The parents and students who choose The Cambridge School of Dallas aren’t just looking for a fancy campus or a glamorous educational experience. Their primary interest is making sure that students are intellectually and spiritually prepared for the future. As a private Christian, classical, college preparatory school, Cambridge is fulfilling that need and providing a rigorous education firmly grounded in Academic Discipleship©.
“At Cambridge, a school is not a building or a process; a school is the humans inside it,” says Whitney Messer, Chief Operations Officer at The Cambridge School of Dallas. “We aren’t that high tech. Our students don’t spend a lot of time on computers. They’re reading source texts and learning directly from their professors, many of whom are PhDs.”
But while the school’s faculty focuses on academics, Messer has had her hands full with operations. Over the past few years, this rapidly growing nonprofit has been operating remotely while simultaneously pursuing a major construction project. To make sure their financial operations stay nimble and scale, Cambridge began using BILL Accounts Payable and BILL Spend and Expense.
Over the past five years, The Cambridge School of Dallas has experienced both successes and challenges. Historically, the school operated in a rental space, but their goal was always to build their own campus as the size of the student body grew. Design was underway, but in 2019 they were hit by a tornado. Then, the COVID-19 pandemic happened. “All that put the brakes on our processes for a little while. We were just trying to survive,” Messer recalls.
As a result, Cambridge began operating on a fully remote administrative model. “Dallas is huge, and a lot of people don't live near our school, and they never will,” says Messer. “It’s just not realistic to expect people to commute all the time, so if they can do the same amount of work from home, they should.”
But from a financial operations perspective, remote work has its challenges. “Accounts payable definitely is not efficient when I live in the suburbs and my Head of School lives in downtown Dallas,” says Messer. “We were literally cutting paper checks and then meeting up somewhere to have him sign them.”
Another challenge is that the school operates with a pretty lean team. “People wear a lot of hats,” she says. “We have 30 employees total, with about 11 administrators. It's kind of a one-woman show for me.”
Making matters worse, their accounts payable (AP) process was paper-based, which not only added to the inefficiency, but could even be mistake-prone. Their existing process also lacked transparency when it came to transactions.
“We process over $1.5 million per month,” Messer says. “When we're talking about that much money passing hands, we want to make sure we're operating really well and cleanly.”
BILL Accounts Payable gave them a digital, automated solution for processing invoices that employees could access from anywhere.
“We process over $1.5 million per month. When we're talking about that much money passing hands, we want to make sure we're operating really well and cleanly.”
With BILL Accounts Payable on board, Messer implemented a more streamlined approval process for paying invoices. The Head of School, who is the final approver for all payments, now had full access to the accounting ledger in BILL.
“BILL allows everyone in our organization to have a better idea of what's going on with the finances and see where we're spending our money,” Messer explains. “If our Head of School has a question about an invoice, he can review it in BILL.”
“BILL allows everyone in our organization to have a better idea of what's going on with the finances and see where we're spending our money.”
That transparency is also invaluable from an auditing perspective, which is a big part of doing business as a nonprofit. “BILL gives us an electronic paper trail, so to speak,” says Messer. “As a nonprofit, we have to keep uber-meticulous track of everything we're doing, especially for something like accounts payable. BILL has really helped us check all the boxes in terms of documentation.”
“As a nonprofit, we have to keep uber-meticulous track of everything we're doing, especially for something like accounts payable. BILL has really helped us check all the boxes in terms of documentation.”
BILL’s compatibility with smaller organizations is really important to Messer. “There are a lot of products out there, but many of them are geared toward massive corporations,” she says. “BILL has a track record of working well for organizations like us.”
“BILL is a great resource for people working in smaller nonprofits because we are generally strapped for time and manpower,” Messer continues.” BILL has really filled a niche in that regard.”
“BILL is a great resource for people working in smaller nonprofits because we are generally strapped for time and manpower. BILL has really filled a niche in that regard.”
The efficiencies of BILL Accounts Payable have resulted in tangible benefits for Cambridge. Before BILL, Messer was devoting three hours every other day towards AP-related processes. Now, she can accomplish the same amount of work in one day, working for maybe an hour, all because BILL eliminated their paper-based processes. “BILL cut the time we spend on AP by about 50%,” she says.
“BILL cut the time we spend on AP by about 50%.”
