Ryan Ne.

Project S.H.A.R.E. is well know as a food back which provides food items to low income families each month. At its core, however, the organization seeks a much deeper purpose. Its mission statement names its goal of not only providing food for those in need, but also “improving [their] physical, emotional and spiritual well-being.” S.H.A.R.E’s programs are designed to educate its constituency so to assist them in bettering their quality of life. The organization plays a small, yet crucial, part in getting families back on their feet by easing their financial burdens and teaching them skills for better living. One of its greatest strengths is its ability to involve a wide spectrum of stakeholders throughout the community. The emotional drive is contagious, affecting not only the families it serves, but also the hundreds of churches, businesses and volunteers that contribute to the cause. Elaine and the management have done an excellent job of making Project S.H.A.R.E. an organization for the community run by the community.

It is difficult to measure how much Matt and I were able to contribute to S.H.A.R.E’s constituents. At the end of our service, we have no tangible product to show for the time spent working with Elaine and Pam. Our task of working on the organization’s data management dealt with its the macro management structure. As with any attempt to reform a major system or process in a business the progress was very slow. The first few weeks were spent trying to figure out exactly what needed to be accomplished. From there we finally gained forward momentum and began to research potential options for changes in S.H.A.R.E’s data management. Despite dealing with a number of frustrations and setbacks, I come away from the experience feeling confident that we were in fact able to make an impact on the direction of the organization. We were able to identify a number of areas of inefficiencies created by the lack of proper data systems. By implementing the appropriate systems (namely an appropriate accounting software), the management will be able to gain a much better understanding of its constituents and how it can better serve them. It will also free up the countless hours now spent finding files and searching for needed numbers. In the end, the benefits of implementing an improved data management system will be realized by the people who the organization serves.

In working with Project S.H.A.R.E., Matt and I were able to see many practical applications of the material covered in class. We were mainly focused on the management aspects of the organization, where we were able to get an in depth look at how Elaine and her staff function on a daily basis. Elaine has had little training regarding business practices and management techniques so she has been forced to learn as she goes. Common amongst executive directors in small nonprofits, this is seen in the lack of organization of the data. For example, there are over 300 files spread out amongst various folders on S.H.A.R.E’s public drive most of which haven’t been use for years. We have read that having a solid handle on financial information and other data is instrumental in not only evaluating the nonprofits performance but also in strategically planning the future course of endeavors. It’s difficult to develop a long term vision for the organization without fully understanding its current status and having the proper systems in place. Project S.H.A.R.E. has reached a point where its growth can no long be sustained by its “primitive” systems that were at one time sufficient. It’s continuously growing list of constituents have created a complex network of stakeholders. Complexity in the structure requires proficient management with more systems with greater capabilities.

This morning I met with Pam and Elaine to further discuss the accounting software, Peachtree. Throughout the past week I have explored the demo version online to get a feel for the program’s capabilities and to see if it would be a good match for S.H.A.R.E. Yesterday I spoke with a sales rep who was able to answer a few questions about the use of the product. Specifically, I wanted to know how well it is able to produce automated thank you letters since that is one of Elaine’s most vocal concerns. I am still not confident that it will fully automate the letter process, but I know that it allows the user to customize reports and letters and mail merge them with Microsoft Word.

Pam and Elaine had a number of questions concerning the program as well as its implementation…and of course, I had few answers. I did, however share with them that which I knew. I believe that Peachtree, or a similar product, would be extremely beneficial to help to organize S.H.A.R.E’s data. It manages the financials as well as inventory, employees, donors and other stakeholders. One of the drawbacks, however, is that it requires at least an intermediate level of accounting knowledge, especially for its startup. We then talked about the benefits of having an employee whose sole responsibility was accounting and organizing the data. I tried to convey the importance of having clear financial data in an organized framework and how the extra effort and money spent to achieve such a system could really benefit the organization. I left the meeting with the task of contacting other small nonprofits throughout the next week to see what type of software they use for their data management.

