Customer Stories

With Financial Operations Support from BILL and Divvy, The Life Link Supports the Santa Fe Community

With the homeless issue tripling in Santa Fe, New Mexico over the past years, nonprofit The Life Link has been busy providing accessible, culturally appropriate services to persons experiencing homelessness and/or behavioral health challenges.

The Life Link CFO Christy O’Neil explains, “We actually go out under bridges and into homeless encampments and say to our clients, ‘Let’s help you.’”

While many people dream of having a career that makes a positive impact on society, for O’Neil, that dream is a reality. “I love doing accounting work for nonprofit companies, because there’s more of a heart and meaning when you work for nonprofit.”

The support that The Life Link provides to uplift their community have proven to be invaluable — from housing and housing vouchers, to substance abuse, anti-human trafficking and mental health services. And as the need for these services has grown, so too has the size of their organization. Since O’Neil started at the organization six years ago, their annual budget has risen from $3 million to $7 million. But with an increased budget, the complexity of their finances has also increased.

That’s why The Life Link turned to BILL and Divvy: to help them help others.

Bringing a legacy of service into the modern age

When O’Neil started at The Life Link, the same director had been there since 1988. “Our financials were old fashioned,” remembers O’Neil.

Every time the organization received a new grant, the former CFO would open up a new bank account. At one point, they had 15 checking accounts (which have now been pruned down to four). The organization was also pre-digital and overwhelmed with paper as they process 150-175 checks per month, with checks going towards rent as well as other payments like utilities and phone bills.

“I have paper anxiety!” says O’Neil. “We had paper flowing through our operations everywhere and I was doing everything myself. With 70 people on staff, all HR was on paper. I couldn’t keep up with the filing. It was horrible.”

O’Neil was spending so much time on manual AP, there was little time left for big picture strategic finance. “At times when I was overwhelmed with paper, I would feel like ‘Why am I your CFO — I don’t know what’s going on.’”

O’Neil decided they needed to rebuild their financial operations and make them much more digital. They had heard about BILL through Jake Dopson of Pulakos CPAs. Then the pandemic hit, and the ability to work remotely and digitally became an imperative so they made the switch. The company also added Divvy, a BILL company, for expense management in 2022.

“I initially was concerned that BILL wouldn’t be able to handle the complexity of our business — especially our check volume. But it can.”

— Christy O’Neil, Chief Financial Officer, The Life Link

BILL and Divvy help the helpers

BILL provided O’Neil with an easy digital solution to replace their old-fashioned processes. Not only was it easy to operate, it was easy to learn. "I have a workforce with varying technological skills,” admits O’Neil. “And I don’t have time to train people. But BILL is so easy to use that people can just pick it up.” 

With BILL, the monthly close has gone from 10 days to one day. And O’Neil is also saving time on approvals. Before BILL, it took approvers an hour and a half to sign all the checks. Now they can just quickly click through. 

Integration with QuickBooks Desktop is another timesaver. “As a complex nonprofit, we have to use QuickBooks Desktop,” explains O’Neil. “Fortunately integration between QuickBooks Desktop and BILL is seamless. You just click a button and data goes right in QuickBooks.” 

“Before I was always in the weeds. I always felt like I was a day behind.
With BILL, now I have time to breathe and to think.”

— Christy O’Neil, Chief Financial Officer, The Life Link

Expense management with Divvy has also been a game changer. “When we used paper statements and receipts, I had to be very careful with who had access to the credit card, because I had to make sure they kept receipts,” recalls O’Neil. “With Divvy, I have a record of every transaction, so everyone who needs a card gets one. Which allows us to help more of our clients at a moment’s notice.”

The Life Link is still making many of their monthly rent payments by check. Says O’Neil, “We’ve tried to get our landlords to sign up for direct pay. But Santa Fe is a different place with a different pace. Only about 10% of the landlords we pay use ACH.” With so many vendors still taking physical checks, O’Neil is grateful to save time and labor on other AP processes with the help of BILL.

Audit-ready with meticulous records

Due to the nature of their business and their organizational structure, The Life Link has complicated financials and there’s a lot of oversight. “We have 10 different grants that are paying for rents and client services right now,” says O’Neil. And because they receive so many federal grants, their finances are subjected to intense auditing scrutiny.

Many of The Life Link’s clients need on-the-spot financial assistance, during which the paper trail can easily get lost. Before BILL and Divvy, this put O’Neil between a rock and a hard place, knowing that she needed to help clients, but also that without proper records, audits would be a nightmare.

“We are a nonprofit that has not only an annual audit, but program audits from our funders several times a year,” explains O’Neil. “We are required to have controls that help eliminate fraud. BILL is set up in a way that I can have good controls without having a lot of staff.”

Not only are they subject to audits, they also have to keep meticulous records just to receive the grants in the first place. The organization first pays their bills with their own money, then submits the receipts in order to get the grant funding. “I have to have receipts for all of my billing. I can’t get reimbursed if I don’t have receipts,” says O’Neil.

“My desk was the most disgusting thing with paper up to here. Now my auditors come
and I don’t have to stay up all night wondering what happened to one bill.”

— Christy O’Neil, Chief Financial Officer, The Life Link

Mission-focus for the modern age

Like many nonprofits, The Life Link is laser-focused on its mission. This meant that they didn’t always have the time to focus on updating financial systems for the modern age. O’Neil understands the reluctance to change for fear of hassle, but she has a message for other nonprofits considering BILL and Divvy: It’s worth it.

“You get so busy in the day to day that it’s so easy to say ‘I’ll think about it later.’ But spending the time to go digital will ultimately give you more time.”

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