The Data Analytics Chain: A Primer for Accounting Professionals

By | Accounting, Data | No Comments

Accounting professionals are used to working with data. After all, they work with numbers all the time. And aren’t numbers just a form of data?

Numbers are indeed a form of data, but there’s much more to data and analytics than working with standard reports. Data has come a long way from the manual data collection and use that some may remember from years ago. Now the question becomes which data to collect, rather than if it can be collected.

The Data Analytics Process

The data analytics process is a loosely connected series of steps that collects, prepares, organizes, reports, and offers for analysis important data from your company. This data may take many forms. It may include financial data, but it may also include warehouse reports, time to completion, and other quantifiable facts.

Sources of data today abound in the workplace. Many companies utilize enterprise resource planning, or ERP systems, which are finance and accounting systems that gather data from various points through a company.

The data analytics process takes into account every step of the process from finding to utilizing data.

  1. Data Collection

The first step, data collection, may already be taking place within your organization. As an accountant or financial professional, your input into data collection is invaluable. You can identify valuable data within the organization or among its suppliers and vendors that should be tracked.

Take time to work with your team to identify and list all potential sources of data that would be useful to your data analytics process. This activity should also include “dark data.” Dark data is data your business has access to but may not know how to extract it from its source. Sources include competitor websites, government and state websites and data reports, PDFs, and similar public documents. Web scraper or technology that can extract data from such sources can add to your repository of data.

  1. Data Preparation

Data preparation includes profiling, cleaning, and correcting the data before it is used. You’re probably familiar with profiling and cleaning data. It’s not unusual for accountants to work with data files in this manner. What is unusual is the size of the newer data files. They are often too large to work with manually and instead must rely on automated processes to identify data duplicates or discrepancies and clean the files.

  1. Build Information Models

The information model is critical for the analysis phase. The model provides the details of the data to be stored in the data warehouse. If the information model is incomplete or inaccurate, it can lead to significant challenges and mistakes later on during the analysis phase.

This is the time to build and review information models with your team. Go through what-if scenarios to ensure the information you’ve collected is enough to fulfill needed situation analysis. If not, return to earlier steps to define and collect the appropriate data.

  1. Analytics

In the analytics phase, insights are developed and shared with key stakeholders. Many companies find that business intelligence tools, aligned and integrated with enterprise resource planning systems, enable the analytic phase to be completed quickly and easily. Business intelligence software prepares visual representations of data that, depending on the type of report and the data fields chosen for the report, may be more easily understood than pure data alone. Bar graphs, pie charts, scatterplots, and similar diagrams are examples of business intelligence reports that transform data into more easily understandable graphics.

Challenges and Opportunities

There are many challenges and opportunities available in the data analytics process. Being aware of various challenges in each step of the analysis process can help you avoid or overcome them.

Data has always provided accountants with powerful information. Now, more than ever, with access to so many software tools to gather and utilize data, accountants can provide useful and valuable insights to benefit others.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting bridges people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

5 Tips to Squeeze More Life Out of Your Nonprofit Accounting Software

By | Accounting, Accounting Software, Data, Fiscal, MIP Fund Accounting, Nonprofit | No Comments

With more and more nonprofits embracing fund accounting as a strategy for growth, combined with the ever-changing reporting requirements from fund agencies, getting the most from your technology investment makes its way to the top of the priority list. Organizations need to be proactive when maximizing the returns on fund accounting investment.

Find out if you have you outgrown your accounting software by conducting a software review.

Start with a thorough review of your system’s processes. Next, conduct an in-depth analysis of the chart of accounts’ structure and financial statement formatting as they relate to supporting the organization’s reporting and tracking requirements. Finally, talk with your staff and key stakeholders  who use the system to find out what’s working, and what’s not.

The revelations may surprise you.The results of these three steps will create a roadmap to refresh your system.

Don’t have time for a thorough system review? There are some steps you can take right now to expedite your system and get more life out of it.

  1. Re-order chart of accounts. Remove unused segment values to make data entry and reporting more logical.
  2. Clean up and archive. Start with the Accounts Payable vendor and Accounts Receivable customer rosters, then tackle the register histories. This will speed up the system while reducing staff time sifting through obsolete information.
  3. Close, optimize, or delete old fiscal years. This will expedite report generation and system inquiries.
  4. Identify additional modules that can create efficiencies for staff. Contact your technology consultant to learn about modules that can be added to automate manual tasks like spreadsheet schedules, purchasing and reconciliations.
  5. Train & Re-Train. You can’t learn all there is to know during your initial software training session. Underutilized modules that your team revisits can streamline processes significantly.

Welter Consulting helps nonprofits get more out of their accounting software. We find the most affordable technology, the most powerful solution, and providing expert support. We are dedicated to assist you in achieving your mission by leveraging technology and superior reporting. If you’re needing technology help, we’d love to talk to you about your specific needs.  Contact us online or call 206-605-3113.

Responsible Data Collection for Nonprofit Organizations

By | Abila, Accounting, Accounting Software, Cloud, Data, Internal Controls, MIP Fund Accounting, Nonprofit, Technology | No Comments

Many people were shocked to discover the amount of data that Facebook and its partner organizations collect and share about their users. What’s surprising isn’t the amount of data collected and shared, but the public’s ignorance of how rampant data abuse is throughout the online world.

Have you ever had advertisements that seem to follow you online? That’s due to data collection from your browser history. Companies such as Google note which websites you’ve shopped or browsed recently and make educated guesses on behalf of their advertisers on which ads to display on your pages. So-called “remarketing” or “re-targeting” is just one example of how you are inadvertently leaving a detailed data footprint wherever you go online.

