Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria (MI Fellowship), established in 1978, is one of the state’s leading membership-based not for profit organisations working with people with mental illness, their family and friends to improve their wellbeing.
As a not for profit community-based organisation, MI Fellowship has several streams of income, including government contracts, grants, donations, membership, appeals and raffles, amongst others. Consequently, there is a large group of stakeholders who require detailed reports of funding expenditure and performance against targets. Scrutiny, compliance, and transparency were key as well as a focus of participation, ownership and organisational performance in terms of meeting organisational goals and priorities.
Budgeting and reporting priorities
“We need to quickly identify how we are performing according to project budgets and targets, and to see any areas where there might be problems. It’s critical that we respond to the needs of many parties, including internal and external stakeholders. However, this had not been easy,” says Advan Hadzic, Chief Financial Officer.
In addition, the organisation wanted to move away from its reliance on spreadsheets. “Because of our complex funding and staffing structures, budget models were managed using spreadsheets. This was a very manual and slow process which was prone to risks and errors,” Hadzic adds.
Personal recommendations from the not for profit sector
Hadzic began the search for a solution. Professional Advantage came highly recommended by others in the not for profit sector as the implementation and services partner. “When we talked to Professional Advantage we realised they really understood the challenges we were facing due to the extensive experience they have within the sector.”
In early 2009 the deal was sealed and Mental Illness Fellowship Victoria commissioned Professional Advantage to deploy a new solution. Work began in February and the implementation was quickly completed, “It was a fantastic achievement by the whole team,” Hadzic acknowledges. “It’s made my life much easier.”
Keeping tabs on performance
Asked to nominate the single biggest benefit of the new financial system, Hadzic doesn’t hesitate: “Access to the right information at the right time. It used to take 10 or 11 days to produce reports. Now they are produced within three to four days. We’re achieving all this without any increase in the number of staff,” he says.
Reporting on the more than 100 projects in play at any given time has been streamlined. Furthermore “the project staff like the new reports,” Hadzic says. “And our top-level board reports are well received by management. This was acknowledged by the finance and risk management committee who congratulated finance on the new improved reporting.”
Budgeting has become noticeably easier and far more reliable. Previously it would take one FTE administrative staff member at least a couple of weeks to prepare Microsoft Excel templates and links for the upcoming budget cycle. This would then have to be reviewed by Hadzic. It was time consuming and required intense attention to detail, and therefore a very costly exercise. All this has now changed. What took one month to complete, now takes an hour.
The budgeting solution has also removed the problem of version control over multiple Excel spreadsheets. Maintaining consistency and keeping a master spreadsheet proved difficult with so many versions being received over a period of time. “Now we have one version that we all work on.” This is a critical issue for an organisation with offices throughout Victoria.
The combination of version control and inbuilt workflow processes has also enabled Hadzic to introduce new processes making managers responsible for inputting and updating their own budget data – something that was never feasible under the old system. This step has removed the need for Finance to re-key data and is delivering greatly enhanced data quality and integrity. Hadzic notes, “workflow has given us the ability to control the budget process while spreading involvement and responsibility.” The scalability of the system has meant that an increase from 6 project managers to 30 has been seamless.
Asked to evaluate the impact of the budgeting improvements alone, Hadzic estimates a five-fold increase in efficiencies over the organisation’s previous spreadsheet processes. “The solution allows me to collaborate with managers and it improves the timeliness of the data collection. We have a better ability to manage the funds as we can now identify any areas or sites that are not performing as well as others and we can make informed decisions about where we need to invest more staff,” Hadzic enthuses.
“Professional Advantage has been a great partner. They had excellent business process expertise which was particularly useful when it came to finding ways to improve corporate allocations. Their support is also outstanding. I have never come across such good support” Hadzic concludes.
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