"Getting actionable financial data for grant writing all comes down to the setup of your financial systems."
You sit at your computer staring blankly at the screen. You know that you need to finish this grant request, but you’re stuck. The narrative is coming along, but your roadblock is the financial justification for the grant. You open QuickBooks, flip through spreadsheets and you try to interpret the financials from the last month. But your eyes are crossed – you’re just not seeing what you need to make the case.
Grant writing is stressful enough without the added burden of working with bad (or at least useless) financial data. If you are a nonprofit executive director or a development professional who’s tasked with writing grant proposals, you’ve probably thought to yourself: there must be a better way. There has to be a better way to set-up QuickBooks for your nonprofit's specific needs! And you’re right.
Getting data you need for a grant request all comes down to the setup of your financial systems.
Most US-based small to medium-sized nonprofits use some version of QuickBooks for their accounting. It has its quirks, but it’s a solid piece of software. One of our favorite features of QuickBooks is chronically unsung and under-utilized. It’s called CLASSES. Prepare to be wowed and be sure to check out Blue Fox's entire tech-stack that we use to serve our clients.
So, what are CLASSES in QuickBooks Online?
Well, according to the folks over at Intuit, " Classes represent meaningful segments in your company, like store departments or product lines." Here's a class tracking overview with more details and instructions on how to set up classes and get started. (If you need help, that's what we do at Blue Fox, so give us a shout!)
Here's how we describe it: In the for-profit world, classes are often used for cost center or location-based tracking of revenue and expenses. Easy example: a retailer with more than 1 store. The management needs to see what stores are profitable, right? Here’s what a (very simplified) profit and loss report using classes might look like in that case:
PROFIT & LOSS BY CLASS (LOCATION) YTD
Being able to analyze income and expenses according to location allows management to make better decisions about where to invest staff, time, and money to ensure profitability and sustainability.
Brilliantly, this same classes tool in QuickBooks can be used to track a nonprofit program revenue and expenses. (Can you feel the excitement building?? #nerdalert)
Using this method, you can allocate a percentage of staff salaries, general overhead, and direct program costs to each program WITHOUT adding a gazillion lines to your Chart of Accounts.
Here’s what that might look like for an environmental education nonprofit:
Now, that's a 'QuickBooks for nonprofits' application we can get excited about! Please allow us to elaborate!
Do you see the leverage and empowerment that comes with this kind of accounting setup? If you were writing a grant for this organization’s adult programs, you’d be able to easily make the case for shortfall and demonstrate the need, right?
On the other hand, if you were writing a grant for the expansion of your K-12 programs, you could evaluate the estimated cost of that expanded reach based on the annual spend in that class.
Once you have your accounting system set up in this way, you can budget by class, run regular reports by class, and get valuable insights as to what is/is not sustainable from a revenue perspective. This not only assists with grant writing, but it will also lead you to have deeper and more honest conversations about things like program fees, fundraising goals and campaigns, and program budgets.
Bonus Read: Meet One of The Most High-Functioning, Financially Sustainable Nonprofit Organizations We Know: STARability Foundation (You guessed it, organizing this clients QuickBooks class structure was part of their transformation). By the way, we love our clients!!
How game-changing would this type of reporting be for you? Imagine the possibilities.
A couple of caveats and words of caution:
Does it sound like we know our stuff? We do! The Blue Fox team will help get those financials in order and make grant writing a breeze!
Is your organization ready to outsource your accounting function? Here’s how you know when.
Have you considered the benefits? Here are 10 of the most important reasons.
If anything, let’s review your chart of accounts and class set up. We can start the conversation with a free consultation!
Editors Note: This post was originally published in July 2019 and has been completely revamped and updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
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