Back in April I had the chance to meet Gaurav Vashist, CFO of Citizen Engagement Lab, at our San Francisco Nonprofit Customer Meetup. Gaurav shared his industry knowledge and Intacct expertise on a customer panel, and many of us learned a great deal from him! Here is his story on how Intacct revolutionized Citizen Engagement Lab’s accounting department.

Nancy Rivas: Can you please provide context to the state of the accounting department before Intacct?

Gaurav Vashist: Here is our background:

  • 501(c)3 and 501(c)4 tandem entities 
  • Eight entities 
  • Geographically dispersed virtual staff, over 80 employees 
  • Our business model is to incubate 20+ organizations that each have their unique accounting needs 
  • Combination of typical non-profit program staff and billable professional services org staff 

The bottom line is that we had multiple levels of accounting complexities. Unlike a traditional fiscal sponsorship we were working with a smaller set of organizations but providing a far broader and deeper set of services such as actively managing their budgets, monthly forecasting, HR, strategy support, development support, and providing a customized tech platform to organize and engage their communities. Plus we also have a growing professional services consulting program.

The point being that we have a large suite of services that creates complexities and a challenge to gain velocity in our operations due to the various needs.

Given our business model where 70% was earned income, we needed the ability to track time programmatically for grant reporting but also billable time of staff who are working on the consulting projects. We have metrics that span a typical non-profit into what you expect to see in a for-profit business model.

We were using a software that was outdated for our needs. Our staff was overwhelmed, stakeholders were frustrated from lack of insight into their programs/businesses, and our finance department became the weakest link in the chain in the organization that was slowing the organization to scale.

NR: Can you share some examples of processes you needed to update?

GV: We had a time sheet system that was segregated from the accounting software and we needed to get that data into our financial reports. All of our Accounts Payable (expenses to vendors, employee reimbursements, and expense reports) requests were submitted on an Excel spreadsheet that program managers and employees were required to fill out, email their managers for approval, before getting to the accounting department.

This was an extensive email train that involved numerous emails and sometime a merry go around that was not fun; any changes required a re-run of the process which included printing and reprinting documents. We also had approximately 20 debit cards that were not integrated into our system and were all processed manually! We had to manually enter the data from the cards into the expense reports.

After the process was completed, there was a mountain of checks to be signed each week followed by an effort to mail them.

NR: You had many strenuous processes in place. What finally led to your decision to implement Intacct?

GV: We decided something had to change and we started investigating vendors. It was time to architect a solution that fundamentally changed the status quo for the better, and to our surprise after the implementations were complete our stakeholders said that this was a revolution.

The revolution happened as follows:

First, from a cost basis we had a time-savings of 74 hours per month across the organization that created additional capacity for all the stakeholders.

For example, gone were the days when program staff had to ask someone in accounting if a bill was paid. All staff had access to this information right at their fingertips and in real-time. There were similar strides made in financial reporting and budgeting.

The accounting/finance teams now have the capacity to do more than before and we proactively came to the table to say, “Let’s bring on more business.”

When we started the Intacct implementation, we had a team of three with an expense budget of $6 million. One year later after we had fully implemented our system, we still had a team of three but now managing an expense budget of $11 million.

The business grew and our team was capable of managing this and increasing profitability. Being impactful in our work while being efficient are the mantras of our model.

NR: What’s next?

GV: We are on a continuous improvement cycle and striving for innovation which also happens to be the DNA of our organization that keeps innovating with numerous pivots in strategy. The finance department has its own roadmap of where we will focus on each year. We are constantly leveraging the Intacct platform.

As Intacct adds new features, we want to understand how that translates into value for our organization. For example, with our goal to go paperless we launched the payment manager (which allows us to send payments electronically from Intacct to the bank) about six months after our Intacct implementation. We wanted to be fully stabilized after our initial implementation. Our integration with our bank has been a great source of improvement and we look forward to additional innovations with Intacct.

This is why we attend Advantage, we want to leverage new features where it makes sense, and learn from others.