AfID volunteer Chris featured in Sustainable Harvest International blog29.07.2016

You know how it goes. Sometimes, you start a project, and the project starts small. The snack bar operated out of a bread truck. The internet start-up masterminded from a dorm room bean bag chair. The nonprofit born from a diving trip and an unexpected gift.
Ambitious ideas paired with strong leadership have a tendency to grow. The snack bar moves into an honest to goodness building. That website start-up garners few hundred million users and moves into cutting edge offices in Silicon Valley. And the nonprofit, too, expands; attracting more donors (hello you!), planting more gardens and farms (hurray planet!), and working with more families (hello impact!).
Along the way, there’s bound to be some updating, and it’s not all trees and seeds here at Sustainable Harvest International. Precise planning and implementation lurk behind the success of our programs. That’s why this is a story about accounting.
Out with the old
For many years, our program staff has tracked its financial activity on Excel spreadsheets. While this may have been a fine method when we first began partnering with families in Panamá nineteen years ago, as our organization expanded to serving over 2,500 families across Central America, the spreadsheets became unwieldy and unreliable. The time to improve the system arrived.
So recently, we began a year-long transition to implement QuickBooks, a widely used modern accounting software, throughout our three program offices in Honduras, Panamá, and Belize.
What’s the big deal about new software? Primarily that QuickBooks allows for greater accountability (bravo!) and increased transparency (essential!) throughout the organization.
But also, the project means that Program Director Elliott Powell will no longer be taping spreadsheets together in the conference room, and that our program staff in Belize, Honduras, and Panamá no longer have to rely upon unreliable software to keep track of finances. Good riddance, Excel (but thank you for your hard work!). Furthermore, it means that program staff has the opportunity to become proficient in a new and valuable skill. And finally, Christopher. Implementing QuickBooks meant connecting us with new friends and new partners, like Christopher....
Meet Christopher (and AfID!)
QuickBooks is common practice in the accounting world, but its use requires time, money, and expertise—all things small nonprofits are constantly juggling. Our staff made the time, a generous donor provided the funding (feeling inspired?), and the London-based organization Accounting for International Development (AfID) arranged for the expertise.
AfID connects volunteer accounting professionals with international development nonprofits like Sustainable Harvest International to provide professional accounting support around the world. It’s an inspiring group deeply committed to getting organizations in developing nations up to speed. AfID paired us up with Christopher Baker, an accountant who lives in the Bahamas. What’s Christopher’s extra credit in the school of life? He’s a triathlete!
A former farmer himself, Christopher was immediately drawn to Sustainable Harvest International’s mission and excited about helping us streamline our project finances.
Plans in action
Christopher travelled to Belize in June to provide training and balance the office’s books in preparation for the migration to QuickBooks at the beginning of the new fiscal year. As it turned out, Bibiana, acting Country Director and Program Administrator in the Belize office, had prior experience with QuickBooks and was quick to pick up the advanced skills Christopher introduced her to. Christopher stayed for ten days, reconciling the books and helping Bibiana use the software more efficiently.
For Bibiana, Christopher’s trip presented an opportunity to save significant time on bookkeeping in the future. She became even more proficient in QuickBooks, thanks to hours of training and discussion in the Punta Gorda office.
For Christopher, the trip provided new relationships with our exceptionally cheerful Belize staff during one of the hottest weeks of the year. Christopher didn’t let the weather get him down, though. He spent his weekend visiting a chocolate farm, exploring the jungle on a birding expedition, and jumping off a waterfall. Not a bad way to end the work week!
Looking forward
Daniela Fernandez, Latin America Program Director at AfID, says that many nonprofits are moving toward QuickBooks as a more accurate and efficient means of recordkeeping than Excel. The barrier, she says, is the cost. QuickBooks is a comparatively expensive software, and many nonprofits, like Sustainable Harvest International, must grow significantly before its implementation makes financial sense. This is a story about accounting, but we’d like to take a moment to thank our donors for their continued generosity in getting us where we are now.
Now that Belize is up and running with the new software, AfID has already arranged for a volunteer to implement training in Honduras and Panamá. Elliott’s salivating at the idea of a holistic, streamlined snapshot of program finances, and the rest of the US staff is delighted by the recent surplus of Scotch tape around the office. In Belize, Bibiana’s enjoying papayas in the sea breeze with all her new-found free time. We can’t wait to see where Sustainable Harvest International grows next, but we’ll probably hold off on the Silicon Valley offices for a while longer!

Read more about Sustainable Harvest International on their blog here.