Firm of the Future Profile: Bright Stars of Bethlehem
Today, we’re talking to Beth Chase, executive director at Bright Stars of Bethlehem, and one of the small businesses who won the #QBBetterTogether contest, along with her accounting professional, Linda Swick, at MissionFirst Accounting. Find out more about MissionFirst Accounting in this profile.
Shauna Maher: Welcome Beth! Can you tell us a little about Bright Stars of Bethlehem?
Beth Chase: Founded in 2003, Bright Stars of Bethlehem is a U.S. 501 (c) (3) nonprofit organization that focuses on raising awareness and fundraising. We have a college, the only one in the area, dedicated to teaching about the arts and culture. Our students include musicians, filmmakers, dancers and those into visual arts. I came onboard as an executive director in 2010.
SM: Why did you decide to get an accountant? Was there a tipping point in your business that prompted your decision?
BC: When I came onboard, Bright Stars’ treasurer was also an accountant. At the time, the board was very small and everyone was part time. Tragically, our accounting professional passed away three years ago, and although we had a bookkeeper, he didn’t seem to quite understand our organization’s needs, and we began looking for a part-time financial advisor. Our auditors recommended Linda Swick at MissionFirst Accounting, who had experience with international and faith-based missions.
SM: What made you decide to hire Linda Swick?
BC: We took time to get to know her by corresponding via email. We asked several questions about her expertise and shared the scope of work to better understand whether we’d be a good fit. Then, we met face to face, looked at her experience, references, and places she had served and grown, and although I had also looked at a few other firms and what they had to offer, Linda was definitely the right person for us.
SM: What aspects of your business did Linda help you with initially? What’s the biggest advantage to partnering with her?
BC: She helped us fix a payroll situation with another organization, and also created a new process for expense report processing. She also did an analysis to figure out where we could save money. Another situation she helped us with was to make sure our donations matched our accounting records to avoid double entry. She helped us get everything organized in QuickBooks®. Right away, we saw Linda as a partner more than a vendor. Additionally, at the time, we had a growing board and received a $600,000 grant, so we needed our accounting system to be able to cross all t’s and dot all i’s.
SM: Does Linda handle all the accounting process? What apps has your accountant recommended? How have those apps made a difference in your small business?
BC: We have a three-tiered system at the recommendation of our auditors, in order to avoid having one person handling all the financials. We have a part-time admin, Michelle, who helps us enter gifts/donations. We also have our bookkeeper, Toni, who is managed and supervised by Linda and processes all transactions. Linda reviews everything to make sure all proper accounting processes were followed. She also introduced us to QuickBooks Enhanced Payroll and Expensify. We used to have a cumbersome expense report process before Linda, and had the hardest time managing receipts because we travel a lot. Now, I can simply take pictures of my receipts. We used to hand write checks and she implemented Bill.com, which ensures all checks are submitted when they’re supposed to.
SM: What are the keys to having a successful working relationship with your accountant?
BC: Good, regular communication. We have weekly phone calls, if we can’t meet face to face, and quarterly staff meetings to ensure information is going to our financial team. One of the most recent accomplishments is that some of our newer board members have a financial background, and Linda has worked very hard to make our reporting and revenue forecasting better. The transparent, frequent communication between all the players has made a huge difference, and Linda has been a real trooper making it all happen.
SM: What’s one of the biggest business challenges your accountant has helped you face? What is the biggest business success you’ve had as a direct result of working with your accountant?
BC: Following the passing of our former accountant, we had a huge backlog. During that one year after he passed, our auditors did a fantastic job helping us keep our records ready, but when it came to onboarding, she had a lot of cleaning up to do in order to get all of our records and processes organized and ready for an upcoming audit. She also played a key role in implementing systems and processes to make sure future transactions were processed correctly.
SM: What’s the best advice you’ve received from Linda Swick?
BC: Creating budget forecasting that really works. When you’re dealing with budget forecasting, there are certainly known factors, but there is always the unknown. She has done a great job helping us plan ahead to ensure we not only have a stable year, but also subsequent years.
SM: What would your advice be to a small business or nonprofit who hasn’t made up their mind about getting an accountant?
BC: Hire the accountant! It’s so valuable for the people you serve. Working with Linda saves anxiety and is a win-win situation. I admire Linda’s faithfulness to the organization as well. Even though she works with us in a consulting role, she has made Bright Stars one of her family members.