Finance Finds Innovation Key to Improving Services

November 13, 2019
Ryan Imondi

Kristine Hovhannisyan and David Lou have a clear strategy when it comes to innovation within the finance department at Children’s Institute. While it is common for many professionals to look at innovation as an opportunity to make their own lives easier, Hovhannisyan, Accounts Payable Supervisor, and Lou, Accountant, often make extra investments in innovating financial procedures to make work easier for all CII staff.

To them, finance can play a crucial role in improving the efficiency and effectiveness of nonprofits with limited capacity and budgets by innovating in ways that allow staff to spend less time on administrative tasks and more time on their core roles working with clients.

“We continue to try and introduce new ways to make sure the processes are easier for us and our staff,” Hovhannisyan said. “We want to make sure checks are sent faster, grant dollars go further, and staff reimbursements are processed more quickly.”

As a CII Value, Innovation is essential to the current and future success of serving children and families across Los Angeles. CII has played a crucial role for more than 100 years because staff at all level have embraced innovative practices that contributed to increasing the quality and quantity of CII’s work.

For many CII staff, their interaction with finance is limited to communication around vendor payments or expense reports. Behind the scenes, Hovhannisyan, Lou, and the 17 other members of the team, handle every dollar and cent of CII’s $83 million annual budget that keeps the organization functioning for nearly 1,000 staff and 26,000 clients.

Lou, who was hired by CII right out of college, said innovation can mean finding a financial solution to spreading grant dollars further, which then leads to the Early Childhood Education program enrolling more families or Behavioral Health & Wellness serving a larger number of clients. With the preschool right next-door, the results of this hard work can sometimes be right outside their window.

“I realized right away how big of an impact CII has and how important it is to have a functioning finance team,” Lou said. “Finance is where the budget starts, and if we’re doing our work inefficiently, we won’t be able to provide clients with what they need.”

Hovhannisyan, who has held multiple finance roles at different nonprofits before coming to CII, said it can be common for nonprofit finance teams to avoid innovation out of complacency, but this approach can hurt the long-term health and culture of an organization. While it takes more effort upfront, incremental improvements keeps an organization on a constant positive trajectory where financial support in always improving for clients and staff.

“We continue to try and introduce new ways to make sure the processes are easier for us and our staff. We want to make sure checks are sent faster, grant dollars go further, and staff reimbursements are processed more quickly,”

– Kristine Hovhannisyan, Accounts Payable Supervisor

A recent example the two shared was around staff compensation for mileage. Hovhannisyan and Lou said they are currently working on a system that tracks mileage in real time so staff no longer need to enter trips into Concur, which doesn’t always capture longer routes that Waze or Google Maps takes drivers on to avoid traffic.

Eliz Hovsepian, Vice President of Finance, said that Hovhannisyan and Lou approach their work with an eagerness and openness to partner on innovative ideas across all departments so they can understand concerns and answer any questions as they develop a solution that works for everybody.

“Both Kristine and David take the initiative to partner with their colleagues to provide insight and innovation in creating better systems, processes, trainings and support for the entire agency,” she said. “This isn’t an easy task and they come into the office every day with a smile and great attitude.”

Terry Kim, Director of Government Relations & Advocacy, said she noticed almost immediately that CII’s finance team treated innovation as a top priority. Kim, who worked at a nonprofit in New York City before joining CII, said she was used to handwriting expenses and stapling receipts to pieces of paper, which could be a slower and cumbersome process compared to using Concur.

Kim added that the finance team, especially Lou, was willing to hop on the phone and talk through the different technology features so she could better utilize them.

“David was accessible and patient,” Kim said. “He walked me through all of the details.”

This type of availability is important to Hovhannisyan and Lou, who take every opportunity they can to meet new staff. From their perspective, each new opportunity gives them insight into a different CII team or person, which can lead to new ideas about where they can innovate next.

“When we have the chance, we try and call someone instead of emailing so we can better understand their questions and concerns,” Hovhannisyan said. “We look forward to every opportunity to leave our department and get to know the rest of CII.”