COVID-19 Concerns in day-to-day Accounting Functions: Real Talk from Funders (March 26, 2020)

On March 26th, we had our Coffee Talk: Covid-19 Concerns in Day-to-Day Accounting Functions to share resources, experiences, and creative solutions. We plan to continue this conversation through additional Coffee Talks through the coming weeks. For now, see what our community had to say:

(These comments were pulled directly from the session’s live audio and chat feeds. Find the full recording of this Coffee Talk here.)

Working Remotely

Jan Rodman, Guelph Community Foundation - Two of us were already working on laptops and one was on a desktop, so it was more a matter of creating a VPN to access the servers because all our information was server-based not cloud-based. We were able to do that fairly quickly. Our original intent was one of us would go into the office to check mail, do banking, etc., but we are in a stay at home order right now and we are a non-essential business. So we didn't know how we would process any donations that came in hard copy. We have a check-in once a day and loads of emails going back and forth. 

Lauren Todd, Stonewall Community Foundation - We fortunately already had a model where staff could work from home once a week and connect via VPN to our server so we had that set up already in place. What we didn't have was a great phone system, but we got that up and running. Our major challenge was mail, we were fortunate enough to have two co-workers that lived in the same neighborhood so I set up a P.O. box. Unfortunately, the post office doesn't seem to be forwarding our mail. So we have been trying to communicate with our donors to give online. We set up an e-check capability through autorize.net where we can receive donations and we are paying our grantees through an ACH form that we just set up, so we can pay everyone via ACH. 

TIP: If anyone is looking for a way to receive ACH enrollment forms securely I would recommend Pdffiller.com. It supplies an encrypted link so you can set up an ACH payment form without Grantees having to email their information to you.  

Dorena Moore, Texas Methodist Foundation (TMF) - Interesting point...depending on where you are and what your particular 'stay at home' order says, the foundation may be considered 'essential' or not. Here in Austin, we are considered 'essential'.

Noelia Marin, Puerto Rico Community Foundation - We are in Puerto Rico, the staff is working remotely from the house. One employee is visiting the office to pick up equipment documents and others. One employee is going daily to the post office and the bank. 

Jan Rodman, Guelph Community Foundation - We are just beginning the data migration process to CSuite which is why we are still so attached to our server and VPN. 

Andrew Zapanta, Charlottesville Area Community Foundation - Interestingly enough we started working from home Friday the 13th, soon to be indefinite. Regarding accessing the information, we were on VPN and we had some issues with our network provider and are pushing forward to go to the cloud. We are pushing on working on an ACH project. As for accounting, we are currently sending out grants over the wire. We are proud to say we have raised over 2 million. So we are learning as we go along, and have weekly calls, we are working well together.  

Greg Probst, Community Foundation of the Fox River Valley - It sounds similar to what we're doing. Have a safe at home to keep check stock in. Brought the check scanner home for remote deposit of gifts, check signature approvals received electronically. 

ACH Payment Documentation

Heidi Ludwig, Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne - When we do ACH payments we require nonprofits to submit a voided check so we can verify the account number is truly associated with the nonprofit and not someone's personal bank account number. Is anyone concerned about just having nonprofits fill out numbers on a form with no documentation...that it is truly the nonprofits account number. 

Marie Felver, Hancock County Community Foundation - We don't do a whole lot of ACH’s right now but in talking with our bank they do require we get a voided check for that very reason. 

Lauren Todd, Stonewall Community Foundation - Right now we have pretty close relationships with our grantee partners so something we are less concerned about but is something I have been thinking about as we do more of this. One option that a lot of banks can provide is a verification letter. I know I didn't have the foresight to grab a voided check and I assume a lot of nonprofits didn't either.

Another option where you can send a really small amount to an account number via ACH for testing and you can ask someone in the organization to verify. So that's another way you can get secure ACH transactions. 

John Johnson, East Tennessee Foundation - East Tennessee Foundation is still sending checks out to grantees at the present time.  For check signatures, we are using the check template and check approval process in CommunitySuite. This process seems to be working so far for us.

Ann Butterfield, Community Foundation of Sonoma County - My question is a couple of you have mentioned you can't go into the office because here we have people going in once a week which may have to end. But we were considered essential.

Jan Rodman, Guelph Community Foundation - Canada government issued a list of essential businesses and community foundations weren't included. 

Kim Cryan, Toledo Community Foundation - In Ohio, we are considered essential. We have 3 or 4 people in our office each day (6800 square feet) so social distancing is not a problem.

