There are metrics, and then there are metrics.
At Room to Read, one of many impressive metrics is 16.8 million. That’s the number of children whose lives and futures have been impacted by the organization’s initiatives to change education systems in 16 countries and 37,000 low-income communities around the globe. World Change Starts with Educated Children® goes the organization’s motto, and to hear finance director Nancy Shyer tell it, Room to Read is just getting started.
April is National Volunteer Month, which puts non-profit organizations like Room to Read in a well-deserved spotlight. We think it’s worth taking time to thank these organizations for the contributions they make to our own communities and to people the world over. Nearly 750 Adaptive Insights customers are non-profits, so while the world acknowledges their importance this month, we’re always working hard to give them the recognition they deserve and the tools they need for success.
As is common with nonprofits, volunteers play a vital role at Room to Read. For instance, volunteer chapters in 35 locations globally have raised enough money to help a total of 1.5 million children to date.
A planning transformation
Though planning has always been a robust and carefully managed process at Room to Read—the organization has managed to consistently devote 86% all donations to directly fund its projects—global expansion and diversification have made legacy spreadsheet-based planning too slow, manual, and difficult to keep up.
“It’s important to understand the complexities of the donor world and of government funding,” says Shyer—complexities that made spreadsheet-based budgeting an ongoing challenge. Developing plans across multiple projects and geographies, while meeting compliance and reporting requirements, wasn’t easy with Room to Read’s operational budgets using Excel templates, all of which had to be consolidated on the back end by finance. “As you can imagine, there were a lot of obstacles like technical issues, version control problems, and error checking,” recalls Shyer.
It’s a different picture today. After deploying Adaptive Insights Business Planning Cloud, personnel and operational budgets are integrated, with a change to one automatically reflected in the other. “Our People Operations team can see results immediately when they enter data,” notes Stephanie Wei, manager of annual budgeting and planning. “Everyone’s working on the same system.” Even better, Wei says her team is in a stronger position to allocate resources to help benefit the most children possible. “We can explore multiple options and see which ones will deliver the best results. That was virtually impossible in our spreadsheet environment.”
In addition to expanding the reach of Room to Read’s well-known programmatic offerings—literacy acquisition for early primary school and girls’ education in secondary school—Room to Read offers technical assistance to governments and institutions through Room to Read Accelerator. The Accelerator model allows the organization to disseminate its expertise in literacy instruction, children’s book publishing, girls’ education, library services, and more, with a partner organization, helping it reach new geographies and train governments and local partners to implement its program model and maximize impact.
The growth of Room to Read Accelerator has introduced new planning requirements. “Our team is able to use Adaptive Insights to create new combinations of inputs that help us plan and project expenses and revenues for this consulting and government work,” says Shyer. “We can reconfigure our budget framework to adapt to these requirements quickly, and they now flow through to our GL so we can track actuals.”
These improvements show all the way to the top. “Now we can report to our board and say, ‘Here are our investments in innovations and new programs.’”
An ‘elevating effect’
Shyer says the impact on users of the cloud-based planning environment has been positive. “Adaptive Insights has had a kind of elevating effect on everyone involved in planning” she says. “It signals Room to Read’s investment in them and their important planning work. They know it helps them determine the best way to do things, to assemble resources, and to execute our mission.”
According to Shyer, Adaptive Insights gives the finance team an edge in other ways as well. “I’m currently recruiting a position on the finance and accounting team, and I like that I can proudly say, ‘We have these cloud-based tools for planning.’ For a prospective employee, it makes us more competitive.”