This blog post was originally written by Jon Rush, relationship manager at TechSoup, and has been republished on TechSoup Canada with permission.
"By Youth, For Youth" is the motto of Business in the Streets (BITS), a Toronto-based Canadian Registered Charity that focuses on peer mentorship for struggling and low-income youth with a business idea.
BITS believes that peer mentorship is an essential education component. Whether building a business or pursuing higher education, BITS maintains that all participants greatly benefit from skills acquired through their peer mentorship, such as research, writing, problem solving, concept development, money management, public speaking, and sales presentations.
Through this experience, young people are better able to build their confidence, develop professional networks, and become connected to their community with a deeper understanding of regional social issues. BITS encourages youth to "keep business in mind, community at heart."
From Peer Mentor to Program Manager
"BITS programs are youth driven; this is the best way to truly engage with youth," says Program Manager Veronika Kvon.
Veronika got her start at BITS by volunteering as a peer mentor in 2013. She grew up in Kazakhstan and moved to Canada in 2009 to attend George Brown College's advanced management program. Veronika never really thought that she would wind up at an NGO; she had a vision of working in a skyscraper for a Fortune 500 company. However, while mentoring and running educational programs, Veronika realized that she was very empowered and rewarded by the progress among the youth she engaged with.
She enjoyed passing on her business knowledge, acting as a role model, and building professional relationships along the way. Veronika relished the opportunity to meet directly with aspiring entrepreneurs with a unique business idea. She could apply much of her business acumen while working through many milestones and challenges directly with youth.
After mentoring 10 youth, Veronika was promoted to program manager. She proclaims, "I would never trade what I have right now at BITS for my previous career expectation."
Challenges for BITS
Veronika's career growth has paralleled BITS' organizational trajectory. Over the past three years, BITS has brought on more youth, while expanding programs and revenue as well. Given this rapid growth, in 2014, BITS' system of using external contractors as bookkeepers became unsustainable. In fact, one day the bookkeeper unexpectedly told Veronika, "Sorry, I'm done."
A Do-It-Yourself Solution
At this point, Veronika began searching online for a way to solve BITS' accounting dilemma and eventually located the Intuit QuickBooks offering through TechSoup Canada. Veronika recalls that on one of her first days with BITS, Executive Director Mark Simpson gave her the organization's TechSoup Canada account login info and said, "Whatever you need, go knock yourself out."
She requested the one user license version of QuickBooks and began using the product herself. "It was so easy to understand and helps us tremendously," Veronika explains. She quickly became pretty comfortable with QuickBooks and now handles the majority of BITS accounting. Furthermore, Veronika discovered a hidden passion for working with finances during this process.
"We're saving the uncertainty and expense of hiring an external bookkeeper," Veronika points out. By handling the accounting in-house, Veronika also saves time because she doesn't have to train, manage, and explain BITS intricacies to an external resource.
Veronika specified the benefits of QuickBooks are that "all previous statements are available whenever you need them; it's easy to back up and share documents. … I'm able to quickly and easily prepare financial reports for our board of directors on any given day with QuickBooks. With our multiple funders, I can effortlessly track budgets and milestones for each program."
"QuickBooks was imperative during our bookkeeper transition," Veronika attests. "It's extremely important for us to stay financially organized. Having QuickBooks as a resource at a great discounted rate through TechSoup Canada is extremely helpful," Veronika added. "Without QuickBooks, I don't know what we would have done."
Keeping Business in Mind, Community at Heart
In an effort keep its peer mentorship programs running optimally, BITS is presently implementing QuickBooks 2015, which it requested last July.
BITS is young, growing, and aspiring. Its three- to five-year plan is to replicate its programs in other cities in Canada. Veronika is coordinating with several Canadian charities serving youth and affirms that BITS peer mentorship programs would be very beneficial to youth throughout Canada and beyond.
Get QuickBooks for Your Organization
Keep your accounting running smoothly with QuickBooks, available through TechSoup Canada's Intuit donation program! TechSoup also has great, free learning resources to help nonprofits to get up to speed on QuickBooks, both for new users and existing users.
Images: Business in the Streets