ACT for Kids is a non-profit organisation that provides free services to treat and prevent child abuse. The organisation was started in 1988 and employs 180 staff working from six major centres in Queensland and five safe houses.
Leanne Dreves, their CFO, participated in the 2011 non-profit ICT report, which identified the difficulties NFPs faced with financial reporting. While most people surveyed agreed that popular programs like MYOB and QuickBooks were good overall, some of those surveyed commented that their needs weren’t being met, especially when it comes to reporting to government funding bodies. Here is what Leanne had to say:
How would you describe the business you are in?
We work with children, their families and carers, focused on children who have been subject to abuse or are at risk of abuse. We also run some workshops in schools to teach kids how to keep themselves safe from abuse.
Who are your clients and customers?
Our clients are children, young people, families and carers. ACT for Kids provides expert counseling and support to thousands of abused children and their families and carers every year.
What changes are taking place in your category?
The biggest change for us has been a greater shift to early intervention. Originally our work was about building awareness of the issues of child abuse, which tended to be swept under the carpet. The trust was set up by health and community workers who were witnessing the problem firsthand and decided to do something about it.
Our early intervention programs are proving to be very successful.
In the area of technology in our organisation, smart phones and iPads have made life a lot easier for our teams.. Our client database is now web based and staff can access it over a secure web interface from any location at any time.
iPads are also proving to be useful and popular therapy tools for working with children. Kids immediately open up and respond positively to the simple and intuitive, touch screen interface and this makes iPads powerful support tools for therapy.
How have you been successful?
Over the years, we have developed many programs that work effectively. We have a nationwide reputation for the work we do, and increasingly deliver good outcomes for both children and their families.
What prompted you to look at the Calxa solution?
We were frustrated with MYOB reporting capabilities. We have upwards of thirty different budgets at any one time. Because of the nature of the grants we receive from government, they all need reporting on separately. Government has significantly simplified reporting over the last two years, but we still have to manage each budget separately.
Being able to report by program is important to us, and to our ability to manage each program effectively. MYOB can’t do that. It can’t capture budget information by program. You can capture a budget for the life of a job, but we need to report month by month.
With Calxa, we can prepare a budget for each individual program, one for each head office department and one for fundraising. The fundraising department can budget for each campaign with a separate job code. It gives us immense flexibility and up to date knowledge of our budget status that we didn’t have before.
Calxa is a powerful reporting tool, but you can use it to create budgets as well.
Our managers create their initial budgets in Excel and then import them into Calxa. I like them to start from scratch with each budget, so they get a good overview of their activities and associated costs. We have an Excel template for initial budget development and the budgets are then imported into Calxa.
I used to use a program called Money Manager, but it didn’t have the functionality that I needed. We were offered a trial of Calxa and I saw that it was a much better program. It was designed with non-profits in mind.
The reports it generates look good and are easy to comprehend and interpret. That is far more important than it sounds. A clear, easy to read and understand layout can make a huge difference in the adoption and day-to-day use of a product. I can create charts and graphs that are simple for anybody to understand.
Reports can be distributed to stakeholders in all commonly used formats quickly and easily. With other products, I had to scan reports for distribution.
How did you decide which program to use?
I had a trial version of Calxa to play with. Once I had used it for a while, compared it to other programs and saw how good it was, I just kept on using it. We then formally made the decision to use Calxa.
The reporting restrictions of MYOB were a major problem for us. Calxa is far more useful and sophisticated. There is a whole suite of reporting modules in Calxa that can be used.
I can report for a region, by program, by program type, by manager, by month or whatever I want. There is no way I could do this in Excel. I would need three more staff to manage it.
The other key thing is that when you create a budget from thirty different budgets, you have to consolidate them into an overall budget.
If you are building a budget like this using Excel, so much can go wrong and it’s easy to make an error with a formula. So you never have the confidence that something hasn’t been overwritten accidentally.
With Calxa, consolidation is straightforward and you can see that nothing has been left out or misplaced.
Creating a consolidated budget used to take forever. Now it is much quicker. The time saving is considerable.
How much time did it take to get up and running?
It was easy to get up and running with the program. Calxa is very intuitive. If you know how to use MYOB or Quickbooks and Excel then you will be able to use the program without any problems.
At the start, Calxa ran webinars showing how to do the changeover. You could import data from Money Manager, MYOB or Quickbooks.
Where did you go for advice?
Based on my experience I knew Calxa was a far better program, so I didn’t need any advice. In my previous working life I was an MYOB certified consultant, so I had heard of the program through my networks and past experience.
Calxa support their program with webinars, by phone and email. They are very helpful with advice and training where required.
What mistakes did you make that you wish you hadn’t?
None that I can think of.
What were the main risks?
There were no risks from my point of view.
What advice would you give to somebody else?
Using a product like this increases productivity enormously. It allows our managers to look after their own budgets. If we didn’t allow managers to be directly involved in the creation of budgets and management of spending, we would not be as effective an organisation as we are.
You can’t expect managers to take full responsibility without giving them the proper tools to manage the job.
I couldn’t manage the budgets from this office without Calxa. Without the product, I would have to double my immediate staff.
Any questions that arise, I can answer them quickly and easily. If I am doing a report and I notice a variation in salaries, I can quickly create a report to look at this issue to understand why. You can’t do this in MYOB.
I can even check the accuracy of the allocation of data in MYOB by doing a budget review with Calxa. That gives me immense confidence and assurance.
What were the barriers you faced?
There were no barriers in our organisation to adopting the product at all. The finance team love it. My longer term objective is to get all our managers to use it themselves to track and manage their budgets.
What are the business benefits?
The main benefits are effective financial management, reporting capability, speedier and more accurate budget preparation, increased productivity and increased reliability.
The financial department is far more responsive in its ability to respond to the board, management and government.
Are any of these business benefits quantifiable?
Time taken to prepare a budget has dropped by 75%.
Are staff happy with what you have done?
What is the most important thing you have learned in the last year?
I learned that if I could allow the people responsible for managing budgets the ability to create their own budgets, and then produce their own reports it would diminish their reliance on me.
This would be very useful because most of our work at the moment is in Queensland, but our goal is to move into other states. Our plan is to move into one new state each year.
So we are in the process of getting our systems ready for this move and making sure they are scalable.
That’s why we are moving towards sharing our operational resources through Microsoft Online Services, with messaging, email, Sharepoint and videoconferencing.
That makes us more effective as an organisation. The same thing applies to sharing budget management effectively through wider use of Calxa. This is something we can apply as we move interstate.
What are you planning to do next?
We are planning to expand into other locations and build our IT support platform to support all our new activities.
About Act for Kids
ACT for Kids is a NFP that provides free services to treat and prevent child abuse. The organisation was started in 1988 and employs 180 staff. There are more than 46,000 confirmed cases of child abuse in Australia each year. That’s almost 1 case every 10 minutes where a child is suffering from neglect or physical, sexual or emotional abuse (often by people they know and should be able to trust).
Act for Kids gives children all the skills, care and confidence they need to turn their tiny hearts around and lead a normal life. The organisation is also there for mums and dads, healing the hurt that abuse and domestic violence causes the whole family.
* About the Survey: The 2011 Not-for-profit ICT report is the 5th time that the non-profit sector has been surveyed. The latest national survey of just under 1,500 organisations was completed in October 2011 for this report.