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Understanding and Protecting Donor Intention and Grants

October 8th, 2014 No comments

Nonprofits and NGOs are in a delicate position because they depend on donors to uphold and support their cause and grants to fund their mission. At the same time, their donor counterparts and grantors are passionate and excited about imagesthe mission, and nonprofits need to respect the intent of the charitable donation or grant.

If donors were to find out their money was spent in a way contrary to their desire, future funding could be in jeopardy, not to mention the potential for a PR crisis. This is why clear communication with donors is extremely important for nonprofits and NGOs of any size. Adhering to donor intention doesn’t just protect your relationship with one particular donor or grantor; it also protects the overall mission of your nonprofit.

Understanding Donor Intention and Grant Restrictions

There are many layers of donor intent and three specific grant restrictions. Before setting up a grant or making a direct donation, philanthropists may have broad or very specific guidelines on how the funds should be spent. Terms and conditions of a grant or donation may include:

  • Unrestricted: without a designated use
  • Temporarily restricted: contains specific guidelines on how it will be used
  • Permanently restricted: must be held indefinitely (often with the intent to generate interest)

Even if a grant or donation is unrestricted, special care should be made to address the donor’s intent. This helps develop a relationship of trust that will hopefully extend far into the future.

How to Protect Donor Intent

The first step to protecting donor intent is to have a clear cut mission statement. You mission statement will not only help attract donors, it will help attract the right kind of donors—ones who are passionate about your cause. When you share the same goals, then most of the time donor intent will align itself naturally with your everyday processes.Capture

Along with a clear mission statement, your nonprofit or NGO should have a strong commitment to ethical behavior on all levels of the organization. Perhaps this goes without saying, but even the slightest deviation from honest business practices (intentional or not) undermines your entire organization. Even in cases where donor intent isn’t clearly defined, all funds should be allocated with complete transparency and a commitment to spend it according to your donor’s wishes.

Finally, your nonprofit or NGO needs the right accounting and reporting tools so you can actually show your donors that you’re spending their funds as intended. In Geni Whitehouse’s whitepaper for Serenic Software, Grant vs. Grantt, she states, “Grant managers have strict accountability and tracking requirements, specialized reporting and measurement needs, and complex revision tracking requirements. It should be no surprise, then, that grant managers need special tools to support them.”

Selecting the Right Grant Management Software

Haphazard grant management increases the chances of mistakes and misallocation of funds. To ensure that your nonprofit or NGO is compliant with all fund restrictions, you need dedicated grant management software that integrates with your nonprofit accounting software.

Your organization’s mission is best supported with grant managing software designed specifically for nonprofits and NGOs; learn more about Serenic Software’s grants management solution, AwardVision

Automate Processes & Go Paperless with Workflow Management!

October 6th, 2014 No comments

Many of our nonprofit accounting users have found automating processes with workflow management helps them be more efficient and cuts down on paper use.

According to Jerry McGlaughlin, Senior Director of Information Technology Services Planning and Business Management at the American Psychological Association (APA), the IT team knows that after implementing Serenic Navigator, the organization as a whole has a better, up-to-date grasp of its finances, and Serenic Navigator’s built-in workflows are having a big impact. Read more…

How Technology Has Changed Philanthropy for the Better

October 1st, 2014 No comments

We live in a time when tech companies and computer savvy gurus have found a way to improve just about every professional field through the means of technology. Philanthropy, likewise, has changed immensely.MEGWARE.CLIC

The “old days” of philanthropy—before technology and social media had an impact on attracting donors—involved primarily the elite funding their favorite charities. Philanthropic giving was something a select few did at the end of their careers, after they were done amassing great wealth.

Now philanthropy is more egalitarian. It’s easy for nonprofits and NGOs to reach out (through tools such as smart phone apps and social media campaigns) to people from any socio-economic background, and enable them to donate easily and in small amounts. Philanthropy isn’t something you have to wait to do anymore—technology allows you to make donations in easy and often creative ways. Read more…

Transitioning a Business from For-Profit to Nonprofit

September 24th, 2014 No comments

If your business already has a philanthropic vision, then making the transition to nonprofit status may be a wise move. It’s not as simple as applying for tax-exempt status with the IRS, though. You’ll need to carefully plan your transition, taking great care to complete all the necessary federal, state, and regional requirements.

Start With Your Mission

Before you make the move, you’ll need to decide on an overall mission. A nonprofit organization doesn’t exist to generate profits for owners or shareholders—the main objective is its charitable mission.

