As the official charitable arm of the Washington Nationals baseball team, Washington Nationals Philanthropies (WNP) champions opportunities for all residents of the greater Washington region to thrive by inspiring investment in the community. Since 2008, the organization has distributed over $8 million in grants to community partners. In addition, more than 2,000 individuals have participated in programming associated with WNP’s signature initiative, the Washington Nationals Youth Baseball Academy.
The Washington Nationals organization is intent on matching their team’s success on the field with impact on the local community. And like a World Series champion team, this requires the right players in the right positions.
Until 2018, the Washington Nationals Baseball Club operated two distinct nonprofit entities. But to more effectively and efficiently pursue their mission, the organization initiated a process of merging their two nonprofits into one organization, with WNP as the surviving entity.
“There were a number of reasons for combining the two organizations,” says John Bramlette, chief operating officer of WNP, the nonprofit that developed from the merger. “We saw many efficiencies that would be unlocked–most important being our ability to effectively develop the resources to simultaneously support and amplify nonprofits delivering essential services in our region and deliver our own program at the academy.”
The Washington Nationals believed that the merger would help the organization broaden their philanthropic commitment to the greater Washington region and achieve their goal of being a leader in the community. Early on in the strategic planning process, WNP chose to pursue a managed service provider that had a strong finance and accounting outsourcing (FAO) practice.
In 2019, WNP hired Tate & Tryon to assess their financial infrastructure, implement best practices and manage accounting procedures. Soon afterward, RSM US LLP acquired Tate & Tryon. It didn’t take long for WNP to realize the benefits of the firm’s tech-enabled FAO approach and deep nonprofit experience.
“It was an opportunity to get complex questions answered by nonprofit experts and institute best-in-class systems for the new organization,” Bramlette says. “We were specifically looking for a provider with technology experience and the ability to help us build infrastructure that could support rapid growth.”
With its depth of experience and keen understanding of the nuances of the nonprofit industry, the RSM team was able to execute a quick diagnostic assessment. RSM established a foundation for success by uniquely analyzing WNP’s structure around people, processes and technology to develop tailored solutions.
“RSM didn’t try to shoehorn us into a uniform approach,” Bramlette says. “They looked at the things that make us unique and brought solutions that made sense for us.”
The goal was to help WNP get more out of their finance structure—more visibility, more foresight and more decision power. These objectives aligned well with both RSM’s focus on tech-forward solutions and its overall FAO approach.
Bramlette says that WNP set out to create a cloud-based financial platform, while keeping the needs of the organization’s staff in mind. The engagement was designed to be long term, but WNP saw immediate results.
“Right away, we were able to see that with a new software platform, and certain financial functions fully digitized, we stood to save a considerable amount of time,” Bramlette says. “The new capabilities allow us to answer questions easily, process transactions more quickly, and make sure that a key resource—staff time—is being used more effectively.”
That emphasis on utilizing human capital was always a priority, but never more important than when the pandemic hit. Early in the engagement, before the pandemic struck, RSM had implemented new technology systems that provided WNP with a higher level of business continuity. RSM resources and digital technology enabled a seamless transition to a remote working environment.
Bramlette says that both teams responded well to the challenges of COVID-19. He adds that this phase of the project exemplifies how RSM’s efforts went beyond its focus on the financial elements. The firm had become an advisor that uses its experience to support WNP’s leadership.
“RSM has been a thought partner throughout our time working together,” Bramlette says. “It’s been great to see our teams interacting with each other more and in ways that are productive. And we’ve all gotten more adept as the engagement has gone on.”
Customizing the approach
Bramlette emphasizes that WNP is an organization that has specific needs. One factor is the obvious close affiliation with the Washington Nationals. A second factor is WNP’s role as a grant-making institution that funds many community initiatives, while still simultaneously securing funds to operate and manage the youth baseball academy.
“For a number of reasons, we are different than many other nonprofit organizations. This is especially due to our affiliation with a professional sports brand. However, as an independent nonprofit entity, it is vital that we pair the benefits of that affiliation with a sense of ownership and responsibility among our staff to maintain a best-in-class nonprofit operation. Effective management of our finances is essential to that.”
With such a distinctive environment, it was imperative for RSM to be flexible in its approach. Bramlette says that RSM has accomplished this, even as the engagement has evolved. Although RSM’s focus remains on WNP’s financials, the firm’s work has had a positive effect on the organization’s leadership and overall prioritization of human capital. Bramlette says the specific projects and work tasks may have changed, but the organization’s goals remain the same.
“When we merged the two nonprofits, we wanted to be more efficient and nimble, and to have more visibility into our systems,” Bramlette says.
A winning team
RSM’s customized solutions have helped achieve this goal, Bramlette says, because the firm was willing to alter its approach based on WNP’s changing needs. He adds that the themes of visibility and flexibility have remained consistent in all the work that RSM has done with the organization, even while managing the stresses of the pandemic and the nuances of WNP’s specific environment.
The organization’s drive to be a philanthropic leader in the region remains strong. Bramlette pinpoints several ways in which RSM’s nonprofit experience and FAO approach have proven vital to increasing WNP’s effectiveness. Among the positive results are a budget process that is administratively easier yet offers more structure, enhanced technology, more efficient systems and processes, and ready access to financial data that is timely, accurate and meaningful to the organization.