David Levenson is no stranger to Martus Solutions. A “serial consultant” to small and mid-size nonprofits, David has implemented our time-saving budgeting and reporting software with multiple organizations. In fact, David purchased Martus as soon as he got to his newest organization!
Martus had the opportunity to sit with David and get his insights on the budgeting challenges nonprofits face, why collaboration brings transformation, and why he prioritizes reporting over budgeting. Here’s what he had to say.
How did you first learn about Martus?
David: “I was with an organization that used Sage Intacct. We had about 20 different general ledgers, and leadership was actively looking for a budgeting program. Another consultant recommended Martus because, in their opinion, it was far better than the built-in features in our accounting software.
From there, I moved to the National Institute for Children’s Health Quality (NICHQ). We implemented Martus because we weren’t able to get the reports we needed out of the accounting software we were using. Now, I’m at Veterans Inc., where we provide support services to veterans and their families. On my very first day in the office I said, ‘We need to implement Martus.’ It’s a lifesaver!’
You’ve worked with many nonprofits over the years, helping them to improve their accounting, budgeting, and reporting. What are some of the common challenges you see?
David: “One of the biggest challenges is the ability to consolidate budgets. Organizations think they can do this with a spreadsheet, but Excel has a very low threshold to manage the level of complexity needed to accurately consolidate budgets as a nonprofit grows – especially for entities that receive grants. It ends up becoming disjointed and overly complicated.
Another issue is consistency; for example, a nonprofit may be using different terminology for budgeting vs accounting. If they are getting a grant, they may be pulling terminology from the funder’s template. However, that doesn’t translate to the accounting software’s general ledger account numbers and titles, so it’s difficult for accounting to accurately track how dollars are being spent and compare them to a department or budget.
The other issue I see is reporting. Nonprofits rely heavily on reporting, but that’s also a trouble spot. Organizations are trying to use the report module in their accounting software, but it’s not set up to show what they need. Then someone in the department ends up spending hours trying to figure out how to modify a filter column reports, and their time is just not being optimally used.”
How do you address these challenges?
David: “All of the common challenges I see boil down to communication. So, we start by getting everyone speaking the same language.
First, I try to convert the application we use to the same set of dimensions. That helps us to get the entire organization thinking along the same lines when it comes to budgeting and reporting, and from there we can identify which modifications we need to make that are specific to that department’s needs. The more familiar people become using the same dimensions, the more comfortable they become with workflows. Then, when it’s time to do the budget, everyone understands what needs to happen.
Second, I get non-finance folks involved, because it ultimately makes budgeting and reporting easier. They become the champions and partners on the other side of the table, so that they can support their staff, advocate for the program, and understand how to use it. They also provide valuable feedback from a different point of view. This shifts the responsibility of training and supporting and promoting a system to the folks that are actually going to use it.
Third, I bring in Martus, because everyone who needs to can have access to budgeting and reporting without having to get into the accounting software.”
What do you like most about using Martus?
David: “From the start, Martus’ key selling point for me has been flexibility in reporting. I’ve been exposed to lots of different software; when I compare Martus reporting to the many legacy accounting systems I’ve worked in, Martus is the superior product.
With Martus, I can create and generate reports in just a few clicks. For example, if I want to get a Grant Profit and Loss report by year, and I want to go back 3, 6 or 12 months, I can easily do that. I can have employee data on the left column and grant names across the top or switch it – have grants on the left and departments across the top. It’s really very amazing that you can shift the x and y axis to make the report look the way you want or need.
I also appreciate how easy it is for non-finance team members to understand and use the software. Plus, Martus is much less expensive on a per-user basis than accounting system licenses, which makes it cost-effective.”
You have a unique approach in that you prefer to implement reporting first. Can you share more about that?
David: “I believe if you can get someone familiar with reporting, budgeting becomes less daunting.
For example, let’s say I want my grant budget manager to generate a P&L statement. If they have to navigate an accounting system, they’re going to have questions that require a high level of support and training. However, if they can go into a separate reporting system that is easy to navigate, they’re going to pick it up quickly. and get to what they want or need. If they know their grant ID number and know they need to see 12 months back from this grant year end, they can figure out how to drill down into reporting details.
Budgeting doesn’t show results right away, so it can be difficult to grasp certain concepts. When someone starts with reporting, they immediately see results. Then they start thinking about what data they need to input in order to get the optimal output. By working backwards, we create better collaboration, better problem-solving, and better engagement.”
What would you share with an organization that wants to take a more collaborative approach?
David: “One of my mantras with any software is to get executive buy-in first. That doesn’t mean the executive has to be using it every day – or even at all – but they have to be supportive of it. In an ideal world, budgeting is bottom to top; it’s not the CEO trying to get everybody involved, but the CEO supporting the process that their team has created.
Another key step is getting early buy-in from non-finance people who are actually doing the budgeting. Identify someone who is interested in the software side of things, or has a hunger to learn about reporting, or wants to learn how to work with data. Find the people outside of accounting and finance who want to learn, because then you have advocates across the organization.
Last, once you’ve identified someone who’s interested, feed them. Don’t assume that they’re going to be able to learn everything on their own. Give them the training and time they need to understand how processes work, how the software works, how budgeting works. Make it an active relationship and figure out how to support your champions because in the end, everyone wins.”
Our Martus team loves to hear from customers like David Levenson at Veterans, Inc. about Martus really making their budgeting more collaborative and streamlined. For more about Martus’ Cloud-based, flexible budgeting software, request a demo today!