and board. Or request a free requirements template to help in your search!

7 Things Your Nonprofit Accounting & Reporting System Needs

If you want to ramp up your financial reporting system, or are thinking of upgrading, do your homework! Be sure to talk to current users, ask peer organizations what they are using, and consult with your auditor. Make sure that any system you invest in has at least the following capabilities, and that those capabilities can be used easily.
7 Things Your Nonprofit Accounting & Reporting System Needs

  1. Meets all the reporting requirements of the IRS 990, 990N, and 990T. No sense in not being able to turn these documents out easily. The same caution goes for your state reporting.
  2. Can provide the needed information to your auditor. The less time the auditors have to spend digging out what they need, the lower your audit bill should be.
  3. Can report flexibly to different audiences. Most board members don’t want to dig through a 20 page printout. Most staff don’t need to. The ability to differentiate is key. Also, graphs and charts are really important for some users. This capability should be built in, and not require exporting to a spreadsheet.
  4. Can report in real time. Waiting to the end of the month is just so….last century, and can leave you wanting at times when you need to decide now.
  5. Can back out cost shifting. You need to make your resource allocation decisions based on real data. And, cost shifting situations can, over time, get so complicated, that you do not want to require some poor staff person to do this by hand.
  6. Can generate reports for online review. Mostly this means that the reporting system can develop documents in .pdf format, but check with your webmaster to make sure that this is easy, and easily updated. If you have a board portal on your website and can integrate the financial reporting with that, all the better.
  7. Can easily integrate with other database and reporting systems. For example, your financial system should be able to connect seamlessly with your grant management and donor tracking system.

Good financial reporting is a key part of good stewardship. More than ever it is essential to have the ability to be responsive to financial inquiry, whether from inside or outside your nonprofit. Make sure you have the right tool for the job.

Read more in our case study written by Peter Brinkerhoff.

A Philanthropic Approach to Big Data

There are over 1.5 million nonprofit organizations registered in the US alone, and the challenge of knowing which ones to support and which to avoid is tougher than ever. How do donors know where to put their money where it is most needed? And how can charities themselves spend the dollars they receive in the most effective way possible? Big data may hold the answers.

There is more than enough evidence to suggest that using data to enhance giving offers considerable potential, both from a monetary and charitable perspective. More plentiful, accurate and real-time information can help donors channel dollars to the organizations that are most effective, and it can help nonprofits identify the strategies and fundraising tactics that work best at fulfilling their missions.

But this buzzword has been on the scene for a while now. Why has big data not already revolutionized the industry? Unfortunately, in order to reach this new world in which passion meets results, there are certain challenges which first need to be overcome.

Data-relevance

Currently, many sources of big data are derived from platforms built for commercial purposes, meaning that donors looking to Facebook streams for data, for example, will learn about donors who use Facebook but may well miss the perspectives of those who don’t. Funding choices informed by skewed samples can easily result in irrelevant data if a large percentage of your potential donor base is not traditionally social media users. Foundations should therefore try and determine if the people they are trying to help are actually represented in the sample, and look elsewhere for more relevant data if not.

Vulnerability

Although data collected by nonprofits is no less vulnerable than that collected by companies, there is a certain level of trust in nonprofits that they need to protect for the long term. Nonprofits must take the utmost care to only do what they promise regarding people’s data, as misuse of it (now, or further down the line) will damage the organization’s trust and credibility.

Anonymous giving

The benefits of altruism have long been proven to increase personal happiness and life satisfaction. Charitable giving is one way individuals like to use their private resources for public benefit, as and when they feel like it, without being subject to pressure from others.
In the age of big data, our generosity becomes one more type of data that others can use to “sell” to us; it is therefore crucial that your organization is able to assure a sense of anonymity to its donors.

Donor intent

The donation of data for social good is on the rise, but as it does so the question of how to handle “donor intent” becomes paramount. As it stands currently, we are unable to define any standard of donor intent when it comes to digital resources; now is the time for nonprofits to develop data practices that match their long-term philanthropic missions.

What do you think the future holds as philanthropy gets further submerged into the world of big data? How are you managing the challenges you’ve been faced with so far? Talk to us in the comment box below!

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Tips to Calculate Financial ROI & Evaluate Mission ROI

Remember that, as a nonprofit, you need to look at not only Financial ROI, but also Mission ROI. These two different returns are closely related. If a particular service is contributing a great deal toward the success of the mission, it may not be essential for it to make money. Conversely, if a service is not contributing directly to the success of the mission, it better be a profit center. A good example of the latter kind of service for most nonprofits might be a fundraising event that does not provide services directly to constituents, but does bring in more funds than it spends and contributes those excess funds toward the direct servicing of constituents.

Here’s a visual demonstration of this concept:

Tips to Calculate Financial ROI & Evaluate Mission ROI

That said, you need accurate numbers to measure financial ROI, and here most nonprofits are behind the curve due to what’s called “cost-shifting.”

Cost-shifting arises when one funder says they’ll pay for direct costs, but not indirect, on a particular project. So, you shift the indirect costs out to a different cost center. Another funder pays for 50% of the CEO’s time, and so you move her expenses there, even if she really spends 90% of her time on the project for a while. After 10 different funders weigh in with their particular reporting needs, the cost picture is so muddled, that you can’t really tell what your real costs are, unless you back out the adjustments.

Can your reporting system do that? Can it tell you what a particular service or grant is really costing you?  Can it track the source of funding separate from the program cost, while still allocating to the appropriate funding sources?  Without that information the staff and board can’t make an informed stewardship decision. In addition, this information needs to be available often with greater frequency than just monthly. Doing the homework now on your ability to quickly respond in a prudent fashion is key.

Read more in our case study written by Peter Brinkerhoff.

5 LinkedIn Tips For Your Nonprofit

We often talk about social media and the various uses it provides for NFPs. In this post we will focus on LinkedIn, which is fast becoming one of the top social media channels for nonprofits to use as part of their online marketing strategy. Did you know that it can also be used to reach out to prospective donors, volunteers and board members too? Check out our five top tips for getting the most out of LinkedIn for your nonprofit below.

LinkedIn Tips

LinkedIn

1. Visit the resource pages

LinkedIn is all about building relationships, which pairs well with ethos of philanthropic organizations. The content you post should be relevant and engaging, and the connections you make should be authentic and nurturing. There’s a great range of free resources tailored specifically for the nonprofit sector including webinars, guides and examples of different types of post as well as advice on how to build a community. You can even get help with recruiting volunteers and board members, which could save costly recruitment fees. Read more…

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