How Efficient Are Your Internal Controls?

Tag: private foundations

How Efficient Are Your Internal Controls?

March 20, 2024 | 7:27 am

Internal controls are one of the most important values a chief financial officer (CFO) can bring to an organization. Yet many assume business process improvement and the imposition of internal controls are the same thing or that they can’t exist together. The truth is that when controls are both efficient and effective, their value goes from good to great.

Perceptions

Internal controls—the accounting and auditing processes used in a company’s finance and operations departments that ensure the integrity of financial reporting and regulatory compliance—are a key component of financial success. Whether CFOs’ focus is on separation of duties, reconciliations, or approvals, they spend hundreds of hours a year designing, training, and enforcing internal controls.

Because of this investment in process considerations, some believe internal controls and business process improvement are the same thing. CFOs who think this way might say, “We have good controls; therefore our processes are solid.” Others believe that streamlining and speeding up processes by removing third and fourth reviews will make controls weaker. Their theory is that making controls more efficient means that some “control” corners may be cut.

But successful CFOs know that every process needs to be well controlled if results are to be delivered while maximizing resources. For example, the accounts payable process must function smoothly so that valid payments are made in an accurate, timely, and efficient manner. The path to well-controlled, efficient, and effective processes is what business process improvement is all about.

A Process Example

Recently I talked with an organization that had received many concerning comments in its external audit. The newly hired CFO immediately installed new and more expansive internal controls. One addition required that a purchase order be created for all items over $50. This purchase order needed three levels of approval. Invoices for the ordered items needed to be approved for payment by three levels. And checks in payment of the invoices had to be reviewed by four levels. As a result of the new internal controls, the organization’s negative audit comments disappeared. Yet these new steps slowed the process down.

In this organization, program operations employees completed these purchase orders and invoice reviews. They were the same employees taking heat from the board of directors for not serving the community fast enough or well enough. Adding more approval steps was achieving an appropriate degree of quality control, but it was also expanding the staff’s workload. How could the organization both serve the community as needed and maintain tight controls?

This team used business process improvement to solve this conundrum. First, we outlined the goals of the process, including the need for airtight internal controls. Then the team rebuilt the processes, identifying value-added steps and waste. Some of these wasted steps were the creating and fixing errors, commonly called rework. The process went from 110 steps to 64 steps despite internal controls increasing significantly. Assured that their concerns had been appropriately addressed, the auditors signed on off the new process. With a well-founded, secure process in place, both the organization and the community achieved a win.

Conclusion

Every organization needs to have solid internal controls in place to fulfill its mission with confidence and integrity. Business process improvement is an excellent way to build controls into work steps without compromising effectiveness and efficiency.

About Lee Kuntz and Innovation Process Design

As founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Lee Kuntz has spent over two decades using process improvement to solve the unique challenges faced by leaders of complex service organizations. Through expert training and coaching, she helps teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create real results. Contact Lee with questions or to talk about your situation and what you want to achieve.

Do You Have Opportunities to Improve Process?

January 17, 2024 | 2:19 pm

As the new year begins, you may wonder whether there are ways your team can improve process. I am frequently asked about this, and based on my experience and certifications, I see critical feedback as a sign of a potential process improvement opportunity.

Feedback as an Indicator

As an organization that seeks to make a positive impact on your community, you undoubtedly receive feedback from many parties. The kind of feedback you receive can help you pinpoint areas where process improvement might be both warranted and achievable.

Is any of this feedback familiar to you?

  • Your board is challenging the organization to deliver more to the community.
  • There is board pressure to keep costs and resources at current levels despite inflation.
  • Visionary senior leaders are looking for the next level of impact or service.
  • Community members are asking for more help and/or for help to be delivered more quickly.
  • Funders are asking for a greater community impact from their investment.
  • Employees are communicating that they are overwhelmed with work or are at risk of leaving.
  • Partners are seeking ways to work together more effectively so they can help others.
  • Regulators are asking your organization to deliver services to the community in a timelier manner.

 

These parties all want you to do more with what you have. You can close your ears to this feedback, or you can treat this feedback as a golden opportunity to apply proven process improvement techniques that address the identified concerns. Taking a deep dive to assess your processes can enhance how work is done and can change outcomes for the better.

