Estimated reading time: 4 minutes, 10 seconds

Blackbaud's The Financial Edge version 7.6 (www.blackbaud.com) is a flexible bundle of applications that could be appropriate for use by nonprofit organizations of nearly any size. In its smallest configuration, The Financial Edge can be installed on a single computer for use by one person at a time. For larger configurations, the application can be installed on a server so that multiple individuals can access the data from locations within the organization's LAN or remotely via the Internet.

The company's newest release has added several features that appear to address the needs of nonprofits. These features include increased reporting capabilities, additional flexibility in assigning funds to multiple projects and projects to multiple funds, and the ability to create business rules to projects to assure the proper use of designated funds.

These new features combined with the system's familiar "Outlook style" layout ease the learning curve for new users. I was able to understand the system and navigate to the areas of interest almost immediately.

In Use
I was able to install a stand alone version by following the installation wizard. After selecting a single user version rather than a network installation, the system handled the installation process automatically, leaving a program icon on the desktop. I was able to execute the program and select either to use the sample database or to create a new database.

The main page of each of the program's modules looks identical. This is helpful by way of providing consistency, but can be confusing. Unless the user is viewing the Home screen of one of the applications, it's necessary to look at the menu bar's relatively small type face to know which application is active. Frequent users and those restricted to access only a few areas of the program will get used to looking for their position and will be familiar with the individual components on each page.

Once in any particular module, it's easy to drill into the details. Clicking on a ledger account brings up successive detail so you can track transactions back to their sources. Querying is equally simple and if some information is important all the time, it's possible to link a query to a "Dashboard" view. Dashboards are extremely useful because they act like real-time bulletin boards and display the current status of nearly any information you want to see.

Blackbaud has integrated The Financial Edge directly with its The Raisers Edge fundraising product, making it easy to track the flow of funds from their origins to their final disposition. This link also eliminates the need for duplicate data entry, and the possibility of miskeying information. If an organization is already using The Raisers Edge it would make sense to seriously consider The Financial Edge for the financial side of the business. By the same token, some of the other fundraising packages also offer integrated accounting modules. This kind of integration alone may be a compelling reason to look into those interrelated applications.

If your organization uses a variety of applications that could benefit from integration with The Financial Edge, you may be able to take advantage of Blackbaud's API (application programming interface) that provides programmers the tools to move between The Financial Edge and other programs. Using the API is beyond what a normal user would want to undertake, but if you have programmers on staff or under contract, these kinds of tools make the task of integrating relatively easy.

General ledger, and fund accounting applications in particular are the beginning point for analysis and reporting. The Financial Edge includes a wide range of reports and report templates that can be modified to meet the specific needs of the organization's audience. I'm a fan of using Microsoft Excel, and particularly its Pivot Table function to look at data from a variety of angles. Financial Edge makes this kind of analysis and experimentation easy because pivot table functionality is embedded in the application. This makes it easy to select the information you want, then look at it in a variety of ways to find relationships and trends you may not have otherwise noticed. From there it's usually just another few clicks to produce a graph of the information that can show the complex numerical information as a colorful chart.

Recap
The Financial Edge is a flexible accounting application designed specifically for the nonprofit sector. Users will be immediately familiar with the Microsoft Outlook style layout and menu functionality but will need to pay attention to which module they are working in. Integration with optional modules, Blackbaud's The Raisers Edge, and the availability of an API make this system a good choice for integration with existing applications.

Blackbaud does not publish pricing but says that it works with organizations to fit the product to its financial needs.

Advantages
Familiar, intuitive screens
Flexible integration capabilities
Operates in environments from small to large
Dashboards provide real-time updates

Disadvantages
Pricing is not published
Users need to pay attention to what application they are using

Last modified on Sunday, 19 May 2013
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Scott Koegler

Scott Koegler is Executive Editor for PMG360. He is a technology writer and editor with 20+ years experience delivering high value content to readers and publishers. 

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