Nonprofit Spark MicroGrants Works to Help Communities Help Themselves with NetSuite
In years past, the rainy season in Nasitsape, a community nestled in the mountains of eastern Uganda, often meant that residents were isolated from surrounding communities when the river became impassable. During these times, residents were often unable to leave the village to get to school, the health clinic and the market.
Today, thanks to a community initiative and seed funding through Spark MicroGrants, aka Spark, residents have a bridge that connects their village with the rest of the surrounding communities. Since the bridge was constructed, the community has designed and launched a number of independent community initiatives, including a women-run pig rearing project to increase crop yield and improve upon levels of income, and a thriving brick-making business. In addition, the community is working with the local government to construct an electricity line in the village.
Founded in 2010, Spark MicroGrants believes in a world where everyone lives with dignity and determines their own positive future. Through Spark’s Facilitated Collective Action Process (FCAP), which relies on local facilitators who know the local people and speak the local language, takes communities in Uganda, Rwanda and Burundi through a six-month process whereby the people in these communities work together to decide on a development project. At the end of the months, the communities have an operational plan for how they will support the project long-term and receive seed funding from Spark. What’s more, these communities often show increased civic engagement and social cohesion. In just five years, Spark has worked with over 134 communities across Eastern Africa.
Needing a System to Grow With
Despite seeing incredible growth in the number of communities Spark was working with, the organization relied on a complex combination of Google Docs and QuickBooks to manage their finances when Roz Zavras joined the team as director of finance and operations.
According to Zavras, the end of each month was a tedious process of entering data from individual Google Sheets she received from each country director into QuickBooks and manually checking each entry line-by-line.
“We could never close the books on time,” said Zavras. “And we could never have a clear picture of our costs across our programs and countries.”
When it came time to find a new solution, Zavras says her directive was to find a partner that could grow with the organization from $1 million in annual revenue to $10 million and beyond and one that was cost effective, enabling Spark to spend its money on its programs and not on technology.
To start the process, she reached out to her network in the nonprofit community to find out what systems other organizations were using and how they liked them. It was a conversation with Kiva, where Zavras first learned about NetSuite and the software donation available through NetSuite.org.
While she looked at other systems like Xero and Intacct, she chose NetSuite because it would enable Spark to manage the entire organization in one system. She also says she loved how flexible the system was to the unique needs of Spark.
One example Zavras shared is how the organization can now handle cash requests within each of its projects and offices. With NetSuite, Spark uses an external petty cash form to request cash in NetSuite. Once requested, the supervisor receives an email which gives them the ability to approve or disapprove the request. From there, an expense form in NetSuite can be created and tracked.
“It created a level of accountability that we didn’t have before,” said Zavras. “It used to be a Google form and no one knew where the requests were.”
Spark worked with Social Data Systems, a NetSuite.org Solution Partner, to move from QuickBooks to NetSuite. Since going live on March 1 of this year, Zavras says her in-country directors now have a direct look at their programs’ finances, something they had once relied on her to access. With basic reports available in NetSuite, country directors get their budget variance emailed to them, and the team “couldn’t be happier.”
For Zavras, moving to NetSuite has given her the ability to have an accurate view of the organization’s financial picture. Most recently, she was able to use NetSuite to use real-time reporting to help her Executive Director see where funding gaps existed and communicate that information to donors as part of Spark’s Spring fundraising campaign. She says this wouldn’t have been possible before.
Looking ahead, Spark is working to shift the model of community development from one of externally led efforts towards one where the local community is in charge. For more information on Spark, visit http://www.sparkmicrogrants.org/.
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