Your business may already have certain aspects that qualify as charitable activities. Use this as a starting point, and build your new nonprofit organization around it. You may still be able to use your old company’s name, but the fundamental purpose of your new organization needs to change so that it is centered on a charitable mission.
Read more…

Serenic is Now a Sylogist Company

September 22nd, 2014 2 comments

Serenic Software was acquired by Sylogist in July. Sylogist, headquartered in Canada, is a technology innovation company with a strong focus on the public sector market. The decision to acquire Serenic was based in large part on the integration potential of Serenic products with Sylogist’s existing public sector products, offered through its Bellamy Software division. Overall, Sylogist sees the acquisition of Serenic as a key piece of a global growth platform for the company.

Greater impact on your constituents

Benefits for Serenic

Becoming a Sylogist company will strengthen Serenic’s fiscal management structure and ensure company health moving forward. Serenic will be able to operate more efficiently, profitably, and effectively with streamlined business units that continue to nurture and support our traditional markets, including NFPs, NGOs and public sector organizations around the world.

Future Upgrades to Serenic’s Accounting Software for NonProfits

Following the upgrade of the product to the Microsoft Dynamics NAV R2 release in April of this year, Serenic currently plans to release Serenic Navigator 2015, based on Microsoft Dynamics 2015, in late Fall 2014. The upgrade will focus on easier and better upgrade tools, better integration with Microsoft products such as Office 365, and tablet support.

Serenic’s goal is to empower your mission by helping you do more good with your resources and have a greater impact on your constituents.

Board Members: 3 Tips for Allocating Nonprofit Resources Objectively

September 17th, 2014 No comments

Nonprofit board members are usually unpaid members of the community given the strenuous and often controversial task of deciding where charitable donations will do the most good. The donors to your organization, as well as the public you serve, trust in your honest stewardship of funds and resources.

In order to maintain trust in your nonprofit’s mission, you need to remain objective in all your board duties, especially when it comes to allocating resources. Objectivity can be hard to achieve, especially with a diverse group of board members. Keep in mind that board members often come from drastically different backgrounds. You can use this to your advantage—embrace your board’s diversity and never forget your organization’s overall mission.

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Here are 3 tips to help you remain objective when allocating resources.

1.     Encourage robust and open dialogue

Time is often limited during board meetings, especially if you only meet once every month or every quarter. Even if you’re working under a time crunch, high quality dialog and debate in the boardroom is vital. If you don’t allow for dissent and vigorous debate, you may be missing out on a crucial perspective you otherwise wouldn’t have addressed.

Nonprofit boards, because of their charitable mission, are sometimes wary of conflict. It may be necessary to encourage “conflict” at times, with the intent of getting board members engaged in open dialogue.

2.     Discuss possible conflicts of interest

Conflicts of interest come up all the time in nonprofit board meetings. Board members are typically volunteers who are active in the business community, and it’s only natural that their professional and personal lives will sometimes conflict with the nonprofit’s processes.

The best way to handle conflicts of interest is to have a written conflict of interest policy as well as a process for addressing potential conflicts. In fact, IRS form 990 requires you to have both a written policy and a process for managing conflicts.

A conflict of interest policy should:

  1. Require disclosure
  2. Prohibit members from voting on matters where there is a conflict of interest

Your process for managing conflicts should encourage disclosure and discussion of possible conflicts of interest within your board meetings. You may also discuss hypothetical situations and promote awareness of potential problems.

3.     Be a patient risk takermedium_5204322722

If you’re used to taking risks in the private sector, the slower pace that nonprofits often function at may be frustrating. But even for smaller organizations, nonprofits are subject to stringent guidelines and laws that can make it difficult to get things done right away.

An organization’s nonprofit status depends on vigorous financial reporting and transparency. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t take risks—your mission depends on you using your business acumen and entrepreneurial skills in order to succeed. Just keep in mind that you’ll be required to exercise patience in order to enact meaningful change.

Remember: the mission is your bottom line

Bold moves and giant risks are often rewarded in the private sector, as long as they improve the bottom line. But the bottom line of your nonprofit organization is its mission, not profits. Your charitable mission should be at the forefront when making any kind of decision about funds and resources.

Your nonprofit’s mission is as unique as its individual board members. Each board meeting should be a rewarding experience, as long as you are dedicated to open dialogue, addressing potential conflicts of interest, and taking the necessary risks to help your organization succeed.

2nd photo courtesy of DCLG

Categories: Donor Management, Nonprofit, Payroll Tags:

How to Avoid These Common Nonprofit Accounting Mistakes

September 11th, 2014 No comments

Nonprofits are dedicated to pursuing altruistic missions aimed at serving the public, but that doesn’t stop many from falling victim to common accounting mistakes. According to a 2013 study by Jeffrey J. Burks at the University of Notre Dame, nonprofit organizations make almost twice as many accounting errors as for-profit companies of similar size.medium_6757849129

Easily avoided mistakes (such as data entry errors) can derail an entire nonprofit’s mission. An improperly categorized expense or a mismanaged account may attract attention from the IRS and cause donors to lose trust in your organization.