Opportunity Knocks!

So, does your organization have an opportunity to improve process? If you have received critical feedback from any key parties, the answer is yes. To learn more about your team’s potential to improve the way your work is done, contact me to talk through what you see. Others have improved processes to better serve their community. You can too!

About Lee Kuntz and Innovation Process Design

As founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Lee Kuntz has spent over two decades using process improvement to solve the unique challenges faced by leaders of complex service organizations. Through expert training and coaching, she helps teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create real results. Contact Lee with questions or to talk about your situation and what you want to achieve.

Thrive During the Busy Donation Season Through this Best Practice

October 19, 2023 | 12:32 pm

Many foundations and nonprofits receive the majority of their contributions during November and December. This makes for a busy donation season, which can result in employee stress and delayed responses to donors and grantees. Instead, some teams take one hour to conduct a process walk through, which enables them to thrive during this busy season.

The Best Practice to Create Capability
The volume of work during this time can overwhelm normally adequate processes and capacity. A way to create capacity and to firm up processes during the upcoming onslaught is to conduct a one-hour process walk through of any high-volume processes. This best practice reminds employees of how work needs to be done, identifies sticking points and engages the team in making backlogs visible and solvable.

An effective process walk through follows specific steps. Here is a link to my firm’s IPD Process Talk Walk through Best Practices. Feel free to print this document and use it during your process walk through.

And contact me with any questions or to talk about what you see during busy season. As a process coach and trainer, I have seen teams go from drowning to thriving during November and December. Your team can also.

People Are at the Heart of Improving Process and Outcomes

September 5, 2023 | 9:06 am

Throughout the 23 years I have been a process improvement coach and trainer, I have learned that people are the most important factor in achieving process improvement success. Yes, methodologies, training, and tools are important. But engaging the people doing the work in a way that increases their readiness for improving the way they work is the most important element.

In a recent conversation with one of my clients, I was reminded of the power of engaging and readying staff for process improvement. This leader moved from the CFO role in one foundation to a similar role in another. Both foundations are huge and healthy with big growth ahead of them. This experienced leader had brought my firm in to the first foundation to help him create capacity to take on that big growth. He anticipated the busy season ahead and knew the workload would be unmanageable unless he took action.

During our training, we built both the skills and will to improve how work is done. See how this looks in this video: Energized, Inspired, and Engaged.

My firm also conducted a process deep dive with this leader’s team to recapture capacity in their donor advised fund (DAF) grants operations. See how a deep dive looks in this short video: IPD Process Deep Dive Experience. The team redesigned their process to cut the time to do a DAF grant by 40 percent. That meant delivering grants and confirmations faster to donors and freeing employees up to enjoy the year-end holidays.

Last month I reconnected with this leader to congratulate him on his new CFO role. He mentioned that he brought the language of process improvement with him to his second organization. He said, “We constantly look for and talk about finding unproductive tasks, exactly as I learned to do in your training.”

Because this leader identified the challenges ahead, learned key process transformation concepts, and took action to implement them, he has now been able to lead two teams to improve how work is done. As a result, both he and the two organizations he has worked for have streamlined their operations and increased employee satisfaction. You and your organization can achieve these favorable results too.

Contact Lee Kuntz at lee@improveprocess.net if you see pain points in how your organization’s work is done or if you seek to improve the outcomes your organization delivers to your community.

About Lee Kuntz and Innovation Process Design
As founder and president of Innovation Process Design, Lee Kuntz has spent over two decades using process improvement to solve the unique challenges faced by leaders of complex service organizations. Through expert training and coaching, she helps teams look at their work with new eyes, transform how work gets done, and create real results. Contact Lee with questions or to talk about your situation and what you want to achieve.

Build Process and System Success through a One-time Process Investment

April 19, 2023 | 2:17 pm

Is your organization installing new technology this year? You are not alone. About 50% of organizations are installing new software this year. And that is not about to change.

Given the cost of technology, managing new software installation and maximizing technology is now a core piece of organization work. Here is a story of one organization’s journey to build their skills to make software pay for itself.

Build Process and System Success through a One-time Process Investment.