This weeks meeting may have been the most productive/fulfilling to date. I have been expecting to have seen tangible progress in helping S.H.A.R.E, however I have come to realize that what were are able to do at this point is to help Elaine and the management see ways that they can better the organization. Even if they don’t purchase Peachtree or any other program in the near future, we have at least gotten the ball rolling toward data management reform. I feel that our discussion today was very productive and visionary for the future of the organization. Matt and I have witnessed a number of incidents where files were lost or deleted leaving the staff extremely frustrated. The challenges that S.H.A.R.E’s current data management system (or lack there of) are becoming more obvious to Elaine and Pam and they are now seeing the need for a more efficient process.

In ”No Longer Unmeasurable?” Sowa writes of the importance of management capacity and outcomes (among other things) in the evaluation of an organization’s effectiveness. Capacity deals with the structures and processes used in management. Outcomes measures how well the capacity is actually used. In the case of Project S.H.A.R.E, it appears that there is a lack of capacity as well as perceived outcomes. The organizations inefficient means of data management is a weakness in its management structure. Its inability to find and manipulate information cripples its ability to better understand its stakeholders and strategically plan for the future. S.H.A.R.E seems to be highly focused on project capacity and outcomes, neglecting the need to build capacity in its management. The holistic approach of the MIMNOE model emphasizes the importance of evaluation on both the management level and the projects that the organization promotes.

After researching the capabilities of Microsoft Access, I went into S.H.A.R.E. to meet with a woman named Ellen whose job it is to write and send the thank you letters to donors. I wanted to get an idea for the process that they currently use and to see if the query that I produced in Access would be of any help. Interestingly, Ellen had a fairly efficient process which used Microsoft Word mail merge and a data list from Access. Ellen conveyed to me that she didn’t really think there was a major problem with the way she produced the letters. She did have some questions about creating templates in Word, but was fairly satisfies with the current method.

Friday, April 7 Matt and I met with Elaine and Pam. Earlier that week Elaine had e-mailed us and asked us to research an accounting program call Peachtree which is specifically formatted for nonprofits. I spent a few evenings on the internets learning about its capabilities and reading reviews. I printed off a number of documents to share with Elaine which described Peachtree’s functions. The first order of business in our meeting was to discuss the pros and cons of purchasing the program. From the limited knowledge that I had of the program I encouraged them to further consider the program as it would provide a very well organized system of data management, taking the place of the hundreds of Excel files that make little sense to anyone. Also, I felt that the program would be a very valuable resource, bringing advanced business knowledge to the organization without having to employ a high-price professional. I downloaded a trial version of Peachtree for Pam to test out and I agreed to do the same so that we could discuss it further the next week. Next on the agenda, Matt and I taught Pam how to create basic graphs using data from Excel.

The mixed messages that I received from Ellen and Elaine about the need for an automated letter system have only added to my frustration with the experience. Until I met with Ellen, I had thought that we were gaining some ground on the project, but instead we find ourselves at square one. Our latest assignment of researching Peachtree looks as though it may have potential. I am somewhat concerned, however, because switching to the program would be a major shift in SHARE’s financial operations. I am not sure if the organization is ready for the shift or not, as most of the employees lack essential business and IT knowledge. On the other hand, something must be done to create a more organized framework.

From our discussion of financial management of nonprofits, it is clear that the organization of data is hugely important and directly affects the other components of a business. Systematically managing data not only allows an organization to better understand its stakeholders, but it is essential for accomplishing its mission. Only through clear financial information can the organization be efficient and accurate in its planning, resource allocation, budgeting and evaluation. It is a crucial component of the foundation of the organization. I believe that many of Project SHARES problems stem from the managements inability to find and manipulate data. This causes inefficiencies as well as limits its ability to analyze trends needed for future planning. Many aspects of the business then become subjectively evaluated and decisions are made based on emotion rather than logic. Also affected is the accountability of the organization.

“Few individuals are recruited or agree to serve on boards because of their skills or experience with finances. Particularly in smaller nonprofits, few trustees are educated or experienced in financial analysis or management controls.” (Ott 285)

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