Tuesday, 25 June 2024
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Tuesday, 25 June 2024

New software is ‘first step on the digital transformation journey’ for charity finance head

LOUISE Zandstra has introduced new software for finance, ticketing, customer relations management and till transactions – but the Finance Director of The Charleston Trust says the organisation’s digital transformation is only beginning. 

Louise told a webinar for charities, organised by cloud accounting platform iplicit:

“We’ve created these new systems but that really is the first step on the journey. 

“The next step is making better use of them and of the information we have.”

The Trust looks after Charleston, the modernist home and studio of the painters Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant, which was a gathering point for the radical artists, writers and thinkers known as the Bloomsbury group. The East Sussex home and gardens host a year-round programme of exhibitions, events and festivals.

Louise joined as Director of Finance and Enterprise at the start of the Covid crisis, which she called ‘a time of huge change’ for the organisation.

She told the webinar:

“We’d had a very traditional finance set-up. The finance team was always in the office and we were working with Sage Line 50, which had been in place since 2010.

“In small arts organisations, you don’t make a decision lightly to change a finance system.”

Finding the budget to change was challenging, but the shift was made possible by a grant from the government’s Cultural Recovery Fund, which included money for financial resilience.

Previously, the trust had not been able to easily track restricted funds or employ project accounting. The Sage finance system had become unwieldy, with extra nominal ledger codes created for every new activity, and hundreds of codes in the system with ‘do not use’ next to them. 

She said:

“Arts organisations, and most non-profits, are complex. We have restricted fund accounting, we’re reporting to funders on different types of grants, we’re dealing with cultural exemption from VAT and we also have Capital Goods Scheme VAT. We have a charity and a trading company, so we were consolidating results to produce a group VAT return. We’re claiming Museums and Galleries Tax Relief.

“So we’re using our financial information for a lot of different activities.”

Introducing iplicit enabled Louise to achieve her key aims for digital transformation in the finance department, which were:

  • Improved functionality – with data captured in the finance system and all the work done in that same system, doing away with the need for laborious calculations in spreadsheets. 
  • Easier sharing of information with budget holders. Under the old system, as in many organisations, managers frequently had to ask how much of their budget was left. 
  • Moving to a ‘true cloud’ finance system. Louise wanted budget holders to be able to approve invoices and see data wherever they are, and for the finance team to be set up for hybrid, paperless working.

Having replaced a series of legacy systems, Louise’s next mission is to make the best possible use of the improved information the new software produces. 

With reliable, real-time information, the organisation will be able to create monthly dashboards showing progress against key performance indicators – and to take action if performance is off course. 

Louise added:

“We’re still at the beginning of a digital transformation journey. I don’t know if anybody ever finishes that journey. I think you’re always moving.”

Watch the webinar on demand

To hear Louise’s full story and advice on digital transformation, along with advice from charity finance expert Mark Salway, catch up with iplicit’s recent webinar on Improving Charity Finance and Reporting. 

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