At Philanthropy Northwest, we are always excited to hear about innovations that help funders support our communities more effectively. Through our network of Washington community foundations, we heard about an emerging technology helping small-staffed community foundations handle their accounting systems last year. Hilary Canty, executive director of the Orcas Island Community Foundation, writes about how her staff has made the most of this new tool.
The Orcas Island Community Foundation (OICF) is a small but mighty foundation. In 2011, with assets of $4 million spread across 70+ funds, we had outgrown our "off the shelf" bookkeeping software, spending over half of our precious staff time on accounting. We struggled with finding right sized technology. Like Goldilocks, the existing programs just did not fit, being too cumbersome, too complicated and far too expensive. Not a recipe for growth.
Fortunately, the stars aligned. Our finance administrator happened to be married to a technology designer, Chris Sutton, who had created enterprise resource planning systems for multinational companies. The complexities of community foundations were tame in comparison. Chris was able to build a test site for us and our board gave the blessing to build it out in late 2011.
OICF went live with Smalldog in June of 2012. The system fully integrates our financials, grants, donors and more. It has freed up our staff time to do the real work of our Foundation — building philanthropy to meet community need. The growth in distributions has been fantastic — from $360,000 in 2012 to over $1 million in each of the last two years. Assets have also grown to $7 million and over 95 funds, all managed with two FTEs. OICF is currently ranked among the top 10 grant makers per capita nationally. All with an FTE of two.
Having a fully integrated program has allowed us to launch a grants catalog which expands our annual grant making to the entire community and leverages our discretionary grant dollars significantly. Contributions can be made easily and are tracked automatically. It has been a great way to engage the community in the process.
Being cloud-based, the system offers access from mobile devices as well as from remote work sites. All fund owners have access to their accounts, requesting distributions and receiving donations on line. The process of generating fund statements went from four days to 20 minutes.
This likely sounds like a fairy tale to those who continue to struggle with systems that were started in the 80’s. But change requires a leap of faith. I was fortunate to have a board chair who was the chief auditor for a major university. With his vote of confidence in the program, the rest of my board was willing to take the leap, no small thing for a risk-adverse group.
Smalldog is a small shop and they are bringing new clients on at a rate of one a month. So far, all users are equally thrilled. There are currently eight foundations using the system, including the Community Foundation of North Central Washington, Greater Everett Community Foundation and Kitsap Community Foundation, with assets ranging from $3 million to $64 million.
The best thing about having a workable program is that it does just that — it works and we don’t have to think about it. We can spend our staff time connecting to community and doing our best to foster philanthropy. What a gift.
Hilary Canty is executive director of the Orcas Island Community Foundation. An earlier version of this blog post was published on the Council on Foundations blog.