Born In the Midst of War
Mobile Community Action (MCA) was born in the 1960s in the midst of a war—not the one waged in the jungles of Vietnam, but one waged in communities across America as part of President Johnson’s “War On Poverty”—a series of federal programs designed to attack the root causes of poverty. One of the more successful initiatives of Johnson’s landmark legislation was the creation of the Community Action Program, an effort to fight poverty by empowering the poor. For over 40 years, MCA has been fighting the good fight in the greater Mobile, Alabama area by funding programs such as Head Start, adult education, home weatherization (assisting families with repairs that will lower their utility bills), rent and mortgage assistance, and many other initiatives designed to “eliminate the paradox of poverty in the midst of abundance.” According to their vision statement, “MCA empowers people in poverty so that children and adults can achieve their maximum potential through education, training, employment, and emergency support services.”
Fighting Poverty Isn’t Cheap
War is an expensive proposition, whether the battle is against conventional foes or “institutional” forces like poverty. Rising inflation and stagnant wages make systemic poverty a formidable foe, but the wave of cuts to social programs mandated by the federal government’s sequestration has presented MCA with an even larger obstacle to fulfilling their mission and maintaining the same level of service to the 38,000 low income individuals and families they serve each year. According to Fiscal Manager Mike Schulz, sequestration reduced their budget by over $550,000 in 2013 with an additional cut possibly coming in 2014. This means having to do more with less, and one of the best ways to do that is to increase efficiency. That’s where Schulz comes in: he is on a mission to help MCA do more with less by stretching their remaining dollars and being more strategic in how they allocate them.
Fighting in the Trenches
After several years of working as a public accountant, Schulz was ready to switch to private accounting and the opportunity to focus exclusively on one client. He was attracted to MCA because of their mission to champion the poor and joined their staff in August 2012. “We are in the trenches, able to see the people we are helping,” said Schulz. “It’s a good feeling to see the difference we are making here.” The wide range of programs sponsored by MCA is a testimony to how widespread their impact is in the Mobile area. Many non-profits focus primarily on one area of service, but MCA offers a broad range of programs, from education to training to employment and emergency services that assist people of all ages “to live in decency and dignity.” MCA is often the last line of defense before an individual or family succumbs to homelessness. One of their strategies to adapt to budget cuts is to do a better job of analyzing their metrics so they can be both more efficient and strategic when they decide where to allocate their funds. “To be more efficient you need more information and the ability to do something with it,” said Schulz. “We have to be more efficient with what we have.”
Upgrading Their Weapons
MCA has been using Cougar Mountain’s accounting software since 1998. They chose Cougar Mountain because it works well and is extremely cost effective (a “great value” as Schulz phrased it). But to achieve their efficiency goals, they needed accounting tools with more “firepower,” particularly in the areas of data management and reporting. That is why they upgraded to Cougar Mountain’s Denali software suite. Schulz says Denali has given MCA the tools they need to achieve their goal of accomplishing more with less. Already a huge fan of Cougar Mountain software because of its ease of use, reliability, and outstanding internal control features, he particularly appreciates that Denali comes loaded with Crystal Reports, a feature that allows for a wide range of customized reporting and real-time updates. “I have a cash report linked in so that if someone makes a deposit, those numbers automatically change in real-time,” he said. “I look at that report every day, and if my book balance goes negative in a certain account I know beforehand if there is any trouble, even if the check hasn’t cleared from the bank.” Crystal Reports also enables MCA to better analyze the data collected by Cougar Mountain’s software to see where and how their monies are distributed (again, in real-time) and to make strategic adjustments to better serve their clients and fulfill their mission.
Helping win the War On Poverty is Mobile Community Action’s passion, and helping non-profits like MCA fulfill their mission is Cougar Mountain Software’s passion.