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How 3 NGO CFOs expanded global impact with data-driven decision making

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Cloud software has enabled more NGOs to take advantage of advanced technologies without the expense of new infrastructure or additional IT staff. That also means NGOs can benefit from Big Data capabilities to enhance data analysis and data-driven decision making. AI and predictive analytics are beginning to enhance strategic analysis and decision making even further.

Coinciding with advancements in technology, the role of the NGO finance leader has also evolved. The early NGO finance leaders were more like Historians, studying data from last month, last quarter, and last year to try and predict what might happen next. Then came the era of the Real-Time Analyst where they could drive decisions quickly by identifying trends as they occur with real-time data. Now we are entering a new era—the era of the Data-Driven Strategist.

Download the eBook: The Rise of the Data-Driven Nonprofit Finance Leader

Sage Intacct helps NGO finance leaders put real-time financial and operational data in front of decision makers by providing deep and wide financial visibility to organizations of any size, with any number of programs and locations around the world.

A Data-driven Nonprofit Financial Management System is Critical to an NGOs Mission Success

Your accounting and financial management solution should facilitate data-driven decision making and enable you to devote a larger percentage of your time to strategizing how to accelerate the global impact of your mission. With the right technology solution your organization will:

  • Make decisions based on real-time data instead of backward-looking data. Cloud financial management systems enable nonprofit leaders to gain insights based on real-time data. This helps NGOs make program changes based on funding conditions and outcomes as they stand today—not based on reports from last month.
  • Automate routine accounting tasks to free time to focus on strategy. Modern financial management systems allow you to automate routine tasks, eliminate double data entry, and generally reduce administration in ways that help many organizations shave days to weeks off their month-end close.
  • Contextualize information for more meaningful reporting. Dimensionality in the chart of accounts enables you to slice and dice data according to what is most relevant to your mission success.
  • Gain better visibility into organization-wide data. Cloud accounting software that features and open API can easily bring in data streams from other systems, like Salesforce, donor management systems, and more.
  • Visualize data and make it easily accessible for program and department managers. Your finance team can place all relevant information—including charts, graphs and reports—in front of your stakeholders with role-based dashboards.

3 NGO CFOs Explain How Financial Data Helps Them Drive Strategic Decisions

Here’s how three NGO financial leaders have used insights gained from better visibility into their financial and operational performance data to drive strategic decisions and amplify mission impact:

Room to Read’s mission is to help girls and women change their futures through the power of literacy. The NGO works in ten countries across Asia and Africa. CFO Shari Freedman has gradually transformed the finance function at Room to Read by adopting integrated digital technology platforms that empower executive leaders and program managers with greater financial and operational insights. These solutions include: Cloud financial management, timekeeping and expense report automation, financial planning, and nonprofit CRM.

Cloud financial management has streamlined Room to Read’s consolidations for 25 entities and 16 currencies. Once data flowed more easily across the organization, decision makers enjoyed deeper visibility into performance at every level and were able to slice and dice the data by location, program, country, and more. Being able to share real-time data has enabled the finance team to collaborate more effectively with the development team.

Overall, Room to Read enjoyed a 402% return on their investment in financial management technology. Digital transformation led to greater than 25% efficiency gains within both the global finance teams and worldwide field operations. Room to Read used these savings to accelerate their mission impact by delivering their literacy program to 100,000 more children. With more and better data at their disposal, Room to Read’s leadership team has been able to share the story of their mission more powerfully with donors and increase donor confidence through better reporting.

“With Sage Intacct, we have improved productivity by 25 percent for our worldwide field operations and global finance teams and seen a revenue increase of 15 percent. This translates to added resources to reach an additional 100,000 children through our Literacy Program and 21,000 girls through our Girls’ Education Program.”

Shari Freedman, CFO

World Learning is both an NGO and an accredited educational institution. It operates 79 active programs with a mission to bridge geographical gaps through student exchange and other international education programs. Its funding comes from U.S. government grants and program enrollment. World Learning’s complex operating model requires its finance team to track revenue and expenses in local currencies for tax reporting, consolidate the books in U.S. dollars, and produce quarterly grant spending reports.

World Learning’s CFO, Kote Lomidze, and his team have used cloud financial management, combined with digital payment processing and Salesforce, to streamline and automate many business processes, including time and expense reporting, cash flow management, purchasing and accounts payable, payment reconciliations, and much more.

Their cloud financial management software has a dimensional chart of accounts that enabled World Learning to shrink 50,000 GL accounts to just a couple hundred. That makes it much easier to get the reports they need.

Across the organization, digital finance transformation is saving World Learning thousands of hours each year. Approval routing is digital and completely automated, allowing expense reimbursements to be approved in hours, instead of weeks. The finance team closes the books five days faster, leaving them with much more time to analyze the data and find opportunities to expand the impact of their mission.

Each leader in the organization has at least one personal role-based project management dashboard, allowing managers to monitor key metrics, budgets, and forecasts. By improving their ability to make data-driven decisions, World Learning grew revenue by 50% while reducing overhead costs by $500,000.

“We slice and dice the data using project dimensions, so we are able to make mission-critical decisions on a daily basis about what projects to implement and what projects are at risk of overspending. That information helps us decide to close or extend a project and whether to ask donors for more funds or for a revision of a project’s scope.”

Kote Lomidze, Senior VP of Finance and CFO

Remote Area Medical operates mobile medical clinics delivering no-cost health care via 20,000 medical volunteers to 45,000 patients around the world each year. As the reach of its mission grew, Remote Area Medical struggled with a lack of scalability, limited financial visibility, and tiresome duplicate data entry between their donor database, spreadsheets, and ERP software.

CFO Don Mackay led Remote Area Medical through a digital finance transformation to a cloud financial management solution, along with integrated tools for budgeting, accounts payable approvals, expense management and payroll. Now, the finance team closes the books in just a few days as opposed to 15-20 days before going to cloud solutions.

Using a dimensional chart of accounts empowered Remote Area Medical to more efficiently track how much it costs to operate each clinic. Instead of creating thousands of GL account numbers, the finance team can simply tag individual transactions with key dimensions, such as location, vendor, employee, department, project, and vehicle ID. This speeds up project accounting, improves accuracy, and helps leaders make critical decisions about projects.

Over the several years since completing finance transformation, Remote Area Medical’s clinics and transaction volume grew by 300% but the organization was still able to maintain the same lean finance team. Better data visibility and added efficiency helped the organization have the resources to expand into international disaster relief.

The ability to easily report on outcomes as well as improve financial transparency has increased donor confidence. Remote Area Medical has consistently increased donations 10% year-over-year, enabling them to serve more patients.

“Unlike other ERP systems, Sage Intacct is user-friendly and gives us the ability to easily grow without major headaches when it comes time to add new clinics or adapt to evolving reporting requirements.”

Don Mackay, CFO


Learn more about how to leverage modern cloud technology to become a more data-driven NGO finance leader in our eBook, The Rise of the Data-Driven Nonprofit Finance Leader. In it, you’ll learn:

  • How the role of the nonprofit finance leader is evolving
  • Why nonprofit finance leaders need to become data-driven strategists right now
  • Why automation, multi-dimensional reporting, and data integration must be key aspects of your financial management technology strategy

The Rise of the Data-Driven Nonprofit Finance Leader

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