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Stories Behind the Numbers I: Empowering a Church to Live their Mission with Financial Transparency

Written by Tim Youtz & Sam Finnerty

Non-Profits & Money Management Challenges

Every organization - whether a Fortune 500 company, a family-owned pizza joint, or the neighborhood church - operates more efficiently if its leaders have clear and immediate visibility into where their money is coming and going. This is especially true for non-profit organizations, which rely on grants and donations for a large chunk of their annual funding. In addition to managing their own financials, these organizations often must report to donors wanting to know how their contributions are translating into action in support of the non-profit's mission. Consistently tracking all of the different monetary sources as well how that money is being spent is undoubtedly challenging. Along with everything else that goes into running an organization with limited resources, incorporating these principles into their operational framework is often easier said than done.

St. Mark’s Episcopal Cathedral in Minneapolis, MN - right across from the Walker Art Center - is one such organization. Like many small organizations, St. Mark’s relied heavily on complicated excel spreadsheets, manual formulas, and institutional knowledge to manage their finances. While this classic methodology was adequate for keeping the church’s books balanced, it often fell short in providing the church leadership with a shared understanding of St. Mark’s financial health. It also fell short of allowing St. Mark’s to provide the kind of financial transparency that they aspired to for the many donors and parishioners that help fuel the church’s mission. In 2018, St. Mark’s decided it was time to take action and brought in Runway Analytics to design an optimal solution. They desired to improve the accessibility and readability of their finance and operation data, and together we developed a plan to do just that.

The Power BI Solution

Together, the Runway team quickly automated the consolidation, cleaning, and reporting from St. Mark's financial management platform into a single dynamic report using Microsoft Power BI. The report paints a picture of the Church's finances for any member of the congregation who may wish to view it. The report is cloud based, enabling automatic updates and distribution to a wider audience through the Power BI portal. A public version of the report is embedded in the church’s website and accessible via web browser, showcasing the most recent data that the church leadership chooses to make available.

The report itself provides a single source of truth for any questions about earnings and spending, as well as context to understand what is driving those numbers. As shown in Figures 1 and 2, the report allows for nimble visualization of revenues and expenses across each account. This allows any church member to easily track where money is coming and going each month, and how it compares to the previous year’s spending in each department.

St. Marks Figure 1

St. Marks Figure 2

Figure 2 shows the user that the Cathedral went a little over-budget in their “Events” spending in 2018. The visuals in Figure 3 are simple, providing any member of the congregation with clarity into the sources of St. Mark’s annual revenue and expenses over the years, going all the way back to 1998.

St. Mark's Figure 3

Living their Values with Data

Overall, this custom, automated report significantly reduces the effort required for church leaders to manage the finances of St. Mark’s. To advance their goal in improving financial transparency, the Cathedral made a version of this report available to their members on the St. Mark’s website. By taking the step to incorporate greater financial transparency into their organization’s practice, the church is better equipped to live out a key part of their mission statement:

“To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth”

Clear visibility into the financial expenditures of the church supports this value through encouraging responsible stewardship for St. Mark’s critical resources. It saves the church leaders time in assessing the institution’s financial state, enabling them to focus their efforts on other parts of the Cathedral’s operation. Church leaders and parishioners are empowered to have more informed discussions about the Cathedral’s future, ensuring that they can continue living St. Mark’s mission to its fullest potential.