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Case Study: Concordia Theological Seminary

Case Study: Concordia Theological Seminary

When Concordia Theological Seminary opened for its first academic year in Fort Wayne in 1957, it’s highly likely that their bookkeepers and accountants were creating budgets manually, using green ledger sheets, with pencils and lots of erasers.  Sure, mistakes were made, but without computers and spreadsheets, budgeting for most nonprofits was more of an exercise of “getting within the ballpark” as opposed to “getting it down to the penny”.  

Concordia Theological Seminary (CTSFW) is located in Fort Wayne, Indiana, on a campus of 191 acres of land designed and crafted by the world-renowned architect Eero Saarinen. The Seminary is an institution of theological higher education of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, whose central purpose is to prepare men for the pastoral ministry, as well as men and women for other services in the church, through programs offering an understanding of the Christian faith that is Christ-centered, biblically based, confessionally Lutheran, and evangelically active. CTSFW is accredited by The Association of Theological Schools and is an accredited member of The Higher Learning Commission. As an institution deeply rooted in the Christian faith and dedicated to preparing individuals for ministry, Concordia’s approach to budgeting needed to evolve to match its commitment to excellence and stewardship.

For the past 3 years, Concordia’s finance team, led by Claudia Burns, CFO, has advanced beyond older methods of budgeting with spreadsheets like Excel, and they have taken their budgeting process to more productive, collaborative levels with Martus Solutions’ budgeting tool. Martus’s cloud-based budgeting, forecasting, and reporting software enables nonprofits like Concordia to create, execute, and analyze their budgets in a fraction of the time it takes to set up and organize a spreadsheet. In fact, organizations that use Martus cut their budgeting time by 50% over traditional spreadsheets with increased accuracy and greater buy-in from their team!

Concordia’s finance team uses the general ledger from Sage Intacct, the #1 leading cloud-based middle-market accounting and financial management system from Sage. As a highly recommended Tech Partner for Sage, Martus budgeting and forecasting software integrates seamlessly with Sage Intacct. In fact, Martus serves over 200 churches, denominations, Catholic Dioceses, Missions organizations, and many other faith-based organizations – including Concordia. 

According to Claudia Burns, the budgeting process before switching to Martus was very isolated. “Before using Martus, everything was done via Excel. People printed an Excel sheet, then they documented by hand, everything they thought was going to be their budget. All they knew was the totals from the prior year, or two or three years.” Burns recalls, highlighting the cumbersome nature of manual spreadsheet management.

The decision to switch to Martus was driven by a desire to eliminate these inefficiencies and leverage technology to enhance Concordia’s budgeting process. “I wanted to avoid the manual error of all these prior methods, as we have 40 departments to enter everything manually, and then put it into Sage Intacct. I didn’t want to do any of that the first year I came here, I did that manually. And – it just drove me insane!” said Burns. 

Burns recounted her success leveraging technology and new systems in her previous roles, despite it being outside of this organization’s current comfort zone. “Along the way, my career included working for several organizations that used technology to their advantage. When I started at Concordia, everything was still manual, where people had three carbon copy papers and all of that, and it was quite a shock for me. So, I just did what I could do to bring some level of technology into our budgeting process here at Concordia.”

 

Burns shared with us the laborious process that Concordia followed before using Martus’ intuitive budgeting software. “Before we started using Martus, we were manually doing things in Excel, which took at least a week, going back and forth with the department heads, changing numbers, fixing errors in macros and calculations, etc. It took me a lot of time just for the data entry, between the prep and the printing of the reports and putting all the numbers together for the prior three years. I think it would take me about three weeks to get everything ready to be sent out to the department managers. It was very frustrating.”  

“I would say the entire process with this whole Excel budgeting process was probably a couple of months, from going back and forth with stakeholders, to putting everything together. ” Burns shares. The entire process, laden with miscommunications and error-prone adjustments, would stretch out for far too long. “When I started to look initially at budgeting systems beyond Excel, I didn’t want anything too complex. I only wanted budgeting – forget about anything that had lots of bells and whistles.”

In seeking a new solution, Burns wanted something straightforward yet effective. “When I started looking into Martus, I found that the level of customization features was just enough for me – useful but not super complex. And to me, Martus looked very intuitive to use. And, since I always identify more with the worksheet scenario, we have different worksheets and dashboards as well. So I looked into it, I went with Martus – it was the one that best worked for me and our organization,” said Burns.

