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Nonprofit

Planning for the Successful Transition to New Accounting Software

By | Accounting, Accounting Software, Nonprofit | No Comments
person using accounting software on laptop and mobile phone

Perhaps your organization has outgrown spreadsheets or off-the-shelf small business accounting software. Now, it’s time to find government fund accounting or nonprofit fund accounting software. The platform of your dreams has all the bells and whistles you’ve hoped for: great budgeting features, invoicing and automation, and super reports.

As you prepare for the implementation of your new accounting solution, there are several steps you can take to prepare your data and your team for the transition to the new platform. With these steps, you’re more likely to have a successful transition to your brand-new accounting software.

Clean Your Data

The data that’s currently in your system, whether you’re using spreadsheets or a small business accounting program, will move into the new system to get it started. If there are mistakes or errors in your current system, now is the time to correct them.

Cleaning data refers to the process of identifying and correcting errors, inconsistencies, and inaccuracies in a dataset to ensure its accuracy, completeness, and reliability for analysis or other purposes. This process involves several steps, including identifying errors, handling missing data, removing duplicates, and standardizing data. Additional steps may be resolving inconsistencies and developing what is called a “data dictionary” or a standard guide to data inputs.

Consider your donations for the past year, for example. Perhaps you input donor names and addresses into a database, spreadsheet, or your old business accounting program, and now you want to move it into your new accounting database. Checking to make sure there are no duplicates is a smart idea. Duplicates may not be exact matches, so you may need to work with your team to generate lists and manually check them. (For very large data files, there are companies that specialize in data cleanup.) Common places where duplicates creep into files include:

  • Addresses where road, street, or avenue are spelled out—and a second address where it is abbreviated. You’ll need to decide what the standard for your organization will be—the postal abbreviation or spelling out the full word.
  • Names where a first initial is used (J. Smith), fully spelled out (John Smith), or includes a middle initial (John A. Smith). You’ll have to decide which John Smith version to keep.

These are just two examples of some very common areas where duplicate records can occur. Other places to clean up before exporting your data to move it into the new system include reconciling bank accounts and credit cards, updating A/P and A/R, and ensuring other financial information is updated and accurate.

Document Procedures and Workflows

The accounting and finance team should document common processes, procedures, and workflows. This is important because your new accounting platform may include ways to automate steps in the workflow. It is also a good time to dust off any procedures you have already written out and update them if necessary.

Some examples include:

Donation Processing Workflow

  • Receiving donations via various channels (online, mail, in-person).
  • Recording donor information and donation details.
  • Issuing donation receipts or acknowledgments.
  • Allocating donations to specific programs or funds (if applicable).
  • Reconciling donation records with bank deposits.

Program Expense Allocation Workflow

  • Allocating expenses to specific programs or projects.
  • Tracking program-related expenses separately from administrative and fundraising expenses.
  • Ensuring expenses are allocated in accordance with donor restrictions (if any).
  • Reporting on program expenses to stakeholders, including donors and grantors.

Other common nonprofit workflows include grant fund management, compliance reports, and general financial reporting.

By documenting frequently used workflows on paper, you’ll be in a much better position to understand how the same process works in your new accounting platform. Working with your software vendor or consultant, you can set up the workflows, ensure the reports you need are ready, and be better prepared for the new software.

Work with a Skilled Nonprofit Accounting Consultant When Installing New Accounting Software

It’s vital to get your new accounting software set up, and the data moved into it correctly. This is an area where having a skilled and experienced nonprofit accounting software consultant is vital. With the right consultant by your side, the transition to your new platform will be smoother and easier. You’ll be up and running in no time, with the right automations in place for maximum efficiency so you can better manage margin to support your mission.

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 us for more information.

How CFOs Are Utilizing Machine Learning

By | Accounting, Nonprofit | No Comments
CFO using computer, showing AI on monitors

You can’t open a professional journal, website, or news site these days without seeing articles about artificial intelligence (AI). AI, in all its many forms, offers exciting potential to many professions, including accounting. Machine learning is one branch of the overall AI “tree” that continues to expand in many directions, including Generative AI, machine learning, natural language processing, and more. In this article, we’ll help you better understand machine learning and share examples of how CFOs are tapping into the potential of this new technology.

