Nonstop Nonprofit

Nonprofit accounting from the ground up with Signature Analytics

Episode Summary

Jason Kruger · President & Founder, Signature Analytics | Jason brings financial knowledge specific to nonprofits, like audit requirements, the benefits of transparency, and, best of all, a healthy respect for getting it all done on time.

Episode Notes

Money, budgets, funding, accounting—all nonprofits know how important these are to the success of programming and impact. But when you're a smaller nonprofit or just starting out, do you really need a CFO?

Today’s guest, Jason Kruger, has experience with a novel arrangement that’s allowing nonprofits to start from the ground up, building an accounting team and processes that fit instead of skipping a grade before you’re ready.

As President & Founder at Signature Analytics, Jason brings financial knowledge specific to nonprofits, like audit requirements, the benefits of transparency, and, best of all, a healthy respect for getting it all done on time! And as customers of Signature Analytics, Funraise is excited to assist our nonprofit friends in tackling accounting wherever you’re at.

Listen in to get clarity on how properly-fitted accounting contributes to the success of your impact, where to start and pitfalls to avoid, and signals that’ll tell you it’s time to professionalize your finance functions.

Episode Transcription

Jason Kruger: A lot of organizations, companies, you know, they have a bookkeeper or they have somebody in place that is doing their accounting, and they may be looking at the accounting as, you know, I got to make sure that I, pay my bills on time. I got to make sure that, you know, I get invoicing out to donors or I get make sure I got cash coming into the door. Got to make sure we file our annual 990 or our tax returns at the end of the year, and that's about it. And so as these organizations grow, they start to realize that the importance level and having good financials becomes more and more critical.


Hello and welcome to this episode of Nonstop Nonprofit!

Money, budgets, funding, accounting—all nonprofits know how important these are to the success of programming and impact. But when you're a smaller nonprofit or just starting out, do you really need a CFO?

Today’s guest, Jason Kruger, has experience with a novel arrangement that’s allowing nonprofits to start from the ground up, building an accounting team and processes that fit instead of skipping a grade before you’re ready.

As President & Founder at Signature Analytics, Jason brings financial knowledge specific to nonprofits, like audit requirements, the benefits of transparency, and, best of all, a healthy respect for getting it all done on time! And as customers of Signature Analytics, Funraise is excited to assist our nonprofit friends in tackling accounting wherever you’re at.

Listen in to get clarity on how properly-fitted accounting contributes to the success of your impact, where to start and pitfalls to avoid, and signals that’ll tell you it’s time to professionalize your finance functions.

Let's Dive In!


Justin Wheeler Jason, welcome to the podcast. How are you doing today?


Jason Kruger Good. Thanks, Justin.


Justin Wheeler Awesome. Well, I'm looking forward to, to dig in. And for those listening. Jason is the founder and president of Signature Analytics, which I'm going to let him explain exactly what signature does. And before we do that, before we jump into the business, I'd love to if you could spend a minute or so just telling the listeners, share with the listeners a little bit about yourself, your background, and how that intersects with the nonprofit industry.


Jason Kruger So personal side, I'll keep it short. Married have three girls, 11, nine and six. So I'm in the thick of it, as you can imagine. Yep. Many listeners have advice. You know, once again, in the teenage years, I'm open to it from a business perspective. I started my career in public accounting. So obviously a lot of the conversation we're going to be talking about is accounting and finance around nonprofits started with a firm called Moss Adams, which is a large national firm, and then went to Deloitte, which is one of the large big four global firms and, worked with a lot of different industries. But I also had a pretty strong experience and got a lot of good visibility into the nonprofit community as well. So I was on the nonprofit team, at Deloitte that supported some of the nonprofits that we worked with. Same thing with Moss Adams. So I got I got some pretty good exposure to the nonprofit community, spent about close to nine, ten years in public accounting, and decided to leverage my background and start Signature Analytics at that time, which was in October of 2008. So if you remember the time, it was a little crazy going on. Or that time, I think I, you know, the economy was falling apart. And the good thing was I didn't have an employee, any employees or any costs at that time, really. So I was taking a risk by leaving my salary behind at a very understanding wife, of course. And, decided to make that leap of faith. And so basically what Signature Analytics does is it works with both for-profit and nonprofit organizations, although the nonprofit space is probably our largest vertical, if you look at different industry or organizational verticals that really deserve better as it relates to the accounting and financial side of their business. And what I mean by that is a lot of organizations, companies, you know, they have a bookkeeper or they have somebody in place that is doing their accounting, and they may be looking at the accounting as, you know, I got to make sure that I, pay my bills on time. I got to make sure that, you know, I get invoicing out to to donors or I get make sure I got cash coming into the door. Got to make sure we file our annual 990 or our tax returns at the end of the year, and that's about it. And so as these organizations grow, they start to realize that the importance level and having good financials becomes more and more critical to making decisions, but also to talking to outside parties, which may include the board, may include a bank. Obviously, they're going to have audited financial statements. They're going to have donors looking at those financial statements for credibility purposes. They might be getting grants, into the future. And so a lot of that comes into play, and they need that sophistication. And what our role is, is saying, okay, how do we take the accounting and financial arm as a G&A cost for organizations that, you know, initially they want to reduce costs at all? You know, not not really do much with to making it a value add to the organization. Through providing clarity through programs and program expenses, budgets, etc.. So, that's really our focus. And how we do that is on a fractional basis. And so we want to make sure we have the best, the best talent and bring that best talent to the nonprofit space. We have a fully dedicated team that that we serve that supports our clients, and we do a really good job of bringing that top talent in a way that, organizations couldn't ordinarily afford. And, let's be honest, most of those organizations don't need a full time CFO. They don't need a full time controller, but they need that leadership. They need financial leadership. They need accounting leadership to help them to continue their growth and make sure that they're meeting expectations from a compliance perspective as well.