Bill Paying Services

Kimberly Costanzo, Howard Gillman Foundation - Has anyone had success at using an intermediary like bill.com for accepting and issuing ACH payments.

Maria-Veronica Banks, FMA - This is also a great time to look into other bill-paying services like bill.com to avoid collecting bank information altogether. It's a secure transaction without having to take on the risk of collecting bank information and routing numbers.

We are encouraging people to look into bill-paying services. It does make it so you don't have to go into the office, it can automate service and for not having to take on that risk. It does help a lot to not have to take on that responsibility of routing numbers etc. Grantee information, submit information to bill.com and then you as the funder never have to look at it. 

Jan Rodman, Guelph Community Foundation - Most of our bill payments are already set up through our bank, but only a small fraction of our grantees have provided us with their info. Check signing is definitely an issue.

Processing Transactions

Marie Felver, Hancock County Community Foundation - Today we got out our first batch of checks using printed signatures. The timeliness of you guys adding the check approval process  in CommunitySuite worked out perfectly for us. We had one of our team members who brought check stock, and a printer and stamps to her house. We got everything approved electronically, she printed checks with signatures on them…

Lee ONeil, The Community Foundation of Fayette County - I'd like more details about preprinting checks with signatures.  

Noelia Marin, Puerto Rico Community Foundation - How many of you had a process implemented before the lockdown to pay through electronic payments?

Kimberleigh Costanzo, Howard Gilman Foundation - So many of our grantees are not able to get to their offices, and even if we send checks to an alternate address, they can’t get to the bank to deposit the check (and many banks have max amounts for mobile deposits), so we are moving to all ACH payments.

Diana Aldapa, Latino Community Foundation of Colorado - For the person using printed signatures on checks... How did you do the printed signature? Did you create another check template with the signature on it? 

Heidi Ludwig, Community Foundation of Greater Fort Wayne - This week Indiana issued a stay at home order, but we consider our work essential. We are going in once a week to collect mail, make deposits, cut checks. In the event we can't make it in we can do ACH payments to our main nonprofit partners and we just set up Bill Pay with our bank. I haven't had to use it yet, but it's set up in case we can't make it into the office to cut checks.

John Johnson, East Tennessee Foundation - ETF did create a check template with the signatures already on there. 

Marie Felver, Hancock County Community Foundation - We just set up the templates. We have some checks that require one signature and some that require two so we set up two templates and put the signatures on there. Then our bank asked us to provide them on our letterhead...a letter that showed the exact electronic printed signatures that were going to get so they knew what they were going to look like and then we just printed those directly on our check stock. 

CommunitySuite Feature

So we recently released a new functionality in CommunitySuite around creating check templates and check approvals. My recommendation right now would be to review our release notes here and here

Change In Volume

Josie Morrison, Hartford Foundation for Public Giving - We are putting a moratorium on all grants that are not COVID related for 60 days. That is giving us a little leeway, we just turned on a new grant application and received 25 applications within a few hours. We have not started to evaluate our outstanding grants, we're in the process of reaching out to all the grantees to see if they require our help, so definitely going up we are just trying to manage it all. 

Lyndi Sheets, Toledo Community Foundation - Significant decrease.

Jan Rodman, Guelph Community Foundation - So far our online donations have dried up.

Kim Cryan, Toledo Community Foundation - We are seeing a slow down in donations, but not grant requests. We did start a Rapid Response Fund and most of the money received is from current fund holders, so not a lot of new money yet. Most of our nonprofits are also considered essential, especially if providing basic needs (Food, Shelter, Clothing).

Mail

Cory Sellers, Quad Cities Community Foundation - Was anyone able to forward their mail to a residential address?  Our local post offices would not allow it from business to residential.

Julie Cole Mecum, Community Foundation of Boone County - We live in a small community. We went over to the post office three times last week and we said the bank is locking the doors so we can have it forwarded, and they had written our name down and delivered it to someone's house and handled it internally. We have also implemented remote deposit functionality so when the person receives the mail she scans it and we can deposit it remotely. 

Jan Rodman, Guelph Community Foundation - Our post office and bank remain open. All our mail goes to a PO Box and we've determined that if the box gets full, it will be put into a bin with a card to ask for the contents at the counter. 

Cathy Wright, Pottawattamie County Community Foundation - How do they make deposits with only one person receiving the check and the same person making the mobile deposit.  We have to have two people involved for entry of all donations into our foundation.  One person enters the check into CSuite and the other deposits the physical check.