With a $30 million construction project underway, Cambridge had a lot of invoices to be paid, a lot of moving parts, and a lot of vendors to manage. “The AP process with BILL has been really helpful with our construction project because it helps me manage and track who's been paid, who hasn't been paid, and how,” Messer says.
“The AP process with BILL has been really helpful with our construction project because it helps me manage and track who's been paid, who hasn't been paid, and how.”
The fact that many of their vendors also use BILL has been a huge help. “We've had several vendors that were already on BILL, and then several who weren't who were happy to get on it, especially since the idea of getting an e-payment as opposed to a check is pretty motivating,” says Messer.
With construction projects, fraud is common, so security is an important consideration with any financial process. BILL has delivered in that regard. “The fact that I have a great amount of control with BILL and can see all the transactions from front to back is really helpful,” says Messer. “BILL AP feels like a much more secure process than what we might've been doing otherwise.”
“There are a lot of products out there, but many of them are geared toward massive corporations. BILL has a track record of working well for organizations like us.”
BILL has also helped Cambridge manage independent contractors. For example, their Athletics Department hires seasonal coaches throughout the year as 1099 employees. “I love that I can set contractors up in BILL with direct deposit,” Messer says. “They see everything that's happening right in real time, and they get paid really quickly as opposed to having to wait for paper checks.”
“I love that I can set contractors up in BILL with direct deposit. They see everything that's happening right in real time, and they get paid really quickly as opposed to having to wait for paper checks.”
“When I use BILL to set up recurring payments for independent contractors, I just set it and forget it. I don’t have to worry about it again until filing time,” Messer says. “BILL always flows over perfectly.”
“When a coach or contractor is involved in the payment process, I have more confidence that they've entered their data correctly,” says Messer. “They're highly motivated to make sure that they put their information in the system right, so I'm not so worried about 1099 time coming around and having to hunt down information from people. That's never fun.”
The QuickBooks sync with BILL has worked well for Messer, becoming another area that helps them save time and money. “I love that Bill works so seamlessly with QuickBooks,” she says. “I can immediately flag a 1099 employee in BILL, and I know that's going to transfer over to QuickBooks. That process works really well.”
Prior to BILL, Cambridge was working with a small local bank in Dallas to manage their company expense account. Messer was the only Cambridge employee who had access to their site. “I had to give them paper statements, and they reallocated everything,” she recalls. “We were kind of hobbling along with expense management until we got BILL Spend and Expense.”
“We were kind of hobbling along with expense management until we got BILL Spend and Expense.”
Their expense management was a very manual process. “If you wanted a purchase made, you had to go to one of the employees with a company credit card and ask them to make it,” Messer explains. “That was challenging for many reasons, and the fact that we were physically nowhere near each other didn't help.”
Eventually, they moved to Excel. “It was cumbersome, for sure,” Messer remembers. “Some people are better at Excel than others. It was hard to get everyone to get on board.”
Messer also felt there was a disconnect around how expenses played into the larger financial picture of the organization. “One thing I really like about BILL Spend and Expense is that I can allocate budget categories to people, which gives them a better concept of how their spending affects their budget—they can see it pictorially represented,” Messer explains.
The visibility of BILL Spend and Expense has encouraged more buy-in from cardholders. “When you can see in real time how your spending affects the budget, it helps people have better ownership and makes them better, wiser purchasers,” Messer says.
From an accounting standpoint, BILL has helped them operate more efficiently. “BILL Spend and Expense has probably cut my time by a third,” Messer says. “BILL has massively expanded my ability to control and facilitate what's happening.”
“BILL Spend & Expense has probably cut my time by a third. BILL has massively expanded my ability to control and facilitate what's happening.”
Messer uses BILL Spend and Expense to pay recurring vendors. “I like that with BILL you can create different virtual cards and allocate certain transactions to a dedicated card,” she says.
“Our staff really appreciate how easy and intuitive BILL Spend and Expense is. They love the fact that they can use the BILL app on their phone, which immediately brings up their transactions,” says Messer.
The Cambridge School of Dallas has survived numerous challenges and continued to grow, thanks to their excellent educational program. For their operations team, the main goal has been to keep pace with their growth while operating a lean team. BILL Accounts Payable and BILL Spend and Expense have helped them accomplish that goal, saving time, increasing transparency, and making more room for what matters—educating the next generation.