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Moving to the cloud

By Aaron Goin and Josh Whitehead

Cloud computing has taken the business world by storm. So why not churches, too? At Faith Promise Church, we have embraced cloud-based applications and by doing so we save money and effort, allowing us to accomplish our mission more easily.

Faith Promise Church is a nondenominational, multicampus church in Knoxville, TN, with an average weekly attendance of 4,200 people.

We had been using an on-premises accounting system, but as the church increased staff and members, we found ourselves doing more and more manual work. We couldn’t keep up with purchase order (PO) requests. It was a tedious process of shuffling paper forms back and forth between individuals for approvals, and then back to the finance department where employees entered the data into the accounting system. POs alone was becoming too much to handle.

Another problem entailed budget reporting to our various ministries, which required more manual effort from finance. We reconciled and printed the budgets monthly and distributed the reports into staff mailboxes. These infrequent budget updates meant that at times, people overspent their budgets because they didn’t have the latest data. In other cases, staff members delayed spending on critical projects.

In 2008, we began to look for a new solution for our core financials. We evaluated several traditional software applications including Blackbaud, Microsoft Dynamics and Sage MIP, but ultimately, we were impressed by Intacct’s cloud financial management system. We were excited about the prospect of having a more modern and flexible financial system that didn’t require us to install or manage any technology ourselves. At the time, we didn’t have IT staff, so eliminating the need to purchase hardware, install software, and maintain the software updates was quite appealing. We considered going with a hosted solution, but this only partially solved the IT issue and didn’t offer us the contemporary applications and cost savings.

Financial visibility
Now that we have our financial and operational systems in the cloud, it is remarkably easier to run our church. Being able to access information and reports on our members, facilities, donations and budgets at any time, from anywhere, and using any device has really helped us be more productive.

Managing POs occurs with a few mouse clicks. The process is entirely electronic – which means that employees log into Intacct via the Web to submit their own PO requests, after which the request is routed, approved and updated in the accounting and budget modules within a few minutes using automated workflows that we define. Previously, that process took a week with all the paper shuffling. This also helps us better achieve our ministry goals as some purchases are time-sensitive, such as equipment and technical supplies required to launch new campuses.

Reconciliation reports, which used to take 15 minutes or longer to create every time are now created once and then refreshed in the future instantly. Reporting, for any employee with approved access, is now instantaneous. A user can pull up a dashboard view to see the latest budget, historical spending and pending POs. We’re no longer playing guessing games when we plan our spending, since we’re always working from the latest information.

We can also see financials for the church as a whole and then drill down into financials for each campus, such as to analyze performance by donation levels or across various funds. As a nonprofit, this level of real-time financial visibility is critical not only to our longevity, but also our ability to serve our members and communities.

Doing more with less
Moving to the cloud has given us confidence that as we grow, our systems will easily scale up without incurring extra overhead. Switching to Intacct has eliminated the need for finance to hire an additional full-time employee, an estimated annual savings of at least $50,000. Finance has also slashed the percentage of time spent entering data from 40 percent to 5 percent. When the church adds a new campus, updating the financial system is simple. All the account information transfers to the new entity and we don’t have to manually enter data or create a new organizational structure from scratch.

Aaron Goin and Josh Whitehead serve as CFO and executive pastor, respectively, at Faith Promise Church, Knoxville, TN. www.faithpromise.org

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AV integration unites First United sound

First United Methodist Church of San Diego is the largest Methodist church in southern California and occupies one of the most architecturally splendid campuses in the area. Over many decades, First United has struggled with sound reinforcement systems for its multiple venues.

“Either they cobbled a fix together with spit wads and glue or they separately hired a system designer and a system installer,” says Paul Svenson of Sound Casework Inc.  Svenson has designed and installed audiovisual systems in hundreds of churches.

“When things went sour after the installation, as they always did, the designer pointed the finger at the installer and the installer pointed the finger at the designer,” Svenson adds. “Unfortunately, the church was always left holding the bag.”

After 27 years of trying to get First United’s business, Svenson finally got to fix the church’s AV problems by unifying the sound systems in all its five venues (sanctuary, chapel, lounge, social hall, and a small space for miscellaneous events) under a common, easy-to-use, foolproof paradigm centered on the Symetrix Jupiter 8 signal processor and the Symetrix ARC-2e wall panel remote.

After the overhaul, Svenson says all five spaces now have the same system, enabling volunteers to work comfortably and competently in any of the five venues.

“The church officials and the volunteers at First United are in love with the new systems. It’s been a long time coming,” he says.

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