Solutions Journalism Network Transforms Newsrooms by Educating the Next Generation of Journalists

Posted by Barney Beal, Content Director

Headlines focusing on crime, inequality, war and pollution proliferate in news outlets today. Positive responses to those problems that are happening all over the world often get lost in the shuffle.

However, there’s a movement underway to change how news is presented. Solutions Journalism Network, an independent nonprofit organization, is leading that charge.

Founded in 2013 by world-renowned journalists from the New York Times, Solutions Journalism Network advocates for evidence-based reporting linking problems to solutions in newsrooms and journalism schools all over the U.S. The organization provides training to editors, journalists and university professors in an effort to change the way news is delivered to the public.

“We’re affecting the mass of new journalists who are turning out through colleges and universities,� said Maurisse Johnson, Chief Financial Officer of Solutions Journalism Network. “They graduate and go to newsrooms, magazines and media outlets, and produce solutions journalism, thus changing the old ways of newsrooms.�

One very visible example of solutions journalism at work is coverage around voter fraud. An article focused on solutions journalism would mention that voter fraud exists while also showcasing ways global communities work to combat the practice.

Solutions Journalism Network is funded primarily by grants from foundations and donations from corporations and individuals. In the last two years they’ve experienced massive growth: a 40% increase in grant funding in just 24 months.

“Our mission has remained the same throughout, but our administrative burden exploded,� Johnson said. “We received an increase in the number of grants, the average grant size doubled, and we had to increase headcount accordingly.�

Prior to the surge in grants, Solutions Journalism Network used a combination of desktop accounting software and an outside accounting firm to manage their books. But as the organization grew at breakneck speed, so too did the complexity of its finances.

“We were at an inflection point where our organization had matured beyond external management of our books,� Johnson said. “As grants grew in both size and volume, we had a bigger responsibility to provide reporting and answer questions for funders on an ad hoc basis.�

At that time, Johnson undertook a business process review that lasted about six months. He made sure he thoroughly understood the business model, the people and the grant functions, so he could build a new process around all three.

Specific requirements for nonprofit accounting functions aided Johnson in narrowing down platforms for review. His choice of NetSuite was based on a combination of pre-built reports customized for nonprofits, the ease of closing out sub-ledgers, straightforward allocation tracking, and a pre-established trust in NetSuite based on years of experience.

“I have a history with Oracle that’s built on trust,� Johnson said. “I know that Oracle is going to put their efforts towards the development of NetSuite and offer me a robust support team. If something goes awry, Oracle will invest resources in it.�

Solutions Journalism Network went through a four-month implementation that included on-site builds – a huge benefit for Johnson and his team. NetSuite went live in January of 2019, including a direct connection to Solutions Journalism Network’s expense management platform.

Roughly one-third of their 40+ employees use it in some capacity, with plans to increase that percentage in the coming years.

“Dashboard reporting for nonprofits is already configured in NetSuite,� Johnson said. “We didn’t have to spend time building it. We don’t have to close out individual ledgers every month. And the allocation tracking in NetSuite is quite sophisticated. Grants dictate salary coverage and the allocations change every year. Being able to articulate this in a financial system (rather than manually) is huge.�

With the launch of NetSuite, Solutions Journalism Network has experienced time savings, increased confidence, and simplification across the organization. Today, Johnson can close the books in less than an hour. Auditors, board members and other financial professionals immediately have a level of trust when they learn that Solutions Journalism Network is using NetSuite. And given the ease-of-use, Johnson is able to leverage the data in NetSuite for interactive, organization-wide conversations.

“With NetSuite, we can share data across our organization with an ease we’ve never experienced before,� Johnson said. “Previously, we had static copies of accounting data that we’d send to stakeholders. Now, we can have a web meeting with a program manager and go through their P&L, asking meaningful questions we didn’t have access to before.�

The flexibility of financial reporting provides a big bonus as well. Before NetSuite, Johnson would have to manually run one report query across 50 different grants, which makes a big difference when you have limited or no IT staff. Now he can just apply a grant-specific filter in NetSuite to create each report. And, individual users can access reporting on their phones via an app – making it more easily digestible and accessible for all.

For the future, Johnson plans to work towards integrating Solutions Journalism Network’s customer relationship management (CRM) platform and payroll providers. His goals are to connect initial grant conversations in the sales cycle all the way to incoming grant funds, and tie payroll directly to financial data as well.

“We want to be able to answer questions like, how many foundations are we engaged with for over six months, what percentage produce dollars after six months, and what’s the churn rate,� Johnson said. “NetSuite is so robust in terms of creating KPIs, and we expect these to be viable metrics once we make the connection in the next year.�

Learn how other nonprofits like Solutions Journalism Network streamlined business processes using NetSuite.

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