What Is Machine Learning?

Machine learning is a branch of artificial intelligence (AI) that involves the development of algorithms and statistical models that enable computers to progressively improve their performance on a specific task through experience or data. Instead of being explicitly programmed to carry out a certain task, machine learning algorithms learn from patterns in data, allowing them to make predictions or decisions without being explicitly programmed for every scenario. Machine learning techniques are widely used in various fields such as image and speech recognition, natural language processing, medical diagnosis, financial forecasting, and many others.

Machine learning works best when there are predictable, stable patterns and large amounts of data the system can tap into for learning. Consider grammar-checking software. It is a form of machine learning software that ingests copious amounts of data (previous texts and the rules of English grammar) and checks your writing for errors. Does it make mistakes? Yes, since it may not recognize specific elements of style unique to your writing that skirt the rules of English grammar or that the context of a sentence calls for something a bit different than the norm. However, it is a useful bit of machine learning and one that we now take for granted in our word-processing programs.

Machine Learning in Accounting

Many accounting platforms have machine learning built into the system to help accountants and financial professionals do more with their data. A few machine learning examples from the world of finance and accounting include:

  • Forecasting: Machine learning programs can leverage both historic data as well as current market predictions to improve forecasting. Better forecasting offers companies smarter money management, for example, or better inventory management if they can forecast supply and demand with greater accuracy.
  • Fraud Detection: Manually reviewing accounts payable or receivable line by line is a thing of the past with new fraud detection tools. Because machine learning systems are good at pattern recognition, anything outside of an expected pattern can be brought to the user’s attention. These fraud detection features save many hours of tedious journal reviews and allow users to spot patterns with ease.
  • Risk Management: If the system has access to large data sets, it can review past data, identify patterns around known prior risks, and help detect similar risks in the future.
  • Compliance: Machine learning can augment accounting systems and provide notices, reminders, and more on key compliance issues and dates. The resulting reminders can help organizations remain compliant.

Can Machine Learning Take the Place of an Accountant?

Machine learning is, as we said, great at pattern detection. However, what to do once a pattern is detected requires the insights, skills, and experience of a professional accountant. No machine will ever replace a CFO or accountant. Instead, software that uses machine learning can help accountants complete tasks efficiently, improve predictive analytics, and prevent fraud.

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 us for more information.

Expert Tips for Accounting Automation

By | Accounting, Nonprofit | No Comments
person using tablet with accounting software to demonstrate accounting automation

Accounting or finance automation is a term you will see in many places today. Automation does indeed save time and improve efficiency. However, good automation workflows begin with a sound process. Here, we map out the steps to take before you automate your finance processes. If you take the time now to refine your processes before you set up automations, you’ll gain more benefits from automation.

Good Finance Automation Begins with Simple, Effective Processes

Even before discovering which automations are possible in your current finance or accounting software, ask yourself why you want to automate a process. Consider automation when a process:

  • Takes considerable time and effort
  • Reoccurs at regular intervals
  • Follows a logical sequence

Knowing why you want to automate a process starts with such questions. And it’s not just about what you want in your role with the organization—ask what other team members need too. Consider gathering your team and brainstorming ideas around which processes can be automated. Is there one task that takes up a great deal of time for someone? Is it something they must do regularly?

When you have your list of tasks, move on to the next step.

Map the Process on Paper Before Automating Through Software

It is important to map out the process and workflow from start to finish on paper before programming it in your finance system. This ensures that you’ve considered every step and haven’t missed anything. It also gives you time to review the process and make sure it is still accurate and needed. Sometimes, organizations continue to enact processes because “that’s the way it’s always been done.” Forcing yourself to sit down alone or with the team and map it out on paper gives you another opportunity to review the process, make refinements, and reduce the steps, if possible.

List the Processes to Automate in Order of Priority

Next, take the list of processes you’ve created and order them according to priority. Which process, if automated, saves the most time? These should be your priority automations.

Work with the Technology You Have

Now it is time to set up automations. Start with the system that you have. Most finance and accounting systems have at least some form of automation built in. You may need to ask a consultant or find information on the vendor’s website to set up the automations you require.

Do You Need Custom Programming or Replatforming?

