Business Partner Story
A Unique Monument to An Unusual Hero
Enterprise, Alabama is a small town located in what is colloquially known as “LA” (lower Alabama). Though it shares a name with a famous television starship, its unique claim to fame comes as the only city in the world with a statue dedicated to an insect—the Boll Weevil (in 1917, Boll Weevils devastated the region’s cotton crop, which forced farmers to diversify and resulted in new crops such as peanuts. This saved the local economy). Enterprise also has the distinction of being home to one of the largest and most successful accounting firms in the United States: Carr, Riggs & Ingram, LLC. In the 1980’s, when Marie Harrison joined the staff of CRI, there was only one office, two partners, and a handful of employees. Today, CRI has offices in eight states and a staff of several hundred. Now a partner with the firm, Marie said with a chuckle, “[The original staff] were all young when we started, and now we noticed we have a lot of gray hair.” Marie’s accounting specialty centers on non-profit, single audits. As she explained, these types of audits are much more rigorous than typical for-profit business audits and auditors who perform them must complete additional training.
Cooking Soup, Not the Books
Whether it’s for a simple soup kitchen or a large, multi-department agency, nonprofit accounting is particularly complex. Grants and charitable donations often come with many strings attached that govern how the money must be spent, especially when state and federal money is involved. Grants can come from several different sources, each with a unique set of stipulations directing how those particular funds must be used. Often a single grantor might award multiple types of grants which, despite their common origin, will have very different guidelines. Nonprofit accounting involves a lot of moving parts, requires much more time, and receives a higher degree of oversight well beyond what for-profit businesses must contend with. For example, Grantor A and Grantor B both award grants to a nonprofit entity, but Grantor A designates that the funds be spent only on computers while Grantor B earmarks the funding for curriculum. Such restrictive grants must be tracked individually using trial balances to ensure the monies are spent only as directed. And just as importantly, individual tracking is necessary to ensure that ALL of the funds are actually utilized. Stringent accounting regulations can be particularly vexing for smaller nonprofits who are unable to afford an in-house accountant, and why skilled professionals like Marie are such a valuable asset in helping them cook soup rather than their books.
Accurate Accounting and Donor Confidence
Nothing can undermine the mission (and funding) of a nonprofit more quickly than accounting errors or the misappropriation of funds, which is why good internal controls are a vital part of nonprofit accounting. However, inadvertent errors or outright fraud can be difficult for auditors to uncover. Many popular accounting software programs available today allow ledger entry changes without leaving an audit trail. In the popular television series The Office, Dunder Mifflin accountant Kevin Malone solved accounting inconsistencies by inventing the number “klevin”—”The sum plus klevin gets you home by seven.” That might work for a fictional paper company, but not for real-world nonprofits.
Not long ago, Marie herself encountered a situation where employees were stealing money by writing checks to themselves then amending the accounting ledger and substituting “business” names to cover their tracks. Because their accounting software at the time did not track ledger changes, it required a long and expensive audit to uncover the fraud. Situations like this are one of the reasons why Marie began recommending Cougar Mountain Software to her clients; it has excellent internal control features, such as automatically tracking ledger changes. This feature helps Cougar Mountain clients keep year end audits from turning into expensive and time consuming accounting autopsies.
A Lot of “Bang for The Buck”
“Cougar Mountain is a good, stable software product and you get good bang-for-the-buck” says Marie. “Out of our [Enterprise] office we work with lots of nonprofits. People come back to Cougar Mountain because it is a good value.” She particularly likes the seamless way Cougar Mountain’s Denali program can generate separate trial balances for nonprofits utilizing restrictive grants. A nonprofit can quickly be overwhelmed by the complexity of compliance and maintaining accurate books, which can siphon off valuable time, energy, and money from their mission. In today’s economy, when nonprofits have to do more with less, they need software that will enable them to effectively and efficiently maintain records. Automated systems save time and money, improve accuracy, maintain internal controls, and remove human error from the equation.
Marie has been using Cougar Mountain software now for over 20 years. She notes how seamlessly it can create and track trial balances for restrictive grants, as well as its excellent Payroll, Purchase Order, and Bank Reconciliation modules. Another great feature that Marie and her clients especially appreciate is the outstanding customer support they receive. Because Cougar Mountain’s customer support center is based in the United States, their clients never experience the language or technical expertise barriers common with outsourced customer support, and always receive prompt and courteous assistance. Cougar Mountain’s accounting software solutions are specifically tailored to enable nonprofits to accomplish their accounting as efficiently and cost effectively as possible, freeing up more of their valuable resources to help improve the lives of those they serve.