Here’s a list of some of the most common nonprofit accounting mistakes, along with some pointers on how to avoid them.

Data Entry Errors

A misplaced zero can wreak havoc on a financial report. Small errors have a way of coming back to bite you, so make sure every entry is double checked every time. Compare accounts with bank statements and maintain the utmost attention to detail, even if you are using accounting software that does many operations automatically.

Failure to Follow Appropriate Accounting Procedures

Every nonprofit organization, big or small, should have clear and effective accounting procedures that all employees are required to follow to the letter. If any procedures are ignored or followed improperly, it can confuse the IRS and set you up for an audit.

For instance, implementing a single platform for your nonprofit accounting software with automated workflows can ensure that policies on purchasing and expense processing are enforced, while maintaining audit trails.

Lack of a Complete Review Process

Without a robust review process, it’s easier for small mistakes to fall through the cracks. Make sure every accounting transaction is reviewed by a second pair of eyes at the very least.

Relying on Volunteers and Untrained Personnel

Budgeting restrictions can make it difficult to hire professional staff for your nonprofit organization, but accounting is one of the areas where you shouldn’t rely on volunteers or untrained personnel.

Accurate and complete accounting from a professional accountant helps you avoid costly errors. It will also help your fundraising efforts, since donors will be more likely to trust you when you have professional and accurate financial reporting in place.

Improper Categorization of Revenues and Expenses

Unless you categorize every single source of revenue and every expense, it’s difficult to determine how donations and grants are being used. Many donations are restricted, which means they have to be used in for specific purposes. Categorizing all revenues and expenses allows you to show a complete paper trail for all money flowing through your organization.

Losing Track of Petty Cash

For most nonprofit organizations, having some cash on hand is necessary when small expenses pop up (such as buying office supplies as the need arises). However, a petty cash fund needs to be as meticulously monitored as any other expense.

Make sure only a few employees have access to petty cash, that it’s under lock and key at all times, and that you keep receipts for all transactions.

Avoiding These Errors Helps Your Nonprofit Achieve Its Overall Mission

When you avoid simple accounting errors, you help your nonprofit achieve these three objectives: save time and money, help build a relationship of trust with donors, and give managers and board members the information they need to make strategic decisions.

Of course, the ultimate goal is to achieve your organization’s mission, and that is what nonprofit accounting is all about.

Photo courtesy of: 401K

The Role of Nonprofit Accounting Software in Time Bound Philanthropy

September 3rd, 2014 No comments

Some philanthropies focus on long-term goals—raising money for cancer research, fostering democracy, eradicating hunger, etc. It’s not expected that the nonprofits and NGOs with these types of missions should achieve their goals right away. Their missions are not generally bound by hard deadlines or specific timeframes, as long as they continually endeavor to reach their overall tasks.

Other philanthropies are focused on giving help to those that need it now. These organizations are time bound: they have to worry about providing services quickly and effectively, because often people’s lives are at stake.

Both types of philanthropy are incredibly important, and they often complement each other. For example, a nonprofit or NGO that provides medical care to affected populations during an outbreak of a deadly disease (such as the current Ebola crisis in Africa) is reliant on the long-term focused philanthropies that work on developing better treatments and possible cures.

The Importance of Easy, Clear Reporting

A time bound organization typically has the same accounting needs as other nonprofits and NGOs. Transparency and accurate reporting are necessary for the success of any nonprofit, but time bound organizations are especially vulnerable to delays and inaccuracies in their financial information, given their need to make big decisions quickly and access funds immediately. They need any time, anywhere access to current, reliable data.

Time bound philanthropy is often incredibly stressful, especially during a crisis. Delayed access to funding or concerns about budget overruns should be the last thing on the minds of the staff on the front lines of a health disaster.Numbers And Finance

When it’s time to strategize and report, nonprofits and NGOs need accounting software that is quick and easy to use, complete with features such as:

  • Compatibility across departments and funding organizations
  • Automatic language and currency tools
  • Instant access to critical, real-time financial information
  • Accessible from anywhere on the globe

The right financial management software helps organizations have a stronger impact on their mission. Choose nonprofit accounting software that takes away from the stress of running a nonprofit, rather than adding to it.

photo credit: kenteegardin via photopin cc

Empowering Democracy Through Transparency and Accountability

August 27th, 2014 No comments

Serenic Software’s tagline is “Empower Your Mission.” We believe that our software solutions are instrumental in helping nonprofits, NGOs, and public sector organizations pursue their missions throughout the world.

And while each of the organizations Screen Shot 2014-08-27 at 2.18.53 PMwe work with has a unique mission, all share a passion for the democratic process, as exemplified by their strong desire to provide transparency and accountability to the people they serve. As Rick Cohen of Nonprofit Quarterly put it, “Nonprofits, we hope and believe, are the bedrock of democracy and mechanisms for democratic participation.”

