Serenic Navigator Helps Arbor Day Foundation Blossom
“Gary Deemer, accounting director and treasurer of the Arbor Day Foundation, recently shepherded the organization away from Excel dependence with a new software conversion. As that fixed grid disappears, transparency increases. ‘We’re focusing on trying to get information out to people sooner,’ he explained. ‘The older the information gets, the less valuable it becomes in its ability to affect people to make good decisions on how to manage their areas.’ ”
– Accounting Today, “Waiting for the recovery,” by Danielle Lee, June 1, 2011
Based in Nebraska, the Arbor Day Foundation is a nonprofit conservation organization with a mission to inspire people to plant, nurture and celebrate trees. Its employees and members lead the way to help individual citizens plant and care for trees to enrich the environment. The Foundation plants and distributes nearly 11 million trees annually and strives to increase awareness of the benefits of trees – especially through National Arbor Day each year. Through the production of high-quality, easy-to-use educational materials, the organization helps to make tree planting and care something in which almost everyone can be involved.
The Arbor Day Foundation builds quality programs that further its mission – ranging from its reforestation programs to selling greeting cards, t-shirts and coffee that help raise money to benefit the environment. It boasts nearly one million members who help revitalize forests and transform cities and towns by planting and caring for trees.
Tracking its funding sources and programs across multiple operations, including its Nebraska headquarters in Lincoln and a 260-acre Arbor Day Farm in Nebraska City, called for more current technology. The organization’s accounting team wanted to upgrade from its previous FundWare system and the internally developed solutions it was using to track its $45 million annual budget.
“We wanted to integrate with our other systems to build a full 360-degree view of our members, including their orders, their donations and their preferences, while also providing easy access to information for our staff in multiple locations,” said Arbor Day Foundation Accounting Director and Treasurer Gary Deemer.
The Foundation selected Serenic Navigator after comparing with another commercial ERP solution. It first implemented financial systems including general ledger, accounts payable, cash management and fixed assets. In a second implementation phase, it customized Serenic Navigator’s integrated sales and receivables system to help its 87 users track its complex transactional activities, members and donations.
Given the number of different programs we support, we knew no system would offer enough support right out of the box, said Lead Serenic Navigator Developer Mike Ashley. “Being able to work with Serenic’s staff to customize Serenic Navigator to meet our exact needs was a huge benefit for us, along with its built-in features designed specifically for nonprofit accounting.”
For nonprofit organizations like the Arbor Day Foundation, a solution with the scalability to increase transactions translates to more donations and more trees planted – spreading the reach of its programs to help the environment. In just six months’ time, its nine-person accounting team experienced significant improvements in terms of the information recorded in its system. Previously, users had to manually summarize and import data to spreadsheets, but now financial and transaction information is more readily available to project managers, executives and board members.
Tracking Transactions – from the Donor to the Forest
The Arbor Day Foundation’s multiple, diverse business models make it unique. Managing a convention center, restaurant, orchards, green house, direct mail, gift shops, coffee continuity program, greeting cards and t-shirts sales, along with donations from corporations and individuals, creates challenges related to how accounting information is compiled and presented. Deemer said Serenic Navigator has facilitated tracking the Foundation’s complex activities and made it possible to access information needed for each individual business model. The organization's Give-A-Tree Cards program, for example, lets consumers send greeting cards that honor every recipient with a tree planted in one of our nation’s forests.
“We had a home-grown system for handling our card sales and couldn’t specifically track donations without sifting through multiple Excel spreadsheets,” said Deemer. “Now, with Serenic Navigator, we can look up each $5 card sale and tell the donor or recipient when their tree was planted and in which state or national forest.”
The accounting team also tracks the Foundation’s Rain Forest Rescue Continuity Coffee Club that helps prevent depletion of rain forests. People subscribe and arrange how often they receive shipments of coffee that is grown without clear cutting in rain forests. Its previous system had no efficient way of tracking that program, and required significant time to track orders and payments. With Serenic Navigator, those tasks are now much more automated. “The coffee program is a different business model from the other things we do, so we needed Serenic Navigator’s features to customize the statements we send and process orders from purchase to fulfillment,” Deemer explained. “Now we can put a fence around all the coffee activity and separate it from our other efforts.”
Streamlining Accounting Processes
The Arbor Day Foundation began its system upgrade efforts looking at Customer Relationship Management (CRM) systems to better handle order fulfillment. It recognized it needed to modernize, but its accounting department did not anticipate changing its financial systems. However, as it searched for a software tool to meet its needs for high-volume transactions and inventory management, the accounting team realized it would help to integrate information with its financial side.
“We experienced an ‘ah-ha moment’ when we saw that Serenic Navigator brought together order processing, fulfillment and revenues, expenses, and liabilities all in one system,” said Ashley. “We knew with customizations it would help us track all of our activities, which would give us a single view of information that we never had before.”
Ashley said having new tools is only half of the equation. The other half involves looking at organizational processes to learn whether there is a different way to approach challenges. The Foundation had never used a purchase order system, because the professional services and many other costs incurred did not lend themselves to POs.
“As we’ve gotten into Serenic Navigator’s capabilities, we see the value of using POs and now are starting to use those for better inventory tracking,” said Deemer. “The benefits are significant, based on the checks and balances available and what you can leverage for sales order creation and invoices. It’s much more efficient for us to do this way.”
Reporting Provides Up-to-the-Minute Information
Serenic Navigator’s flexibility has provided a central repository for accurate information and has helped the Foundation in ways it didn’t anticipate, such as eliminating accounting staff members’ roles in accessing information across departments. By tracking donations and trees planted, for example, users can get information on their own without the sorting and filtering accounting staff used to do upon request. Various views now show order history and invoices tied to specific donations. Direct mail personnel can see costs for campaigns and drill down into scanned invoices on their desktop to see up-to-date vendor activity.
“The beauty of views is that we can set up filters for people to control what they see, but they control how often they see information,” said Deemer. “It gives them guidance.”
Serenic Navigator provides a welcome change from the Foundation’s old system, which only a few people knew how to make work.
“If anyone wanted numbers, they had to go to these power users,” Ashley explained. “Now, information is much more accessible. Any user can see details of transactions and view paths from ordering to tree planting. They can view the status of coffee orders while on the phone with a donor or purchaser.”
Managers of various business lines previously received monthly reports, but the data was old and sometimes irrelevant. Now they can see in real-time what theyneed. The Arbor Day Foundation can get reports to staff three ways: posting on its server, arranging self-access and running Serenic Navigator’s off-the-shelf reports. In the future, the accounting team plans to push reports to users’ desktops using Jet Reports. It also has plans to improve additional transactions, such as using Serenic Navigator to improve its shipping process and integrate with its CRM system.