Seacoast Church Implements a Kinder, Gentler Budgeting Process

For the first few months after we finished our budget last year the mere mention of that word caused some of our church staff stress. Seacoast Church, founded by Pastor Greg Surratt in Mt Pleasant, SC, previously completed its annual budget using Excel spreadsheets. As the church grew and added campuses the spreadsheets got more interlinked and complicated.

I’ve been asked why I don’t just create everyone’s budget. It would certainly be much simpler if we centrally planned for everyone.  After all, we see where the money is spent and by whom.  When 91 pastors, ministry leaders, and team leaders get involved it adds a degree of difficulty to the process.  But Seacoast Church is growing and continually trying new methods to reach the unchurched.  Our church leadership believes in empowering the campuses and ministries within the campuses to follow their vision, and a big part of empowering is allowing them to direct their own resources.   They do their budgets and they own the outcome – it doesn’t get more empowering than that.

Seacoast is blessed to have an Excel maestro on staff, Pastor Glenn Wood, who creates amazing spreadsheets to solve virtually any management problem we can think of.  He created meticulous spreadsheets each budget cycle on tithes, attendance, payroll, insurance, ministry expenses, etc. and linked them together with a pivot table that truly was a work of art.  This pivot table gave me, as the controller, our financial world at my fingertips and I could pivot the views to cut across by GL account code, ministry, location, or months

With Glenn’s expertise we were exploiting Excel to its maximum potential. Sounds good so far, right?  And it was good until we grew to 12 campuses with over 300 employees and about 12,000 weekly attenders.   Let’s just say sharing pivot tables across 12 locations isn’t the easiest thing to manage, especially a one-million cell pivot table - which was pushing Excel’s tipping point.  Imagine what happens to data integrity when 91 people are working on their budgets and opening and closing individual spreadsheets linked together as part of this ginormous pivot table.  It took a lot of time with many bumps and user errors along the way. I operated in the dark many times until the spreadsheet links could be re-established.

 

While still recovering from the budget process we converted to a new accounting system called Intacct.  I mentioned to the ActTwo sales team that we also wanted a good budget program, but it had to be as intuitive to use as a spreadsheet.   They immediately suggested Martus Solutions.  Bill Cox from Martus met with us and most of my 5 accounting staff were enthusiastic about the demonstration of MartusTools which included their MartusPlanner budgeting software.  I say “most” because if you’ve ever bought church software you know that the demos are always sweet, but the implementation can leave a sour taste in your mouth.  Not so with Martus!  We asked for a number of tweaks which Bill and his team quickly programmed to better work with multi-campuses and we were off and running.  The individual budget worksheets are so similar to a spreadsheet that I didn’t even have to train anyone!  I just took a few screenshots of their tab choices, added a few sentences to explain the screen shots and attached that simple guide to my budget kickoff email.  The rest was intuitive.

MartusPlanner links to the actuals in Intacct which gives those working on their budgets a direct view of their up to date current year income and expenses as they work their budgets.   They can even elect to click a button and populate their budget based on this year’s actuals or a percent of the actuals.  For example the student department could set their entire budget at 95% of this year’s actuals[1] and use the extra money gleaned for a bigger fall event.  To remind them later what that big lump of money in September was for, they could click on a button beside the appropriate GL code and make an extensive memo.  How cool and simple is that?  As each department finished I locked their individual budget to prevent “accidental” changes.

From my vantage point as the controller I could view any campus or roll them all up into a combined view with just a couple clicks.  I had total visibility at any level of detail I desired and by locking and unlocking department and campus budgets as needed I had total control.  The best thing was it was a database that just looked and felt like a spreadsheet so there were no links to break! 

When all the campuses finished their budgets and everything balanced, I clicked on “Export to Intacct” and Martus generated a spreadsheet file in the exact format required to upload into Intacct.  I was thrilled when I ran a test report in Intacct and saw my budget staring back at me exactly as the board had approved! 

Now that my campuses and staff have had a great budget experience, they are starting to use a MartusPlanner companion product, Stewardship Dashboard, to view their actual income and expenses compared to their budget.  Like most dashboards it lets them see at a glance where they stand with useful graphs and charts.  But unlike some, Stewardship Dashboard lets me control exactly what level they can see and when they can see it.  They can even drill down and view transaction details for their specific area directly from Intacct.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Most end-users will not need access to our accounting software to run custom inquiries or print reports because everything they need is accessible through Stewardship Dashboard.  Nick Johnston – Controller – Seacoast Church – Mount Pleasant, SC.

 

[1] They could not affect any GL codes that I locked.   Martus allows me to pre-load expenses and lock any or all of them.   I used this feature for rents, payroll, utilities, and other fixed expenses