In a world where the economic elite and special interest groups hold the greatest sway over politicians and policy decisions, nonprofits play a vital role in promoting democracy and empowering individuals to exercise their right to be heard.

Nonprofits and Philanthropies Can Exert Political Influence

The Encarta Dictionary defines a democracy as “the free and equal right of every person to participate in a system of government, often practiced by electing representatives of the people by the majority of the people.”

Even though all nonprofits and philanthropies are not politically focused or motivated, all are perfectly suited to enhance democracy, in large part because they so often encourage people to participate in government. For example, Rock the Vote does an excellent job of fostering democracy without subscribing to any single political ideology.

The structure of nonprofits, NGOs, and public sector organizations is also decidedly democratic, allowing input and direction from all levels, along with a strong commitment to transparency and accountability. And because of the grassroots nature of nonprofits and philanthropies, change can be enacted swifter than in government and the for-profit business sector.

Technology Has Revolutionized Accountability

Advances in technology have given average citizens another set of tools they can use to demand greater accountability, not just from government, but also from private businesses and nonprofit organizations, thereby increasing their individual influence on the democratic process.

“Inside every device and every piece of software is the DNA of both democracy and transparency,” wrote Chris Gates, Executive Director of Philanthropy for Active Civic Engagement (PACE), in the forward to “Philanthropy and the Limits of Accountability: A Relationship of Respect and Clarity.”

By taking full advantage of nonprofit accounting software, nonprofits, NGOs, and public sector organizations can hold themselves to a higher, more democratic standard.

Accountability to the People Nonprofits Serve

Transparent reporting is vital to fostering relationships of trust with donors, but accountability is equally important to the very people nonprofits serve. Through transparent accounting, nonprofits can make themselves accountable not only to donors, but to the communities they operate in.

Accountability is perhaps the most important factor in a democracy—without it, citizens can’t effectively exercise their voting rights to enact change within their communities.

Accountability also helps nonprofits adjust and improve their own operations, ultimately empowering them to better achieve their mission. For more information about how Serenic can help “Empower Your Mission” with transparent accounting, explore our fund accounting resources.

The Right Technology Keeps Global Organizations Connected

August 25th, 2014 No comments

Today it seems like we are sometimes over-connected with cell phones, social media, and instant access to news at any time. But believe it or not, there are occasions in today’s world where being connected is still a challenge. Today’s NGOs and multi-national nonprofits must stay connected with people around the world. They often cross geographical, cultural, and political boundaries to reach those in need. They manage people who speak different languages, manage funds in multiple currencies, and manage applications on diverse technical platforms. As they spread their cause globally, these organizations encounter hurdles and difficulties of every sort in an environment of increasing government oversight and shrinking budgets. Staying connected in tough!

This is where the right financial technology helps ease the struggles and allows NFPs and NGOs to focus on their mission at hand. To be efficient, effective and timely, here are ways your accounting software can help you stay connected.

Cloud, Portal or Replication Software Options for Accessing and Sharing

You must have access to your accounting system despite unreliable internet, insufficient bandwidth, or an intermittent power supply. In a global solution, look for cloud deployments, access to the internet via a portal or terminal services, or data replication between remote and central systems. This allows for sharing information, for instance when field representatives need to update grant administrators at the central office.

fund accounting for NGOs

Currencies

In every global organization, there is constant movement of funds from the grant manager at the central office to the field offices to the recipient. As the funds move across borders, they are likely to change currencies. A grant might be awarded in US dollars then sent out to regional country offices in Euros where it is used to purchase food with Kenyan Shillings. Your system should automatically convert funds from one currency to another at each step in the process. You need a system that can easily track, manage, and analyze funds in multiple currencies across each of the different entities.

Languages

At the same time funds are flowing downstream, information has to flow upstream. Details about services provided, funds expended, and constituents served must find their way from the field offices up to the central office on a timely basis. Workstations should be configurable with language options so two people sitting side by side can each access the system in their native language. If you’re not careful, you can quickly end up turning your organization into a virtual tower of Babel – where no one knows if the organization is moving in the right direction.

Data Monitoring

Regular data monitoring will help you make better decisions. You’ll want users to have appropriate access depending on their position in the central office, a regional office, or the field. Look for the ability to manage transactions, track awards and grants, allocate overhead, communicate with others downstream, create financial statements, enter transactions in local language and currency, and report clearly.

The right tools can help even the most widely distributed teams stay connected and work together. They can foster communication and help organizations avoid the roadblocks that can distract them from their mission.

For more detailed examples and diagrams, read a whitepaper for missions on the move!