What if the current platform you’re using doesn’t offer the automations you need? You have several choices. Exploring custom programming may be a good step if you aren’t ready to replatform or choose new software. While custom programming isn’t cheap, it may be the right solution for your needs if you can quantify the return on investment or ROI.

Some finance platforms offer additional components, upgrades, or add-ons that may provide the tools you need. Work with your technology consultant or software vendor to explore other alternatives. Many companies have invested in automation within their finance or accounting platforms over the past several years, especially as AI has become prevalent. It may be easier for your organization or more cost-effective to upgrade your current platform than to hire someone to build custom code or to switch to a new platform. The last alternative is to move to an entirely different system, also called replatforming. Such a move should not be undertaken lightly. However, if you find that your current accounting and finance software isn’t supporting your organization’s growth or needs, speak with us, and let’s discuss the options.

Automate Processes the Right Way

Automation in your finance and accounting workflow can indeed save a great deal of time and effort. Ensuring that the basic process is sound, identifying the ones that give you the most bang for your buck, and utilizing the software you already have is the right way to proceed with automating financial processes.

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 us for more information.

A Guide to Nonprofit Budgeting: Navigating the Essentials

By | Accounting, Accounting Software, Budget, Nonprofit | No Comments
A Guide to Nonprofit Budgeting, people at desk or table with tablet, spreadsheets, and ledger

Budgets provide the financial foundation upon which an organization must run all its activities. Without a budget, it is almost impossible to manage cash flow. Budgets provide structure, organization, and financial stability that helps you with strategic planning.

Although it’s possible to run a company or a nonprofit solely off cash flow without budgeting for specific activities, it makes planning for steady growth and new activities very difficult. Budgets serve as both guidelines and tools, helping organizations plan for activities, manage cash flow, and view expenses. Here, we’ll share with you the main types of budgets used by nonprofits, as well as discuss each section of the budget in greater detail. Lastly, we’ll talk about ways to manage nonprofit budgeting to make the process go smoothly.

Key Components of Nonprofit Budgets: Income (Revenue) and Expenses

We can break nonprofit budgets into two simple categories: income and expenses. Income refers to money coming into the organization, and expenses refers to the money the organization spends. All financial activities can be grouped under each category. The difference between income and expenses results in a surplus when the difference is positive (more income than expenses) or a loss or deficit (when expenses exceed income).

Source of Income

Your organization probably has several sources of income. Some of these income sources are unique to the nonprofit world. Typical sources of income include donations, program fees, membership fees, sales of products or services, grants, and special events.

Because nonprofits invest their income into their programs and services to fulfill their mission, they must track carefully where revenues come from and how they are spent. Sometimes, nonprofit income is tied to specific programs or activities. For example, donors may indicate they wish their donation to be used only for a specific program or added to the general operating fund. If the donation is intended for a specific program, the organization must ensure that they budget the funds or add them to the fund for that specific activity.

A good example is a nonprofit animal shelter. Many have “spay and neuter funds,” which are set up to pay for low-cost or free spay/neuter programs to address the surplus of homeless animals in the local community. If donors give to that program, the shelter must honor the donor’s wishes and ensure that the money is spent on that program. They cannot reapportion the funds for the general budget to pay for advertising, for example, or for salaries and wages; funds raised for a specific purpose must go to fulfill that purpose.

Another example of how nonprofit revenues must be tracked differently from for-profit income streams is grants. Grants are often given for highly specific purposes or to fund specific programs. Granting organizations often require careful accounting of how the funds are spent.

Importance of Diversifying Income

Although we spoke at length about two sources of income—donations and grants—nonprofits receive income from many places. They may sell products or charge a fee for services. They may receive donations of goods. Each of these income categories requires careful tracking and recording of the income received.

As in the for-profit world, smart nonprofits diversify their income as much as possible. It’s never a good idea to put all your eggs in one basket or rely solely on one channel for income. A nonprofit that relies on a single large grant to fund multiple program activities may be in deep trouble if the grant doesn’t continue, for example. A diverse income stream of donations, fees for services or goods, grants, and other sources of income ensures that even if trouble hits one category, it won’t jeopardize the entire budget.

Expenses

Expenses refers to everything your organization must spend money on to keep running: operational costs (overhead, utilities, telephone and internet expenses, professional fees, insurance), rents or licenses, fixed assets such as furniture and computers, marketing and sales, salary, and benefits. You must track all your expenses to ensure that you have a clear and detailed view of how your organization spends its money.