Social media websites such as Facebook may be in the news because of their disregard of how sensitive people are to data collection and sharing, but your company could be next on the list if you aren’t careful. Take time now to review your nonprofit’s data collection habits, security, and sharing guidelines, and make changes if needed to safeguard your donor and member privacy.

Create and Display Data Privacy Policies

Data privacy policies should be written and displayed prominently on your website. Some websites request that users accept them as part of their terms and conditions of using the website.

Privacy policies include:

  1. Details on how data is collected, shared, and stored
  2. Users’ abilities to stop data collection or access records
  3. Where to send complaints, questions, comments
  4. How IP addresses, cookies, and external links are used
  5. Any other information related to data use and collection

The Council of Nonprofits has a good privacy policy which you can review as a guideline to help you create your own. It includes the major points most nonprofits should cover in their privacy policies.

How Data Is Used

Most people recognize that some data is collected anytime they visit a website. Few object to simply recording IP addresses of people who visit a site but do disagree with who sites share their data with – they want control over who sees their personal information.

As part of your data privacy policy, be specific about how data is shared. Consider limiting shared data only to necessary third-party vendors, such as mailing companies who help you package donor mailings, or some other third party you manage and control. Selling user data may be a tempting way to make extra money, but it can quickly sour any trust built with your member base.

Improve Data Security

Even if you only collect a few data elements when people register for your site or make a donation, you must make all efforts to safeguard that data from hackers. Small nonprofits are actually at greater risk than larger ones because criminals know that small organizations lack the resources to counter against a cyberattack. They are more likely to pay the ransom when data is hijacked and may lack a dedicated IT resource to protect against attacks.

Take the time now to improve data security. Simple steps such as updating software, creating strong passwords, and adding virus protection software to your organization can act like locks on the front door of a house – not much if someone is truly determined to break in but enough of a deterrent that the average thief walks away for easier pickings elsewhere. Consider working with a cyber security expert to enact greater safeguards against intrusion if you handle highly sensitive data.

Although nonprofit organizations aren’t in the business of collecting and selling data like Facebook and other big companies are, they must maintain a basic level of trust with the public in order to continue their activities. Protecting data and providing transparency into your organization’s data privacy and security is one way to enhance that trust.


Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting is a technology firm empowering nonprofit and government organizations with effective software, consulting & training that can help you with your accounting needs. We are committed to finding the most affordable technology, the most powerful solution, and providing expert support. By leveraging technology and superior reporting, our team helps to free more of your time to devote to the important work of your mission. We bridge people and technology together for effective solutions for nonprofit organizations. We are passionate professionals who choose to work in the nonprofit sector for the same reason you do – helping others. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.

How Do You Measure the Impact of Good? Measuring Nonprofit Outcomes

By | Cloud, Data, Nonprofit | No Comments

How do you measure the impact of a nonprofit organization? Many try to measure impact through output metrics: number of people helped, animals saved, members served. But what if we could measure not just how many but how much – as in, how much good was done?

Two organizations, GuideStar and Impact Genome Project, are attempting to do both.

GuideStar recently launched GuideStar Platinum, a platform through which nonprofits can report both outcomes and impact. About 20 percent of the more than 12,000 metrics shared on the GuideStar platform represent impact-based outcomes. The rest measured output.

Impact Genome Project is an initiative curated by Mission Measurement. It aggregates more than 10,000 pieces of research, seeking to identify patterns of what works and by extension, what doesn’t work. This analysis can help nonprofits replicate what works by sharing the outcomes.

Why Bother with Data?

The question many nonprofit managers ask is, “Why bother with data?” Outcomes data has long been the standard method of reporting for many nonprofits. It’s easy to see why. Charting how many members you’ve signed up this year is easier than ascertaining the impact that your programs have made on those members, for example.

Data is now used throughout many industries to quantify success. In medicine, for example, hospitals rely on both outcome data (the number of patients who attend a diabetic symposium or nutrition class) but also rely on impact data (changes in community data such as the number of diabetics diagnosed in a year). Together, these two metrics build a powerful story that demonstrates not just the effort of the nonprofit, but also the effect that effort has on the community.

Donors Want Data

Donors want to see data on how well nonprofits are utilizing their funds, and that’s where the GuideStar program comes into play. GuideStar is well-known in the nonprofit world as a good place for potential donors to research nonprofits.

GuideStar data enables donors to:

  • Research potential nonprofits
  • Read their financial reports
  • Understand how well their money is spent to support and sustain the nonprofit mission
  • Review leaders, salaries, money spent on overhead and more
  • Read answers from the nonprofit on specific initiatives
  • Contact the organization

Nonprofits that provide quantitative as well as qualitative answers to these questions to groups like GuideStar provide transparency to their potential donors. Donors look for metrics they can understand before giving money. They want to see not just quantity, but quality.

Success is measured through many metrics. Donors want to know that their money successfully solves the problems the nonprofit purports to solve through their program. If they are donating money to a bird sanctuary, they want to know not just how many birds were rescued, but overall, what is the impact on the sanctuary, the environment, and the local wildlife.

Data Is the Future of Nonprofits

Although you probably want to roll up your sleeves and get to work helping the audience for your program, there is a need for data, and that need will continue to grow in the future. As donors become pickier about the causes they support, the demand for facts to base nonprofit assertions will grow.

Start tracking the outcomes of your programs now and discuss ways by which you can measure the impact of your programs. You may need time to ramp up your databases, software, or other tools to help you track, measure and report outcomes.

It’s a smart idea to sign up for programs such as GuideStar or the Impact Genome Project now so that you are fully prepared for future donors who wish to investigate your organization’s credentials. The sooner you can provide data, the more attractive you will make your organization to potential donors.

Welter Consulting

Welter Consulting offers a bridge to solutions that work for nonprofit organizations. We offer software and services that can help you with your accounting needs. Please contact Welter Consulting at 206-605-3113 for more information.