Case Studies: Accounting software for nonprofits

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Nonprofit organizations have very specific needs, including compliance with strict financial regulations that ensure their tax-exempt status and other designations. Reporting functionality is especially important for nonprofits, as they tend to organize and prioritize their data differently than traditional for-profit companies.

Below, two nonprofit organizations discuss their experience with specialized nonprofit accounting software.

Reliable and robust

Product: Abila MIP Fund Accounting

Nonprofit organization: San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium

On record: Senior accountant George Shen

Start date: 1991

Users: 4

Price: $2,500 per year

About the user: The San Francisco Community Clinic Consortium’s mission is to improve community health in the Bay Area, and it serves overlooked populations including the homeless, immigrants and seniors. The organization develops health programs and advocates for policies that increase access to good community-based primary health care.

Objective: SFCCC was introduced to Abila’s software, then MIP, through a San Francisco-based MIP consultant who also happened to be CFO of one of the clinics in SFCCC’s consortium. The organization started using the software about seven years before Shen joined. Shen said that he has proficiency in other accounting software platforms, but nothing he had used before met the specific needs of a nonprofit organization such as SFCCC.

Implementation: The consultant who brought Abila to SFCCC at the time was the only consultant for the product in the Bay Area. He spent some time at the organization to help implement the software.

Advantages: Shen has been with SFCCC for 17 years. One of the major advantages of Abila in the early years was that it had built-in Excel sheets, which, in Shen’s experience, other platforms did not.

He also likes that in Abila, no transaction can be deleted. “If an accountant enters something wrong, like with the wrong code, they can make an adjustment but they cannot delete the transaction,” he said, noting that this makes it much more difficult to commit fraudulent activity or tamper with data.

Shen added that the reporting feature was attractive, as the reports are easy to read. He is responsible for presenting financial reports to the SFCCC board every month, so the reporting feature is important.

Challenges: While Shen likes the reporting feature, he wishes it were more customizable. For instance, for his monthly reports to the board and CEO, he would like to display both monthly and year-to-date data on one sheet, which is not currently possible.

Shen would also love to see Abila be able to calculate “total job cost,” which is important in SFCCC’s line of business. “If we want to calculate the cost of a product, I don’t believe Abila can do the job cost. For example, if I wanted to calculate the total cost of a patient’s surgery, that would involve integrating entry into the surgery room, anesthesia, how much time, how much medication, what time surgery starts and finishes, and so on, into one total cost data point,” Shen said, noting that other software he has used in the past did have this capability. “So far I haven’t been able to do this in Abila.”

Shen did mention that he attended the most recent Abila user conference, where he was able to discuss these ideas and other suggestions with Abila representatives, which he liked.

No fuss, no muss

Product: Financial Edge NXT

Nonprofit organization: California Food Policy Advocates

On record: Director of finance and operations Bruce Kariya

Start date: August 2015

Users: 2

Price: $8,000 per year for the entire Blackbaud Financial Edge platform, which includes NXT.

About the user: California Food Policy Advocates is a nonprofit organization exclusively focused on food policy, and on increasing access to healthy food for low-income Californians.

Objective: CFPA first bought Blackbaud’s Financial Edge system (without NXT, the accounting module) in 2014. Kariya had just joined the organization as director of finance and operations, and didn’t like the accounting software the organization was using because its reporting functionality was not meeting the nonprofit’s needs.

Adding the NXT module to Financial Edge was an attractive proposition because the cost of implementation was negligible (since the company had already implemented Financial Edge), and Kariya thought the product had a mature position in the cloud.

Implementation: It was easy to add NXT to the existing Financial Edge platform — it was just a matter of “plugging it in and turning it on,” Kariya said.

A Blackbaud representative was on hand to help with any implementation needs. Kariya also made the decision not to migrate all the historical data from the old accounting system into NXT, and that made implementation very easy. The historical data remains accessible in the old system, but in NXT, the organization started fresh.

Advantages: “[NXT] streamlines the data entry portion of the accounts payable module quite a bit,” Kariya said. “That being the bulk of transactions that we deal with, that’s been a huge benefit.”

NXT also allows users to export data into Excel, so if Kariya doesn’t like certain sections of an NXT report, he can export it to Excel and then tweak it before printing or presenting the data.

“It’s fantastic, especially for the financial statements,” Kariya said. “Everybody has their own quirks, and I’m sure I have more than my fair share. This gives me incredible flexibility to produce financial reports the way I want them to look.” Kariya also noted that with every software update and new module that Blackbaud adds to Financial Edge NXT, it offers an early adoption program so that users can try the software in beta and offer feedback and suggestions.

Challenges: “In some ways, NXT is still a work in progress,” Kariya said. “It’s a challenge and an opportunity in the same breath. They’re constantly adding onto the modules that they’ve already introduced.”

Kariya explained that there are some functions in the older version of Financial Edge (Version 7) that NXT does not have. However, he said, that doesn’t bother him too much because he can switch between the older version and the new one to access the different capabilities. “For me, it’s not that big a deal,” he said. “I like to know that if NXT doesn’t do something exactly how I’m used to, you can always fall back to Version 7 and do things that way instead.”

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