4 Problems Cloud Accounting Software Solves for Foundations and Philanthropic Charities
Charitable foundations gave nearly $76 billion in 2019. Seventeen percent of all charitable dollars flow from foundations to nonprofit organizations and causes, mostly through grantmaking. Most philanthropic foundations are funded by wealthy donors who have high expectations regarding financial accountability, transparency, and efficiency. Cloud accounting software helps philanthropic charities and grantmaking foundations focus more of their time, energy and money on their mission.
In interviews recently conducted with finance leaders within grantmaking foundations and philanthropic charity organizations, they told us Sage Intacct cloud accounting software helped them solve four of their greatest challenges:
1. Reduce the cost and struggles of outdated technology
Older on-premises accounting systems tend either to be underpowered and lacking functionality or overly complicated and very expensive to own and maintain. You pay too much for features you won’t use, or you don’t get the specialized accounting, tracking, and reporting functionality you need. In either case, these solutions tend to be inflexible and inefficient.
By contrast, cloud accounting software, like Sage Intacct, is designed to meet the specific fund accounting needs of nonprofits as well as the unique needs of philanthropic charities and grantmaking foundations while remaining easy to use and affordable. There is no IT infrastructure to maintain. Foundations never need to install an update or maintain the system to benefit from the latest functionality.
Being able to work from home (or anywhere) is another important benefit of cloud accounting software. That was highlighted this year during the COVID-19 pandemic. Charities and foundations with cloud accounting systems could shift seamlessly from working at the office to working from home.
The Ford Family Foundation’s legacy accounting system was so hard to use, they needed the help of a software developer to extract data for important reporting. Manual and outdated methods for payables and other processes were time-consuming, inefficient, and overly complicated. According to accounting manager, Jennifer Mitchell, before adopting Sage Intacct, “We didn’t have access to the information our colleagues needed, so it felt impossible to adequately manage budgets or to support the evolving requirements of our organization. It was really frustrating that we were still using outdated methods as our payables and other processes became a lot more complicated.”
“During the COVID-19 pandemic, our finance team didn’t have to spend any time figuring out how we’d keep things running with people at home—it was seamless, since we had easy access to Sage Intacct in the cloud. Rather than just trying to figure out how to get grant dollars out the door, we could focus on where the money needed to go and where it could come from.”
Jennifer Mitchell, Accounting Manager, The Ford Family Foundation
2. Improve financial visibility and automate reporting
With on-premises accounting software, philanthropic charities and grantmaking foundations often find it difficult to get the data they want out of the system in a useable format. It can be hard to customize reports—often to the point that the finance team simply pulls the accounting data into Excel in order to manipulate it. All of that manual data processing means that by the time you distribute reports, the data contained is already days, weeks, or even a month old.
Cloud accounting software makes it easy to report on the data you want and delivers that data in financial reports and dashboards that are easy to understand. For example, Sage Intacct offers role-based dashboards that enable executives and managers to see the information that’s most important to them at a glance. If they see a trend they want to analyze more deeply, they can easily drill down to individual transactions data. What’s more, the dashboards and reports display real-time data, so you can perform proactive analysis, spot trends, and become a more strategic partner to the executive team. Real-time visibility has been extremely important during the COVID-19 pandemic, giving grantmaking foundations the data needed to respond to rapidly changing events.
With Sage Intacct, grantmaking foundations and philanthropic charities can create a variety of financial reports and dashboards that give key stakeholders a real-time view into the data they need for critical decision-making.
Moving to a cloud accounting system with Sage Intacct enabled the Gates Family Foundation to support remote working, improve data security and internal controls, and create a more efficient workflow. When COVID-19 hit, the team’s ability to analyze expenses in real-time enabled them to quickly identify about eight percent of their $2.4 million administrative budget that could be saved and reallocated. They quickly pivoted and applied that money toward pandemic-related grants.
“With Sage Intacct, the department heads have more control and better information. That was especially important this year. We reallocated a ton of money to go to grants that were specifically geared towards COVID-19. I don't know that that could have happened without this insight into department budgets.”
Anna Schmid, Controller, Gates Family Foundation
3. Streamline accounting, tax, and audit processes
Cloud accounting software increases the efficiency of charity accounting and reporting processes. Most charities and foundations find they can complete their monthly close cycle in far less time by automating manual processes, including data entry, reporting and approvals. In addition to freeing up resources, saving time and saving money, the efficiency gains made possible by cloud accounting technology can ease administrative burden involved in tax preparation and audits.
Koret Foundation used a combination of 20-year old software and paper-based manual processes to manage their accounting processes before Sage Intacct. Moving to the cloud helped Koret Foundation gain efficiency by eliminating spreadsheets and manual reporting. Taking advantage of Sage Intacct API integrations to their grant management, expense management, and ACH payment services increased the team’s visibility. As a result, the foundation realized 70-80% efficiency gains across accounting processes, shortening the monthly close from 35-45 days down to 10 days. Operating costs were reduced by more than $400,000 annually. The team also reduced the time required to complete the foundation’s audit by 60%, and reduced audit cost by 20%.
“Before Sage Intacct, it would be such anxiety getting the audit done… And the fact that the 990-PF is done at the same time now in Sage Intacct, we're able to present this to our board members and our committees in a very proactive way. I'm very proud of the work we do, and by the time it's done, it's pretty much ready to be issued on both the audit and the 990s.”
Marlena Wong, CFO, Koret Foundation
4. Improve insight for grantmaking and program-related investment accounting decision-making
To improve financial insight in the grant making and program-related investment management arenas, it’s important to be able to see the big picture, including all of the data about grants and impact investments. Cloud accounting software provides the ability to easily bring in data from grant management and investment management applications through API integration. Anytime an organization can automatically exchange information between systems without rekeying data, it will avoid human errors and benefit from more timely, reliable insight.
Integration was one of the key objectives that drove The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation’s decision to adopt Sage Intacct. The foundation manages its grants with Fluxx grant management software and they automate credit card expense reporting with Nexonia. Both Nexonia and Fluxx participate in the Sage Intacct Marketplace Partners program, so these best-in-class solutions feature native integration to Sage Intacct. The foundation’s finance team can bring grant information into Sage Intacct with the click of a button.
“We’ve seen a lot of efficiency gains with Sage Intacct. The ability to have the APIs coming in from our grant management and our credit card management software is huge.”
Andrea Dobson, The Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation
There are many ways that cloud accounting software helps foundations and philanthropic charities maximize stewardship and deliver better mission impact. From delivering immediate visibility to streamlining reporting and compliance, charity accounting in the cloud delivers efficiency gains, better insights, and the flexibility to respond to changing conditions. For a more detailed examination of the advantages cloud accounting software can deliver, download our eBook, Benefits of Cloud Accounting Software for Foundations and Philanthropic Charities.
Nancy Master is a senior nonprofit industry marketing manager at Sage Intacct and is passionate about helping nonprofits achieve mission success. Nancy has more than 15 years of experience in software marketing and close to 20 years of experience working with a human services nonprofit organization.
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