Second Harvest Foodbank Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

“Of all the companies I’ve ever dealt with, with applications, PowerPlan [now part of Questica] is top tier. I get the answers to my questions quickly, and they are on top of the requests. Top level support.”

– Paul Meagher, Financial Analysis and Cost Manager

Case Study: Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties

Based in Silicon Valley, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties is one of the largest food banks in the nation. Currently providing food to more than one quarter of a million people every month, Second Harvest is a trusted community-based organization that was founded in 1974. In fiscal year 2017 (July 2016 – June 2017), they distributed more than one million pounds of nutritious food each week to low-income people in need in every zip code of their service area from Daly City to Gilroy, and from the ocean to the bay.

Non-profit food bank organization serving
3 million people annually

Financial System

Annual Operating Budget
$43.3 Million

Number of Employees
165 with an additional 10 temporary staff

On Premise Solution
Hosted locally

Business Need
Second Harvest wanted to move from an Excel-based solution to a software solution that would improve accuracy for their reporting and forecasting functionalities.

Budget Solution
PowerPlan, Questica’s non-profit budgeting solution, helped the Food Bank move away from a tedious spreadsheet process to a more efficient centralized solution.

Business Benefits
– More delegation, saving time for more non-administrative and higher priority duties
– Simple navigation to get everyone in the organization involved
– Quick acknowledgement of variance in numbers
– Roll-up functionalities
– Viewing departments and sub department budgets accurately
– Allow end users to edit or view depending on their security setting
– Payroll module
– Eliminated the need for spreadsheets and tedious entering and allowed increased accuracy

Business Challenge

Prior to implementing our non-profit budgeting solution – PowerPlan – Second Harvest was budgeting with Excel spreadsheets. Sally Petersen, Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties’ CFO, would juggle 8-10 spreadsheets that had to roll-up properly without errors or inaccurate formulas. Second Harvest found themselves working on their budget multiple ways in order to be sure that they had no miscalculations. The constant struggle of passing the spreadsheets to different departments, then receiving in return Word documents and backwards spreadsheets caused significant delays in their budgeting process, and added an extra unnecessary workload (and headaches) to finance’s plate. Different departments would have different schedules to enter in data. Sally recalled the potential human error in the spreadsheets increased as more data was entered, and with often only two days before a tight budget deadline, if the roll-up was not working, it was a scramble to complete the budget.


“The propensity for mis-keying or touching something in Excel is downright scary. It was nightmare city!”

– Sally Petersen, CFO, Second Harvest Food Bank Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties


On top of the error prone Excel spreadsheets, Second Harvest had a huge payroll spreadsheet where Sally would enter the results, then give to her finance team members to roll-up into the budget. This took staff a couple weeks to put together. Moving to a centralized system for both budgeting and payroll was one of the reasons for implementing PowerPlan.



Second Harvest’s transition process took them about two weeks to be up and running with more hours per day the first week. The process started with gathering data and understanding their budgeting process. They took flat files of organizational hierarchies, existing budget templates, report formats, employee budget data and all other requirements from their Ceres database and mapped it into the Questica’s PowerPlan system with the help from our support team to build out the initial model.


From there we completed training sessions for system administrators. These are the system users responsible for overseeing the budget process and behind the scenes work such as user setup, system setting changes, and populating data. Following up training with the division and program level users who are trained on budget input and reporting also occurred; along with additional training once the organization completed their first budget season.


“The support team was awesome. At the end of that time we were up and running.” – Sally Petersen, CFO


Advancing their payroll budgeting processes, the organization tested the payroll module during their first and second years with our system. They introduced the software to their head department managers by allowing them access to explore its features and set-up. Having the payroll module meant Second Harvest no longer had to worry about numbers being touched or moved.


Initially they started with eight concurrent users and are now up to 10. The following year after adopting our system their two largest departments noticed that there was too much micro-managing and began to delegate entries into the system. Now, Food bank of Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties has up to 40 people who use the variance departments within the system. Administrators look at the reporting, while supervisors, directors and senior management review reports at a higher level. Overall, it makes their budgeting and forecasting much easier to find the information they need to ensure the organization is on track to meet its goals and objectives.



Second Harvest Food Bank of Santa Clara & San Mateo Counties are thrilled with the implementation of PowerPlan, Questica’s non-profit budget solution for their organization. The ease of use and overall functionalities the software offers meets the needs of their organization.


Sally meets with their CEO every month to go over their finances. With the variance function, they are able to view and drill down into the numbers and see what’s going on at the Food Bank. Whether they are over or under budget, top executives quickly have access to know what areas need to be explored further.


“It makes it really easy to explain to the finance committee if we are over or under budget in one place or another or how we’ve been doing operationally. The numbers are there at my fingertips.” – Sally Petersen, CFO


Real time uploading and entering of numbers allows for discrepancies to be viewed quickly and questions can be answered easily if there is an issue. With the larger departments that have many sub departments they can now meet and see where variances lie and they can email other departments when questions arise.

“So easy to look at the variances and be able to right click and drill down into a number when we don’t like what we see. And staff has become very comfortable with that.” – Sally Petersen, CFO


The payroll now resides safely in the software at a very high level user access. This allows viewing and editing for each top level manager to view if they are on the right track. And the security levels can be adjusted based on what each user should have access to, whether its view only, or input based on their program, function, dept. etc. The CFO explained that exporting the budgeted payroll information (headcount, salaries, etc.) is very easy and allows department heads to quickly review for accuracy. We are also able to simply and efficiently forecast payroll.


“We have two employees who worked with large corporations. Because it was my first experience with budget software, I asked their opinion about the software. They both said that it had all the necessary bells and whistles. This gives me a comfort level as a CFO to know I’ve made the right choice.” – Sally Petersen, CFO


Thanks to more efficient budgeting, the Second Harvest Foodbank Santa Clara and San Mateo Counties is brilliant.