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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Allocations – What Are They Costing Your Organization?

Recently, we started tracking how much time it takes nonprofits and government organizations to allocate their expenses to the appropriate fund and/or dimension (project, program, department, etc) at the end of the month. The initial numbers are quite high and the cost to the organization is quite shocking.

Here at Serenic, we learned long ago that the best way to “empower your mission” is to reduce the effort spent in the back office managing manual spreadsheets and making sure more effort can be focused on your organization’s mission. Since we are in the business of building financial and accounting software for nonprofits and governments, it’s appropriate that we built a solution, “Batch Allocations,” that eliminates the effort needed for this task. We have nonprofit and government clients running our standard “Line Allocations,” however, when they need to perform complex matrix math calculations, they use our Batch Allocations. These allow them to completely eliminate their spreadsheets. Here is a relatively simple scenario.
Read more…

3 Tips for Building Valuable Donor Relationships Online

Tom Ahern got it right when he said “Donors aren’t ATM machines. I don’t think successful fundraising is about keeping the staff paid and the lights burning. It’s far more about giving your donors a vivid sense that they’re changing the world.” Of course, your staff are a vital part of your mission, but donors are too – where would your organization be without them? Nonprofit Online Community Read more…

Calculating the Impact from a Subscription Investment

My boss likes to say that we wake up thinking about nonprofit accounting…it’s not that bad. Some of us wake up thinking about coffee :)

But every day, we talk with our nonprofit clients and (more importantly) listen to understand those processes and tasks that are consuming more time than they should. We understand that every dollar you have was given to you with the expectation that it be used to support your mission. And prospects often tell us that they spend hours, days, and weeks working with their financial data to prove how they have spent their funds. And Serenic’s products were designed to relieve just these pain points. time vs money

  • Compiling my year-end reports takes 4-5 days.
  • I have to manage my funds in a spreadsheet – sometimes this means monies from separate funding sources, and sometimes it means tracking unrestricted, temporarily restricted, and permanently restricted funds.
  • I have to allocate salaries across projects and that takes several days each month.
  • We were dinged on our last audit because our current accounting software did not include a strict enough audit trail. Read more…
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3 Twitter Metrics your Nonprofit Should be Measuring

Last week we wrote about the Facebook metrics your nonprofit should be measuring. This week we’re going to talk about another great social channel, Twitter, and the metrics that matter there.

Like Facebook, Twitter has its own analytics function, but these are somewhat basic; only reporting on replies, retweets and favorites. However, you can also have a look at some demographic data, including location, gender and interests. Twitter has also recently rolled out an update that allows for in-app analysis of your Tweets (pictured).  Twitter Update 2014

There are various free and paid Twitter analytic tools available, either as a function of a social media management tool or as a stand-alone app. Which one suits your organization best will depend on your requirements. There are three metrics you should definitely be measuring, regardless of your choice:   Read more…

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Is Subscription Right for Your Nonprofit?

Everything flows, nothing stands still. – Heraclitus, ~535 BC–475 BC

A couple of years ago, we wrote the original of this article about Serenic’s licensing models.  Well, all things change, so we think it’s time to update the article.

When considering nonprofit accounting software, the purchasing model adds an important dimension to the decision process.  Which is the best fit for your organization – purchasing a license and installing (either on premise or on leased servers), or making the leap into the cloud? which way to go

Perpetual License –

Some nonprofits are most comfortable with their data stored locally and are willing and able to make a capital investment in the license, implementation, and necessary servers.  Additionally, they may prefer to pay their costs upfront, rather than a monthly subscription fee.

  • You purchase concurrent users (full or limited access).
  • You install the product on your organization’s computers and servers (or on servers leased from a 3rd party).
  • Maintenance of the software is under your direction and control – for example, scheduling and applying upgrades.
  • Should your nonprofit need specialized functionality, you can contract to have the product customized to meet your specific needs. Read more…