To learn more about how today’s nonprofit is maximizing software, check out our newly published article: Bust these myths and save 2,800 hours in day-to-day operations.

 

Innovation Process Design Quarterly Newsletter November 2022

November 4, 2022 | 10:41 am

Operations Process Tip for the Quarter

Look at operations processes through the eyes of your community. What do they value? What do they need? Let that data guide your next steps.

Success Story: From Frail and Overloaded to Consistently Delivering on Promises

Situation
I heard this from a community foundation CEO: “Processes at our organization feel frail. Things happen very slowly, such as our issuance of DAF grants. We have no capacity to grow. We need help in order to make successful changes.”

Solution
Lee listened, then brought tools so staff can see what is actually happening.
I provided our four-hour “Concepts Training” to this foundation’s project teams. First, I used several discovery tools to help staff understand where processes were breaking down. Then, through 24 hours of consultation, I coached a cross-functional team to redesign the DAF grants process. This team wanted the same great results for accounts payable, so I coached another team through the redesign of that process. Both teams are now implementing their new processes.

Outcomes
Both processes now contain fewer steps and are being accomplished much faster. The teams learned how to document each process and came to the realization that everyone is part of the solution. They became highly effective, cross-functional teams. This gave them the skills-and-will to replace their main operations system.

See a process deep dive happen: IPD Process Deep Dive Experience Video

Consider Our Process Transformation and Training Cohort Workshop™

May 8 – May 11, 2023. 1 pm – 4 pm CT each day
Community foundations can only fulfill their mission when their day-to-day operations function well. Is your foundation being held back by an operational process that is counterproductive or is causing frustration for staff, grantees or fundholders?

If your answer to this question is yes, please join our next Process Transformation and Training Cohort Workshop™. Learn more: About Process Transformation and Training Cohort Workshop™. Workshop limited to 4 foundations, so contact Lee Kuntz soon.

Lead Operations Transformation to Increase Community Impact

Does your organization face nearly overwhelming demand, yet you have limited resources or staffing to fulfill that demand? I am told that being under-resourced and understaffed is a common constraint for nonprofits. Despite such limitations, community action councils (CACs) are doing amazing work as the last line of support to address poverty in their communities. But their communities more help.  Lead Operations Transformation to Increase Community Impact

Using a Process Map When Installing a New Software System

Recently, a software vendor told me that organizations considering a new software system would do well to supply their vendor with a detailed process map. Having such a map helps the vendor better address the organization’s needs and generate a more accurate quote. In four hours of work with your team, my firm can produce a process map that will help you achieve a better software outcome. Contact Lee Kuntz to learn more.

Refine Operations Roles and Responsibilities to Increase Community Impact

Who in your organization has the power and responsibility to deliver consistent results to your community? Do these specific staff know that? Recently, as part of our sector survey, we found that community foundations and nonprofits are transitioning from traditional operations roles to new ways of delivering better, more consistent results to their community. Learn more: Refine Operations Roles and Responsibilities to Increase Community Impact

Hear Me Speak

Change for Good: Improve How Work is Done to Solve Pain Points and Recapture Capacity
December 1, 2022 @ 1:00 pm–2:30 pm EST
This presentation is a Midwest Webinar Series event sponsored by the Indiana Philanthropy Alliance, Philanthropy Ohio, and the Council of Michigan Foundations. Members of any of these organizations are invited to register through their organization. Learn more: About Midwest Series Webinar.

Upgrading software? Maximize your investment with process reimaging

October 19, 2022 | 2:09 pm

When a foundation or nonprofit updates its software system, the purchase typically requires years of research and a financial investment that can run well into six figures. So, it’s important to make the most of that purchase. The most effective way to do that is to use system upgrades as an opportunity to reexamine internal processes

That kind of self-reflection allows the organization to get the best return on their investment, while following best practices for a software purchase. In fact, in a recent Innovation Process Design survey, 100% of participants said process design is essential when adding new software. By maximizing internal processes, organizations can get employees out of the back office and back to serving their communities.

“It’s important to have a high-level outlook of what outcomes drive the process and not be married to current processes in order to achieve the same result in a more efficient manner,” wrote one respondent.

“I can’t imagine how you can put in new software without reimaging the process,” wrote another.

