Often in voluntary organisations, especially ones run by parents, the thought is to keep things simple. Simplicity meaning keeping away from technology. Doing things manually. Sticking to paper.

I'd like to share a story told to me by my next-door neighbour Louise Amundsen about how good leadership combined with the use of everyday technology enhanced the finances and experiences for the boys of the St Heliers Glendowie Scout Group. They went from struggling to quite vibrant.

Run like 1950's

Louise has three children and has been involved with the St Heliers Glendowie Scouts since 2010. When she joined, the membership totaled 50 boys across three age groups.

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The group, especially its finances, was run as if it were still operating in the 1950s.

Less than half paid membership fees

Member subscriptions are voluntary and if parents didn't pay - they were often not chased. Revenue was very low as only 40-50% of the parents paid their fees. Their Treasurer was handed scraps of paper and he did as much as he could. But numbers were small, finances were low, it was hard to get commitment from parents / members and the group seemed to lack cohesion which meant the kids didn't get to go on as many camps as they would have liked. Membership wasn't growing.

New beginnings with leader

Everything changed when a new leader came on board. She wanted to get camps up and running. Get the kids working on badges and fully immersed into Scouts. She wanted to grow the number of boys involved and also work on getting membership payments improved. Wanting to assist, Louise accepted the role of Club Treasurer. Being an accountant, it was right up her alley.

Old way full time job

What Louise first encountered as Treasurer was that old, manual, outdated and time-consuming system. Everything was by hand and paper based. Cheques. Double signatures. No direct deposits nor online banking. No cashbook. Member subscriptions were not tracked. All the volunteers worked in silos with limited sharing of information.

When leaders met with parents - they were often given a cheque which caused a delay, weeks sometimes in handing it over and even worse, some would get lost. The time burden on Louise was significant. Co-ordinating to drive and meet in person to get cheques co-signed; drive to the bank. Batching invoices then writing them by hand. Individually email and track parent payments. It was close to a full time job managing the Scout accounts.

As a first step, the Scouts moved to ASB Fastnet taking up their no fee system.

Xero the game changer

The real game changer for the organisation came last year when they were advised to move to xero. It wasn't free and the members needed convincing. However, it's been more than worth it.

From 6 hours to 20 minutes

Now instead of taking three quarters of her day each fortnight Louise sets up and authorizes payments, texting the group leader to let her know to go online with the second signature authorisation for payment (vs. the old way of driving to her home to get the second signature on cheques).

They started encouraging members to pay by internet banking. Every member already had personal internet banking so they preferred this way of paying.
Changed cash flow

Moving to Xero significantly changed their cash flow in two ways. First membership subscriptions were paid faster. Because the invoice came to parents now as an official invoice, on letterhead and from xero, members took it more seriously, viewing it as an actual invoice to pay. Payment became an easy thing to do with many parents paying upon receipt of their invoice. How much easier than having to remember to post a cheque or send it along to scouts / cubs / keas with their child and for the child to remember to hand it to the leader and the leader to then get it to Louise.

Group billing

Further simplifying processes Louise uses the group billing function. She only has to prepare three invoices for the three different membership types which invoices all 127 members at once; with everything tracked (invoice out; payment in). Louise used to do the reconciliation by spreadsheet. Often it was messy- some parents had two, three children in Scouts. Some made partial payments over time. Now all payment information is tracked by xero including suggestions for coding. This is a significant time saver in itself - previously part payments had to be tracked separately and there was a lot more tardiness.

Now a statement is sent from xero - much easier than having to prepare a carefully worded email chasing late payment.

Better use of time

The second cash flow benefit to the Scouts is in a different way than you'd expect. Because accounts now are only a 20-minute job vs. days and days; Louise has been able to use the substantial time savings to apply for 11 grants for the Scouts; of which they won four. This enabled them to send 20 kids to the triannual Jamboree where before they could only send 5.

Debbie Mayo-Smith aka Ms Effective is one of New Zealand's most sought after motivational speakers and trainers. Debbie gives speeches, seminars and trains on technology and personal productivity. Sign up for her monthly quick tip newsletter here. To have Debbie speak at your next event or train your team call 64 27 575 5359 or visit her www.debbiespeaks.com