Once you track expenses, it becomes clear which categories are consuming the largest share of the budget. You can then take steps to either minimize this spend or manage it prudently. There are many areas where expenses can be cut without compromising the quality of the services you deliver. For example, you may be able to cut back on insurance expenses by shopping for and comparing different policies and coverages. Or you may find that hiring remote employees helps you keep rent costs low because you don’t need as large an office building. These are just examples of how expenses can be managed to keep them low.

The Most Common Types of Budgets Used by Nonprofits

There are many ways in which you can create a budget. If your organization has a budget in place, you may use that as a starting point each year and adjust income and expenses based on projections. You may also find that a new approach to budgeting is helpful.

The three most common types of budgets used by nonprofits include:

  1. Program-Based Budgeting: This approach is widely used by nonprofits as it aligns budget allocations directly with the organization’s programs and initiatives. It allows for clear tracking of resources allocated to each program, making it easier to assess the effectiveness and impact of those programs.
  2. Zero-Based Budgeting (ZBB): While not as prevalent as program-based budgeting, ZBB is still commonly used by nonprofits, especially those seeking to ensure maximum efficiency and accountability in resource allocation. ZBB encourages a thorough review of all expenses, promoting cost-conscious decision-making throughout the organization. Zero-based budgets start at zero each year, with budgets built from scratch. Each expense and income must be estimated from scratch based on current conditions.
  3. Outcomes-Based Budgeting: Nonprofits are increasingly adopting outcome-based budgeting to demonstrate the impact of their activities and investments. By linking budget allocations to desired outcomes or impacts, organizations can better prioritize resources and measure their effectiveness in achieving their mission.

Ready, Set, Budget! The Budgeting Process

Creating a good budget takes time. Leave at least several weeks to build your budget and, if you need to gain approval from your board or managers, time for review, feedback, revision, and final approval.

Depending on the type of budget you are building, there are several ways to begin the process. You’ll need to understand all the categories you have to account for in the income and expense areas. Gather the necessary information: previous years’ income statements and cash flows, sources of revenues, and the like, as well as expenses.

Determine a reasonable percent by which you think you can increase both income and expenses. It’s natural to hope for the best, but it’s better to conservatively estimate increased income. If you plan to increase income, will you need to spend more on specific activities, such as marketing and donor relationships, to achieve your goals? All of these must be considered as part of your strategic plan as well as the budgeting process.

Your organization’s accountant or bookkeeper is instrumental in the budgeting process. Schedule time to review income and expenses together. Then, connect with staff as needed to gather additional input.

A budget is a living document. Like a good strategic plan or marketing plan, adjustments should be made to it as the year progresses (it’s not a once-and-done activity). Schedule periodic budget reviews and make necessary adjustments to income projections or expenses as you need to ensure an end-of-year surplus that can be invested back into the organization’s mission. A quarterly review may be sufficient. Some organizations conduct budget reviews monthly, others quarterly or twice a year. At a minimum, an annual budget review and budgeting cycle are necessary for a healthy financial picture.

Tools to Make Budgeting Easier

There are several types of accounting software that can make nonprofit budgeting easier. Spreadsheets are frequently used but have several drawbacks. They must be manually updated and can grow to be quite complex depending on the number of programs you’re managing. They also lack good reporting functions.

Many small business software packages seem like they would be a good step up, but these also have several drawbacks. While they can automate many tasks and produce good reports like balance statements, cash flows, and similar reports, they may require extensive customization to track income and expenses by program, or track donation information. They are not built for the unique requirements of nonprofit accounting.

Nonprofit accounting software is built specifically for nonprofit budgeting. There are packages for nonprofits and government accounting, so you start with a system designed with your specific income and expense needs in mind. Some offer cloud or browser-based versions, which make it easy for remote employees and auditors to log into the system to perform the work.

Welter Consulting

Whether you are new to nonprofit budgeting or highly experienced at it, if you need assistance choosing your budgeting method, selecting nonprofit accounting software, or moving from spreadsheets or another software to a new nonprofit-specific accounting platform, contact Welter Consulting. We are happy to help.

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 us for more information.