Burns praised Martus’ intuitive design and the ease of integration with Concordia’s existing systems, including Sage Intacct – “What I really liked most was that the Martus software didn’t force you to do a lot of things that weren’t adding value. It was like, put your numbers in here by month. Here’s how you put your notes and documentation. If you want some specific calculations, you can do that but there’s no need for added complexity with Martus.”

Preemptively anticipating questions from colleagues, Burns added – “I was also very aware of ‘How are the users here in the organization going to react to moving to something new like Martus for budgeting’ when they were so used to doing it manually in Excel?” The transition to Martus marked a cultural shift within their organization, challenging long-standing practices and introducing a new, more efficient way of handling budgets. “Well, let me tell you – it was a big shock! I was also introducing other new technologies at the time to our department heads other than Martus budgeting, including accounts payable, invoice permissions, requests for reimbursement, etc. But that’s what the culture was like here at that period: very paper-oriented.” 

“With the introduction of so many new ways of doing things, many people felt overwhelmed in a lot of ways: ‘Why are you trying to fix things that are not broken?’ But I knew we were headed in a new positive direction, so we persisted – and it’s really paying off!” – recounted Burns, reassured that this was the right decision.  

Concordia’s first year with Martus involved significant testing and adaptation, setting the stage for more comprehensive training and implementation in the following years. “The first year of using Martus, I asked our department heads for everything in Excel – no paper copies. So, then I gathered everything in what they gave me with formulas, and that’s when I was convinced Martus was going to work a lot better than Excel had in the past. I did a lot of testing during that first year, so it took me maybe a month and a half to get it all set up in Martus.”

“During the second year using Martus, I was training our staff to use it. So, I introduced it in pieces, using slides with our own examples so it would be meaningful. I would walk them through how to use the Martus software basics so what they learned during that time was only how to adjust to it vs. Excel. So then, the third year (which is this year) I did another staff training session, and then I started using Martus to teach them how to prepare a budget, such as what items do you take into consideration to do a budget, and how do you gather your numbers? Some of our people asked, ‘So how do I run reports from it?’ So, I showed them how the reports worked – and they were very impressed!”  

 

“So, I learned how to use it the first year myself, then we rolled it out the second year – but just enough so everyone could get comfortable with it, and during the third year, we’re actually using Martus as the strategic foundation to teach the budgeting process to our entire team. As a result, it’s been an entire organizational transformation we’ve helped make happen over a few years – just by introducing Martus strategically, not as a single silo point solution. Using Martus has definitely saved us time and prevented many headaches and frustration.” – Burns explained.

Today, Concordia’s journey with Martus Solutions exemplifies how faith-based organizations can leverage budgeting technology to not only enhance financial management but also foster a culture of collaboration and innovation. Burns looks to the future with optimism, contemplating how Martus will continue to transform Concordia’s budgeting practices.

Reflecting on the success of the implementation, Burns highlights the responsive support from Martus and the personalized training that facilitated a smooth transition: “I was pleasantly surprised by how we learned to use Martus. While I’ve implemented budgets using other software since I came here, I was able to learn Martus quickly since you trained me by using my numbers from my company – not ‘dummy data’ from some fictional organization. Your Martus trainers knew how many dimensions we had – making the learning process both easier and faster.” 

Burns also highlights Martus’ commitment to serving organizations of all shapes and sizes, including small businesses or nonprofits to large corporations. “I found that any time I have a support ticket for Martus, it’s promptly answered. I get the feeling the Martus support team doesn’t treat us any differently because we’re big or small. I get the impression you’re here for me right away. With other software I use I have to wait for an answer on the phone 40 minutes just waiting to talk to somebody in customer service.”  

Burns is already looking to the future and how her team can further use Martus’ budgeting software to grow in their capabilities. “Today, with the new perspective I have from using Martus, I’m thinking about how we can develop a new way of looking at how we can change our collaborative budgeting process to be even more productive. It won’t happen overnight, but it will happen soon!”. 

As Concordia Theological Seminary continues to evolve, making the step to use the budgeting tool from Martus Solutions stands as a testament to the power of embracing change and the potential for technology to drive organizational transformation. Through strategic implementation and a commitment to continuous improvement, Concordia is not just keeping up with the times but setting a new standard for financial stewardship in theological education! Martus’ budgeting software is designed to do just that for organizations in every sector: budget faster, report easier, and forecast better.

For more about Martus’ Cloud-based, flexible budgeting software for educational institutions, nonprofits, businesses, churches, and more – schedule a demo today!

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When Concordia Theological Seminary opened for its first academic year in Fort Wayne in 1957, it’s highly likely that their bookkeepers and...

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