Case studies: Nonprofit accounting software in 2019
By Ranica Arrowsmith
For these case studies, Accounting Today spoke to two very different organizations: a small firm serving regional nonprofits, and a large, global nonprofit providing emergency nutrition to malnourished children. Through their experiences, readers can get a sense of the range over which nonprofits exist. Not every traditional accounting software platform can address those specific needs, and nonprofits of different sizes have further niche requirements. Below are their experiences.
Beauty is more than skin deep
Firm: L.A. Wynn PA
Commencement date: 2019
On record: President and CEO Lolita Wynn
Selection: Lolita Wynn, founder, president and CEO of a small firm in Durham, N.C., had been using a local accounting solution for her not-for-profit clients before she switched to Aplos this year. She didn’t know what solutions were out there, so she believed the old package was her only option. But when she onboarded a 501(c)(4) client who wanted to be able to see their financials clearly, she found her old package’s dashboard inadequate. “From a user interface perspective, Aplos is to me more intuitive than the other one, which you really had to be a practitioner to use,” Wynn said. “It’s easier for my clients, and I’m thinking about my clients, not me.”
Her new client liked Aplos, and they liked the donation feature, which manages payments tracking, automatic tracking, donor receipts, and more.
Implementation: Even though Wynn was switching from another system, she found implementation of Aplos seamless. “I couldn’t dump everything from the other vendor because they’re a competitor, so I had to rekey everything,” she said. “That was OK, because that organization was new and didn’t have a lot of transactions. It was painless because the aesthetics help you.”
Highlights: “For any type of organization that’s getting donations such as campaign donations — we often do compliance work for people running for various local offices — the donations and fund accounting features work together so we don’t have to switch between systems,” Wynn said. “The donations automatically populate and link to the bank account.”
Wynn explained that some political candidates who are new to the scene may not realize that they need to keep their books, but they do. L.A. Wynn PA acts as treasurer for such clients, maintaining compliance for reporting to the board of elections. Financial reports from Aplos support the report the firm provides.
Challenges: Wynn had only been using Aplos for two months at press time, so she hadn’t had enough time to hit any real snags. One small tweak that Wynn would suggest is formatting for checks — the address of the payee and wording for the check amount are in two different fonts. She was able to change this in Adobe but would prefer if the checks were better formatted.
Firm goals: L. A. Wynn PA has been in business for 16 years, and Wynn sees herself as an embracer of technology. The timing for Aplos was “perfect,” she said, as she was ready for a more user-friendly solution for her nonprofit clients, which she’s been serving since the start.
“Trying to shove nonprofit accounting into a traditional accounting software doesn’t work,” Wynn said. “If you have more than one or two funding sources, you’ll outgrow that very soon.”
Organization: MANA Nutrition
Product: Oracle Netsuite
Commencement date: 2011
On record: CFO Chris Whitfield
Implementation: MANA Nutrition is a nonprofit organization that creates a food supplement used in the treatment of severe acute malnutrition globally. MANA produces approximately 300,000 meals per week, and sells primarily through UNICEF, USAID and the World Food Programme.
MANA Nutrition implemented Oracle Netsuite as its accounting software of choice in 2011, just before CFO Chris Whitfield started providing fractional CFO services for the company in 2012. He went full time in 2017.
“I’ve probably done six implementations dating back to the old mid-range days, then to client server, and now SaaS-based products, so I’ve been in the trenches many times,” he said. “I’ve seen people with large-scale projects that didn’t succeed. This implementation was probably one of the best implementations of big ERP systems I’d ever seen, especially on the manufacturing side — with cost accounting, and all the things I would expect to see in pretty sophisticated ERP. The team that did the implementation did a really good job. I got to come in and focus on the second phase — just improvements, not the major headaches of implementation.”
Highlights: “Oracle Netsuite does updates twice a year,” Whitfield said. “It’s regular, controlled and scheduled. It’s not every three months — I happen to like that. It’s often enough that you can take advantage of improvements, and not too often that you’re trying to keep up with what you’re doing.”
Whitfield also likes SuiteConnect, which provides the ability to run data through an analytical tool to do some heavier- duty reporting within Microsoft Excel.
Recently, Oracle Netsuite introduced a new module under SuiteAnalytics called Workbook. “It’s the equivalent of what I was doing in Excel, building data sets by looking at that information across various and different record sets, bringing together and generating a data set out of that, and then doing analytics with pivot tables and pivot charts,” Whitfield said. “It’s a very, very impressive analytics tool.”
Whitfield also highlighted the customization ability, which allows him to add capabilities like approval workflows without bringing in a developer.
“It’s really helped us implement some significant control procedures that aren’t just native in NetSuite,” he said. “We have a specific quality control checklist we go through for receiving goods that goes beyond traditional manufacturing. I was able to customize that in Netsuite, and that’s a really powerful way to enhance the product for organizations.”
Customization allows nonprofit organizations to tailor the software to their particular needs, Whitfield added.
“We operate more like a manufacturing organization, but we still have requirements for fund accounting, donor requirements, and board-imposed requirements,” Whitfield explained. “Historically, Netsuite has typically adapted to NFP needs by redefining one of its built-in dimensions. Most NFPs will handle tracking of funds through redesignation of class — we’ve done it with the class dimension. In recent years they’ve added custom dimensions which give you a little bit more capability and flex in how you use those custom dimensions.”
Challenges: MANA is implementing Six Sigma process controls in its manufacturing side, and Whitfield wishes he could integrate the quality control data collection process into NetSuite. MANA submitted the idea as an entry into the SuiteWorld 2019 hackathon, and is hoping to implement the functionality in the coming year.
Whitfield would also like to see a more integrated workflow capability. “Every month, I review financial statements and make notes and to-do lists based on them,” he said. “Typically that involves me looking at a line on a financial statement or a specific account, asking a question about what’s going on there, asking the accounting staff to follow up on a question. I tried to do this inside NetSuite using their task module, and the software just didn’t quite do everything like tracking progress on a task, and allowing multiple people to follow the task. I often find myself having to look at other systems.”
Organization goals: “It’s critically important to us to understand our cost and price at as tight a margin as we can, because our mission is reducing the cost of the food supplement,” Whitfield said. “NetSuite has also allowed us to begin to create accountability to the operations side of business. We’ve begun pushing out cost center reporting to our ops team and to department managers that have responsibility to those cost centers.”