How Denali is making a positive change for the “middle-man.”
When you think about The American Legion, the country’s largest veterans’ service organization, you might picture baseball games and blood drives, or perhaps national conferences in Washington D.C. You probably don’t think about people like Laura Weber and the rest of the team at The American Legion Minnesota Department, the go-between for the National Legion organization and hometown posts. Weber understands. “We’re sort of the middle-man,” she explains.
While organizations like the Minnesota Department are small, Weber’s organization employs only seven full-time staff; they are crucial for supporting America’s war veterans and their communities. Programs like the Fund for Hospitalized Vets and the Boys State program would be little more than maps and blueprints without the department to organize, budget, and deploy them to local posts.
Weber has served the Department of Minnesota for 21 years, the last 4 as Financial Liaison, responsible for the department’s finances. Her missions involve spreadsheets and fax machines, but keeping in tune with the Legion on both the local and national level is no easy assignment.
“Basically, there are eight corporations that we work with in this office. They are separate entities,” she explains. These include the Hospital Association, The Legionnaire Newspaper (which has the 3rd largest circulation in the state), and a few Minnesota-only projects, such as a training camp for school crossing guards.
Software for the Middlemen
Weber’s role: “I just pay the bills.”
The task is a little more complicated than it sounds. The American Legion is not a charity, Webber explains, but a “veterans’ service organization.” It doesn’t solicit large amounts of donations, and the revenue of each corporation is quickly cycled back into its own operations. To the IRS, some are ‘charitable organizations’ (501(c)3), while others are ‘veterans’ organizations’ (501(c)19).
For more than a year, all but one of the Minnesota department’s eight corporations have been using Cougar Mountain’s Denali accounting system. The eighth, the flagship account with the largest financial footprint, has yet to switch.
It isn’t for lack of desire. Weber said the current software is “hugely complicated,” designed to be used by hundreds of employees, not an office with one bookkeeper.
When I want to just write a check in the current software, it takes me approximately 12 steps…But with Denali, I can just put in the information, save it, and print the check. It’s that simple.
“It’s just so big and clumsy. Some of it was still written in DOS,” she explains. “We started looking for something more user friendly and more scaled-back. But I was looking for a bicycle, and they were all trying to sell me a Porsche. Then we found Cougar Mountain Software, which does everything I need. It also does a lot more that I don’t need it to, but it doesn’t feel cumbersome when you use it.”
One of Weber’s favorite features is Denali’s ability to manage general funds along with dedicated accounts set aside for specific purposes. “Denali Fund had that option, whereas, for instance, QuickBooks could make it work, but it really wasn’t built for it,” she says.
The more she learns about Denali’s features, the more Weber anticipates bringing the final department into the Cougar Mountain fold. “When I want to just write a check in the current software, it takes me approximately 12 steps…But with Denali, I can just put in the information, save it, and print the check. It’s that simple.”
Recording financial activity that ranges from publishing a newspaper to college scholarships sounds like a nightmare for a single bookkeeper, but Weber says Denali’s Bank Reconciliation module makes bank account record keeping quick and efficient. “I can go into the system, put in the balance on my checking account statement, fill in everything in a specific time period, and then mark it all ‘cleared.’ It takes five minutes.”
She has full confidence in Cougar Mountain’s tech support to help with the coming switch, though she doesn’t expect that transferring the old platform’s awkward, obsolete archive to be an easy battle. But after a year of experience with Denali she states, “It will be worth it.”
Behind the Lines
“Some of us just enjoy balancing things,” Weber says. “I like balancing my checkbook. When it all comes out in the end, that’s a really good feeling.” She says she doesn’t mind that she isn’t out in the field leading turkey hunts for disabled veterans or training new crossing guards. “We each have our strengths and working with numbers is one of mine.”
One of her favorite stories comes from when the Minnesota Department flew the family of a Vietnam veteran to California so they could bring their fallen warrior back home. “It is always a very special time when we can jump in and help with something like that. It makes what we do very personal.”