In all, 24 philanthropic and nonprofit organizations completed the survey. Approximately half of respondents were financial leaders. The other half were grantmakers and technology leaders. Most respondents — 80% — had recent experience implementing sizable new software projects.

Exactly what reimaging should look like depends on the type of project in question. If your software installation is small or low risk, following vendor best practices or holding internal discussions may be enough. Larger or more involved projects may require an outside coach to lead the process or provide redesign training.

Wondering where to start? Here are a few key questions to answer before you complete your next software purchase:

1. How should you redesign? About half of survey respondents said they typically manage process redesign internally. Another 41% said engaging an outside coach is an important part of the process. A coach’s process improvement expertise can be a powerful tool when employees are hesitant to make changes, too busy to fully focus on the task, or inexperienced in process design.

2. When should you redesign? Reimaging before selecting a new software system gives nonprofits a clear picture of how they can work more efficiently and may even help them realize they don’t yet need new software. Redesigning after a system has been selected but before it’s installed, on the other hand, allows foundations to build new processes with the new system’s capabilities in mind. Building processes after the system is in place is another viable option, but respondents said it often feels like “trying to build a plane while it’s in the air.” Half of respondents to the Innovation Process Design survey said the best time to redesign is after selecting the new system and before installation. Meanwhile, another 37% say redesigning before selecting a new system is the way to go, and the final 12% say redesign should be done after the new system is in place.

3. Should you go big? The answer to this question may depend on the size of your software purchase or the needs of your processes, but 60% of survey respondents said they received more benefit from major process redesign than from minimal or no redesign. For some, going big led to better outcomes, faster implementation, and more significant return on a major systems investment, while giving team members the confidence to ask and resolve questions. In addition, 58% of participants combined process improvement training with redesign. These organizations said they received significant value from process training and this approach.

Understanding the goals of work is the first level of process redesign. It creates a framework that organizations can use as they proceed to the second level, which includes process work — identifying the structure of who does what, and when they do it. The third level is process detail — identifying the screens, fields, reports, and steps used to complete the work. However, all organizations should incorporate level three – process detail – when implementing a new software system.

Once an organization has a clear picture of its needs and the scope of the software project at hand, the team can identify the steps needed for reaching its goal — whether that involves a major design or a few simple process tweaks. This thinking is summarized in a matrix you can use to identify the specific process redesign steps to help your team be successful. See the matrix and survey summary report here: Summary of Reimage Processes for New Software Survey

Changing the way things have always been done is intimidating, and there are inherent risks. But applying time-tested resources in a way that best meets your nonprofit’s needs will make it easier to successfully manage the twists and turns of process transformation.

Solve the Donor-Advised Fund Squeeze

October 19, 2022 | 2:07 pm

Donor-advised funds are a big growth area for foundations. More donors are contributing to these accounts at their favorite foundation than ever before. Yet these funds provide little margin to pay for the services they require. Foundations are squeezed between low margins and high service requirements as the number of funds climbs.

Some foundations address this challenge through maximizing each donation opportunity. Some are looking internally. These foundations are decreasing the labor and cost to serve donor-advised funds while delivering better and faster results to their contributors.

What is a Donor-Advised Fund?

When a donor contributes to a donor-advised fund at a public charity, that person is generally eligible to take an immediate tax deduction. Then those funds are invested for tax-free growth, and the giver can recommend grants to virtually any IRS-qualified public charity. Donor-advised funds are the fastest-growing charitable giving vehicle in the United States, because they are one of the easiest and most tax-advantageous ways to give.

The Squeeze

Public charities, mainly foundations, receive minimal fees for the work they do to manage donor-advised funds. Yet these funds require substantial services, including investment management, grant payment, and grantee due diligence. For many foundations, the labor and cost of performing these tasks approaches or is greater than the fees they receive for these accounts. As these funds continue to proliferate, some foundations find that managing them siphons significant time away from fulfilling their essential purpose.

The Solution

Some of these foundations are turning to advanced process improvement to decrease their labor and costs as they support their donor-advised funds. Once they get trained on the tools that are working for community foundations, these proactive leaders are redesigning process to recapture work time while delivering consistently good service to donors.

