Rising Tide Capital
"Funders will ask, Can you handle the money?"
Founded in 2004, Rising Tide Capital is providing microenterprise development and business management training to would-be entrepreneurs in the economically distressed city of Jersey City, NJ. By offering struggling individuals the skills, training and resources to start and grow successful businesses, Rising Tide Capital is building a replicable model for high-quality entrepreneurial development services that can be a catalyst for social and economic empowerment in other low-wealth cities.
Co-founders Alfa Demmellash, CEO, and Alex Forrester, COO, met at Harvard University, where they developed their ideas for using economic empowerment as a means to social justice. “A rising tide lifts all boats, but what if the people can’t afford a boat? They’ll be left treading water,” Forrester explains. In just a few short years their dynamic organization has produced 350 graduates – and “a lot of wow’s,” she says. They’ve also achieved recognition on national TV programs and magazines, been selected as a CNN Hero, and were recognized by President Barack Obama in a White House speech on innovative nonprofit organizations.
All this progress quickly resulted in dramatic growth. As new funders emerged with different tracking and reporting needs, the organization realized that doing their own financial reconciliations internally using Excel and Quickbooks no longer sufficed. There were compelling reasons to consider outside accounting assistance.
“We tried to acquire these skills from within our own bootstrapping, under-resourced organization, but we realized that professional help was needed,” says Demmellash. “We didn’t have the financial policies, protocols and terminology to meet the need adequately.”
As a nonprofit with a relatively small budget, Rising Tide Capital faces particular difficulties. “Running a small nonprofit is a challenge, and the budgeting process is insanely difficult – it’s multi-faceted and you don’t know when, or if, your resources are coming. Trying to manage different programs with different financial reports and limited funding for general operations becomes doubly difficult with today’s increased demands for accountability and transparency in the nonprofit sector,” says Demmellash.
“Our treasurer was taking an active role, but the workload was beginning to exceed what he could do. Meanwhile, there was an audit looming over our heads, we were getting more grants with restricted funding requirements, and we needed to switch from a cash basis to accrual accounting,” says Forrester.
“We needed to put best practices into place in order to attract more funding. The amount of time we were spending on accounting was unwieldy, but it wasn’t cost-effective to justify hiring a full-time CFO.”
The capacity issue is a common problem for small organizations, Forrester noted. “Many nonprofits focus on raising funds, but they don’t realize that funders will ask them, ‘Can you handle the money if we give it to you? Do you have the plumbing system to handle the increased flow of resources?’”
Forrester interviewed several bookkeepers, but quickly saw they lacked expertise in the world of smaller nonprofits. “Then we saw Your Part-Time Controller’s website and realized that this was exactly what we had been looking for. They expressed the value proposition perfectly. It’s been a fantastic, exciting experience ever since.”
Today, YPTC Associate Gary Williams comes in two days a month. “What impressed us was that Your Part-Time Controller really cares,” says Demmellash. “Gary is fantastic with a wealth of experience and he cares about the details. He raises concerns with us and listens to our on-the-ground mission-oriented needs. He helps us to find solutions and structure our financial and reporting systems. YPTC is taking us to the next level as a nonprofit and making us more viable and more fundable.”
Where the previous audit had been “painful and full of anxiety,” the preparation for this audit was seamless. “It was so smooth. Gary prepared everything the board needed, and the auditors said they had never seen a presentation so well-organized. This was a real vote of confidence for us,” she says.
“I’ve recommended YPTC to a lot of people. It’s a great resource for small nonprofits that want to function at a higher level but that don’t have the resources for a full-time CFO.”