Greg Probst, Community Foundation of Fox River Valley - Are you using your bank's existing tools or are you using alternative tools?  

Do you think you will keep electronic payments or see this as short term and go back to former processes? 

Noelia Marin, Puerto Rico Community Foundation - We had a huge volume of grants and scholarship in process before the lockdown, we are in the process to implement wire or ACH payment to vendors and grantees.

John Johnson, East Tennessee Foundation - ETF will be keeping most of our new processes when this is all over. 

Julie Cole Mecum, Community Foundation of Boone County - We will maintain all new ACH and remote deposit capabilities after this crisis is over. 

Kathy Whitlow, Tahoe Truckee Community Foundation - TTCF will evaluate keeping some or all (probably will keep most all).

Alenny Cadag, Inland Empire Community Foundation - Accounting manual will most likely need to be revised to follow policy and procedures if we decide to go paperless for grantee payments, vendor payments, etc. Inland Empire Community Foundation (CA) is in the middle of converting to CommunitySuite, 15 employees. 

Grant Review Process

Vivki Andrews, North Texas Community Foundation - Our grant review process is too cumbersome. Just wondering if anyone has a streamlined process and what staff is involved. We have too many people involved. Our grants are largely Donor Advised.

Pallavi Bharadwaj, Society of Exploration Geophysicists - In our organization we have everything in the Foundant system, we are doing it little by little getting it all automated. Their grants approval committee is able to do it all within the Foundant system. Our organization's grantmaking is not that huge, so every division has a committee on it, everything is done by evaluators outside of the organizations, so they are stewards of the grantmaking. 

Leslie Mitchell, Waco Foundation - I haven't looked at it yet, but does CommunitySuite accommodate or process ACH payments or do payments have to go through an outside processor?

Deanna Rodenbeck, Community Foundation of Noble County - Our board permitted the grants to assist for COVID-19 to be approved streamlined by the Board Chair, Executive Director, and the Grants Director. The board authorized a specified max dollar amount per grant.

Greg Probst, Community Foundation of Fox River Valley - At the CFFRV, I created a separate Word Doc/PDF with the authorized signature in the correct place to avoid having to spend the time at this exact moment to have to set up new templates.

Strategy on the Near Future

Dorena Moore, Texas Methodist Foundation - We are in the middle of converting to CommunitySuite. We are 50 to 52 people and half our staff works remotely already so we were in pretty good shape for working remotely. But when we were deciding on who should come into the office, deciding the essential personnel to go in, we were trying to determine who was in the office when. Trying to be cognizant of other departments, their anxiety is really high because we weren't remote before. We are being way more fluid. Our controls can also be our biggest detriment, so we're practicing grace. We will start implementing shifts. 

Pallavi Bharadwaj, Society of Exploration Geophysicists - Yes. All of the staff is working remotely now. We have a monthly all-hands meeting with the Senior Management team and then bi-weekly or weekly portfolio/department level meetings. Additionally, our MD/Manager has also set up virtual break rooms every afternoon for her department. 

Lee ONeil, The Community Foundation of Fayette County - You need a really good staff report. We can all take some time away. Not everybody needs to be in the office every day. This is a good wake up call. Now we have wonderful cloud-based services instead of getting kicked off the VPN, it took this period to recognize how streamlined that is. 

Rand Morgan, Weld Community Foundation - We use Team Viewer for working remotely. What platforms do others use to access their files on their work PCS?

Lauren Todd, Stonewall Community Foundation - I have been looking to switch to Microsoft 365. They currently have a free nonprofit version. 

Greg Probst, Community Foundation of Fox River Valley - I was able to get off VPN a few years ago. We moved everything to box and 365 with CommunitySuite.  Every single one of our employees working remotely was really easy and I brought home my check scanner for remote deposit. So for us it's really cloud-based systems. 

Ann Butterfield, Community Foundation Sonoma County - How are you handling internal controls with someone having the check scanner at home?

Greg Probst, Community Foundation of Fox River Valley - The person that gets the mail always gets the mail. So the deposit and data entry are different people so we do a lot of scanning and sharing through the box.

About the Author

Foundant Technologies

For more than a decade, Foundant Technologies has specialized exclusively in making philanthropy easier and more impactful through intuitive technology solutions. All of our cloud-based solutions focus on grantmaker, grantseeker, scholarship provider and community foundation needs with the goal to make day-to-day tasks streamlined and help maximize the impact of the philanthropic community.

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