For example, one community foundation used process implement training and coaching to go from 75 to 39 steps in completing donor-advised grants. Once the new steps were implemented, their average processing time dropped from 50 minutes to only 25 minutes. With the savings of time, the foundation is able to deliver grants more predictably and efficiently—to the delight of donors and the nonprofits that receive those grants. In addition, the recaptured work time is now being used to address other community needs.

Build Capacity through Advanced Process Improvement

Foundation leaders are savvy. They constantly tinker to improve how back-office work is done. But the donor-advised grant squeeze may require more than a few tweaks in process. It may require making an investment in advanced process improvement.

Contact Lee Kuntz to learn how to address this squeeze through redesigning processes. Several community foundations have built their process knowledge and redesigned their donor-advised fund processes to recapture thousands of hours and deliver better and faster results. You can too!

Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End

October 19, 2022 | 2:05 pm

Have you been part of a process improvement project that required an investment of hours upon hours over months or even years? Was a process improvement effort stopped because the team could not agree upon which improvement ideas to implement? Or an improvement initiative that made things worse instead of better?

With results like these, no wonder leaders hesitate to authorize process improvement initiatives. Yet some leaders are achieving impressive results from redesigning processes. They cut the work time to serve their customers in half, recapturing and repurposing thousands of hours. At the same time, they deliver better outcomes to their communities, boards, and partners.

These diametrically opposed outcomes beg the question: What creates the big difference in results?

What is Process Improvement?

The difference in results stems, in part, from the varying working definitions of process improvement. One website defines process improvement as “a systematic approach that can be used to make incremental and breakthrough improvements in processes.” While this approach sounds promising, it falls short of bringing transformational change.

A process redesign project that focuses only on improving how work is done will not significantly improve outcomes despite taking many hours of staff time. For example, one team shared that they worked on an improvement project for eighteen months. They met for two hours every month and talked about a host of cutting-edge ideas. Yet the team could not come together behind any idea they were willing to try. After they had invested more than 400 work hours generating ideas without implementing any of them, people started dropping out of the project. Then the CEO identified a new initiative and the team switched its focus to that priority.

Start at the End

I view process improvement more holistically. I see it as a tool to improve outcomes in a broader sense. It can be leveraged to enhance quality, customer experience, accuracy, compliance, or any other key process outcome. When leaders start by identifying the specific outcome(s) that must be improved, they make it possible to achieve impactful process improvement results.

Recently, a chief operations/administration officer (COO) became aware that her organization was incurring significant late-payment penalties. Phone calls about the late payments from both internal managers and external partners were eating up her team’s time, and the organization’s financial resources were being squandered on paying the penalties.

The COO talked with her team about what she saw and then initiated a process redesign project with the specific goal of getting payments out on time. She leveraged my team’s process improvement training and mentoring to help the team better understand what was actually happening. Once her team saw that they could solve the pain they were experiencing, they eagerly stepped forward to be on the redesign team. This team used their new process improvement knowledge to reduce the payment process from 110 steps to 60 steps. Now they are implementing these new ideas and have shortened the time to get payments out. They will no longer be plagued with collection phone calls and can reinvest their time in helping the organization fulfill its key objectives.

Achieving process improvement results starts with identifying the needed outcome(s) first. After all, would you start a road trip without picking a destination? With no destination, you may end up in Alaska, rather than California. Or on the side of the road, out of provisions for the journey. Only through setting a clear destination can your team succeed in achieving the improvement they need.

Focus Delivers Process Improvement Results

As a coach and a trainer, I have opportunities to influence leaders as they seek to achieve process improvement results. Therefore, I first ask which outcomes need to be improved.

When leaders focus on improving specific process outcomes, they foster employee engagement and leadership support. Starting with a particularly painful outcome is a great first step. For example, a director of donor relations received calls from three donors who said they received someone else’s gift acknowledgement letter. After awkward apologies were made and the letters were corrected, the director called me to learn how she could quickly address this situation so it would never happen again. I coached her and the team through a four-hour rapid process improvement event. I encouraged the group to kept one essential outcome in mind: Gift acknowledgements must be sent out to the correct donor every time.

Being clear about the goal helped galvanize the team to take action and be laser-focused in their redesign work. This focus shortened the time needed for the improvement work, as there were no side trips that consumed valuable team time and energy.

