Serenic Navigator Helps Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake
“Accessing and formatting data in a way that easily communicates information to those who do not work in finance is key to our work. If it takes days to get data, the decision is already made. Serenic Navigator Online (now Serenic Navigator Express) enables us to do our job better.”
- David Seabrook, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake CFO
Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake is a nonprofit Christian ministry that strengthens and revitalizes neighborhoods by buying and renovating clusters of vacant homes. With a $17 million annual budget, the organization’s 45 employees provide affordable home ownership throughout Anne Arundel County in Maryland and the Baltimore metropolitan region through no-interest mortgages to qualified homebuyers.
The organization and its volunteers work closely with families to prepare them for home ownership through over 50 hours of financial literacy training, budget building, homebuyer counseling, and home repair instruction. Since 1982, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake has completed more than 285 homes and has housed more than 900 family members, half of which are children.
As an independent chapter of Habitat for Humanity International, the Chesapeake nonprofit organization has its own financial autonomy. Prior to 2011, its accounting department was using QuickBooks and multiple spreadsheets. It wanted to find a better solution to help track its individual properties. While many nonprofits look to fund accounting to help track grant funding specifically, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake sought to use fund accounting to track properties and provide more detailed reporting not available in QuickBooks.
“We had a multi-dimension problem,” said Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake Chief Financial Officer David Seabrook. “We track expenses and funding sources by property – so it’s more complex than simply tracking grants. Some of our donors give for specific houses, and government organizations provide funding for groups of houses. We need to track all expenses by house, by contract and several other dimensions.
”Along with Serenic Navigator, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake considered FUND E-Z and Blackbaud solutions. Serenic Navigator Online (now Serenic Navigator Express) was selected based on the flexibility and value it offered, and was implemented in early 2011 for the organization’s four users.
Serenic Navigator's dimensions feature made it the clear choice, according to Seabrook. Other solutions were more limited with the number of dimensions, or account segments, they allowed, and Serenic Navigator met the organization’s need to track items the way it wanted.
While Serenic Navigator Online (now Serenic Navigator Express) is designed to be self-installed, clients receive four hours of free assistance from Serenic experts to talk through any complex implementation issues. Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake appreciates the cost advantages for organizations like theirs that don’t have an IT department but still want to track finances across multiple dimensions. They like that the organization has online access for its users without having to pay separate hosting or virtual private network (VPN) fees.
Dimensions provide flexibility and cost advantages, while rules provide control
Serenic Navigator's dimensions feature enables the tracking of extensive financial details while making data entry easy for users. With its dimensions in place, Seabrook’s accounting group set up validation rules to control posting to certain funds and projects and avoid misallocations. An accountant can select a property and limit the funding sources, so a user doesn’t have to select from hundreds of choices.
“Rules help make sure that our data is accurate and consistent, and that we’re all on the same page as a team,” Seabrook said. “There is no question about – ‘Where do paper clips get classified?’ and accounting managers have 100 percent control of reviewing and approving posts by other departments.”
Reporting features enable easier financial tracking
Prior to using Serenic Navigator, Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake was using a combination of spreadsheets and combining five or six items in one field to generate the reports it needed. With Serenic Navigator, the accounting team can post office supplies to one account and marketing to another, so users easily know where expenses belong.
“QuickBooks only gave us three ways to track expenses, and now we have seven ways with three or four funding sources,” said Seabrook. “This gives us better flexibility to track a specific campaign or project, and reporting is a snap.”
Seabrook noted with a recent increase in stimulus funds, it is even more important to invest in a software package like Serenic Navigator Online (now Serenic Navigator Express) that lets you track spending and provides a system for doing so.
“One of our financial analysts grew up using QuickBooks, but he likes Serenic Navigator's reporting tools and the ability to customize account schedules based on what he wants to see, which he couldn’t do in QuickBooks,” said Seabrook. “He is ecstatic that you can manipulate data and create your own reports.”
Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake already has saved time creating reports that provide more relevant, timely data for decision making. Dashboards and improved periodic financial statements have provided great advantages. The organization has eliminated spreadsheets that took days to figure out and can easily – even remotely – run a report on stimulus funding, for example. Seabrook estimates at least half of a staff member’s time is saved by removing previous manual processes.
Financial analysis capabilities provide insight
Now that Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake has Serenic Navigator up and running, Seabrook plans to do more financial analysis around dimensions, such as quickly analyzing spending for a specific team.
“We are now able to slice and dice spending seven or eight different ways,” he said. “We can lift up the lid and get down and dirty to see what we’re spending and whether there is a better way to budget.”
Seabrook says his finance team is tasked with making sure the organization is financially sustainable – and part of its overall mission is to train home buyers in good credit management. This makes it all the more vital to make decisions based on accurate data.
“Formatting and easily communicating data to those who do not work in finance is key to our work,” he said. “If it takes days to get data, the decision is already made. Serenic Navigator enables us to do our job better.”