If you’re a fan of mysteries, you have probably seen Criminal Minds, and the character, Penelope Garcia.
In the general story line, the FBI team is constantly looking for information and – clickity clack on a keyboard– Penelope comes to the rescue. This Goddess of the Google search doesn’t even break a sweat. She finds what the team needs from a vast array of databases. Almost instantly. The "almost" is emphasized here because when Penelope’s reports take a minute or two to produce, the storyline is embellished with wonderful tension and worry. Two elements that make for gripping fiction.
But, in the nonprofit or government management world, we don’t need tension or worry--Or fiction. We need information as quickly as possible, and it needs to be accurate and relevant. Our operational decisions depend on this.
Will some bad guy get away if we don’t have the information? Will the damsel in distress get left on the railroad tracks with an oncoming train? No, of course not. We don’t live in Penelope’s fictional world.
However, the need for immediate, accurate, and relevant information creates demand for Ad Hoc Reporting in any ERP system you acquire. The challenge is how to define that Ad Hoc reporting. Most software resellers won't offer a specific Ad Hoc reporting tool. Ad Hoc is merely a concept, not a specific singular feature.
So what exactly IS Ad Hoc Reporting?
The term “Ad Hoc” is from the 16thcentury Latin meaning, “for this,” and is applied to anything with an immediate need or particular end. Thus, an Ad Hoc Committee may be formed to develop a building plan for a new half-way house when the old house doesn’t hold enough residents.
An Ad Hoc Report takes the data that is already in your ERP system and transforms it into readable, digestible information. You can use this information to make wise decisions on how your organization can perform better. So, for example, the report may show how much money is left in your building budget, or how many recipients are currently in your support programs. Ask a question, and an Ad Hoc Report will be your best bet for a quick answer.
What Ad Hoc Reporting Is NOT
Asking a question and getting an almost immediate answer means that ad hoc reporting is not something set up by your IT department or accounting team to run every week or month. Cyclical reports set up by someone else directly conflicts with the desire accounting professionals have to be nimble and fast.
And Ad Hoc reporting is not the same as parameterized reporting. Parameterized reporting is a document run with your personal filters added (like date adjustments), but would not allow you to “break” a template full of information.
Sample questions you may answer with Ad Hoc Reporting
As you manage your organization, the following are some of the questions you might find yourself asking. A quick Ad Hoc report may be your best solution for these questions:
- How many active donors do I have today? – When you track your donors in your software, you can “count” your donors either by running a donation management program, or a contact management feature. You can also download all your donors to a spreadsheet and count the records there.
- Who are my top donors? Again, a specific program will go into donation management information. You can also use a good mid-market accounting software like Microsoft Dynamics 365 Business Central to show a donor amount column and sort it top to bottom for that information.
- How much money is left in my program budget? With Tangicloud’s Budget feature within our nonprofit solution you can select from multiple budgets in your setup and drill down to the information you require. Each budget has its own “card” that navigates to a GL Account Balance/Budget screen with complete information about periods and Actual to Budgeted Debits and Credits, so you can see at a glance which funds remain open to you.
- When do I need to apply for my grant again? While many commercial mid-market accounting software solutions don’t offer Grant Management, this basic question can be answered if you purchase or subscribe to a nonprofit accounting software package. Be sure to ask for a Grants module that includes grant making, grant tracking and grant projects, in order to work with the confidence that you have end-to-end reporting throughout your grant making or receiving process.
- How much money do I owe a specific vendor? Nonprofits are in the business of spending money to create an impact on our world, and then have to justify precisely how the money was used. Accounts Payable, or Vendors is an important part of your Ad Hoc Reporting. Within a few clicks, you should be able to answer the question of how much money you owe to any particular vendor. Good ERP or accounting software packages will offer this information within a few clicks.
A final cautionary note
Reporting, whether cyclical or ad hoc, is essential to making sound business decisions. But no reporting tool or attitude is going to solve a truly important constant in accounting issues: garbage data in will always result in garbage information out.
For this reason, you should constantly look for the best software your organization can afford and focus on a solution that provides as much automation and reduced manual data entry as possible. Otherwise, you run the risk of giving good ol' Penelope Garcia the information that sends the Behavioral Unit of Criminal Minds to the wrong suspect's domain. Bwa-ha-ha!
Now it’s your turn. What are your favorite forms of Ad Hoc reporting? Do you employ KPIs? How deep can you drill in your current software solution? Have you ever had an Ad Hoc reporting adventure? We’d love to hear your comments!