Your Next Process Improvement Results Project

When your team needs to attain a given process outcome and is missing the mark, think process improvement. Whether your issue is an unhappy customer, overwhelmed employees, or a board demanding answers, start by identifying the specific outcomes needed. Communicating with employees about the missed mark and committing to resolve it can begin your journey to achieve impressive results.

Some organizations have built their process management skills and routinely fix inadequate outcomes successfully and quickly. You can, too. Contact me, Lee Kuntz, to talk through how your team can undertake rapid improvement that achieves process improvement results and promotes organizational success. Achieve Process Improvement Results: Start at the End

Lead Operations Transformation to Increase Community Impact

October 6, 2022 | 7:19 am

Does your organization face nearly overwhelming demand, yet you have limited resources or staffing to fulfill that demand?

I am told that being under resourced and understaffed is a common constraint for nonprofits. Despite such limitations, community action councils (CACs) are doing amazing work as the last line of support to address poverty in their communities. But our communities need more help.

In this blog series, you will read how CACs are engaging staff to change how work is done, resulting in a bigger community impact. I will share with you ways your team can meet and exceed community and program needs with the resources you have now. CAC employees who use these approaches are feeling engaged and empowered. Boards are satisfied and communities are being served at a new level. Would those outcomes be valuable to you?

Operations in Community Action Councils

All organizations have two aspects to their work: what they do and how they do it.

Both are important and both are needed to make an impact on the communities that they serve. Now let’s look at each side of the organizations’ work.

What we do: This aspect consists of the services an organization offers. What we do is based on decisions we think long and hard about. We test them. We adjust them. They are important. Collectively, these decisions about an organization’s mission guide the development of that organization’s strategy. Generally, people think that strategy creates community impact.

How we do it: How we execute that strategy or how we do work is also important. It relates to how we deliver services. This is generally considered operations. We spend about 90% of our time and resources on operations. Therefore, the how is important.

Figure 1

Looking at organizations through the lens of strategy and operations is common in for-profit organizations. Many have a chief operations officer who is accountable for how the work gets done. For-profit organizations typically have operational titles and roles at the director, manager, and individual contributor levels. These organizations understand the power of the how.

What the How Looks Like in CAC Agencies

Within CAC agencies, decisions about strategy and tactics are made by CAC leaders in conjunction with the board. For example, some energy assistance programs offer three levels of energy support as shown below.

The specifics of an organization’s operations are determined by the agency’s staff. They design how work should be done. In this example, the five steps describe how an agency might provide the various levels of support to its clients.

Figure 2

Focus on Operations

Given my experience and certifications, I see myself primarily as an operations coach and trainer. I help teams put good ideas into practice. I believe CAC employees are the right people to improve how processes and operations happen. With strong process improvement skills, they can achieve impressive results for their community. I have seen it over and over again. Working with teams to enhance their skills-and-will to do work better and deliver impact is my passion and my vocation.

Levers to Improve Operations and Increase Community Impact

The good news about operations is that we have tools and approaches to make processes work well and deliver great outcomes, with the primary goal always being to maximize community impact. These levers include work steps, equipment, roles and responsibilities, training, forms, and internal rules.

Figure 3

Regulations may mandate the forms you use, yet it is these six operational levers that can help you maximize your impact in the community.

I recently worked with a CAC transportation team to help them better leverage their six operational levers. Through process training and then a one-day deep dive, the CAC team determined that they could improve their ride intake process and outcomes through maximizing use of their existing tools, adjusting roles and responsibilities, retraining request intake staff, rethinking their internal policies, and simplifying work steps. As a result of the team’s work, they quickly implemented their new mobile vaccination van, employing new processes to deliver an improved rider experience.

Conclusion

All nonprofit organizations, including CAC teams, can improve their operations to provide more services and generate greater impact for their community. If your organization is experiencing unlimited demand with limited resources, you have the opportunity to look at your operations to improve outcomes. Other organizations are expanding their community impact by leveraging these six operational levers. You can too.

Learn more about improving operations through our next blog post, or contact Lee Kuntz to discuss your unique situation.

Contact Lee today to discuss your challenge.