Justin Wheeler Got it. And just as a side note, for our listeners, Funraise, is a part of the for profit vertical, center analytics customer base. And, you know, just to speak to the value add and partnership approach that signature takes, it truly is a partnership. You know, there's there's two types of vendors that you can work with, ones that are just trying to clock in as many hours as possible and not be highly strategic. And then there are others who are what I would say are more entrepreneurial, focused and willing to be in the trenches and work alongside in a way that adds a ton of value. And that's been our experience over the last six months. And I know that, you know, what's what's interesting is within your nonprofit aspect of the business, you're working with organizations kind of of varying degrees of, of scale. And so when you when you think about like the stakeholders. Of good accounting, right. Whether that's the board, like you mentioned, a bank, the executive team, what do you think are some of the key drivers specifically for the executive team at a non profit on why accounting should be prioritized before it becomes a problem or before it becomes harder to deal with? That makes yes.


Jason Kruger No, absolutely. I think with a nonprofit organization it always starts with the budget, right. So every year there's an annually annual budgeting process. And the organization, if they're doing it well, is taking a deep dive into what that looks like. So you have the expense side, you have the different programs, you have the program leaders. Everybody's getting involved with that. You also have on the revenue side, you have your, you know, the fundraising team. You have another you really digging deep, hopefully in your understanding of who your donors are. If you have grants, you're wanting to understand that process. So really developing that budget, the foundation of how how a nonprofit operates and how a nonprofit evaluates itself throughout the year is based on that budget that they set. So that process is critical. And so as organizations we grow, that becomes more and more critical, because at the beginning, maybe it's just the executive team that's looking at it or saying, okay, yeah, you know, maybe it's, you know, maybe we'll get this, maybe we'll get that. But as they grow, as you mentioned, that budget that needs to be shared with the board of directors in a lot of cases or the finance committee. And so that's critical. And they make decisions on a monthly basis based off that budget. And so if you don't have a grasp of what your budget is, then you start making potentially decisions that are impacting the success of the overall organization. And so that's a critical component is the budgeting aspect. And making sure you have a good process to produce a good budget that will drive your organization forward. If an organization is just saying, well, we did 10 million last year, so we're going to add 10% this year without any underlying data as to the why behind it, then you could be setting yourself up for some challenging times if you don't hit that. And so so that's that's critical. The other piece that's really important for the executive team is being able to break down that budget into different areas. So how are they really looking at the data and analyzing that data based on maybe different departments. And so some of the things that we've done for our clients is the program heads want real time information as quickly as possible. They don't want to be waiting 30 or 60 or, you know, 90 days to be getting historical information on where they are against their budget and how how the performance of their programs is happening. And so what we've been able to do for a number of our clients is take that information and get them that real time data that gets sent to them automatically on a real time basis, on a weekly basis, or in some cases, daily, if we can tie into their accounting system. And so that gives them that real visibility there. And then the last piece is, you know, once a company in California at least gets over 2 million, our organization gets over $2 million. They're required to have audited financial statements. And so that process can be very challenging process if you don't have, good financial acumen or good financial, if you're not producing solid financial information with the appropriate supporting documentation, processes, procedures documented, those types of things. And so all of that then becomes very important to be able to take an organization from, you know, 1 to $2 million organization to a $5 million organization or $10 million organization, or 20. And so the larger an organization gets, the more sophisticated they tend to get and the more reliance they make to, you know, on their financial side and the financial arm of their of their organization. And what our job is to do is to educate the smaller organizations as to why that is the case, why do we have to invest now so that so we can take that next step so that we can double in size, we can triple in size. And a lot of that is just that sophistication, that education around that.


Justin Wheeler Absolutely. So when you think about and maybe you could share this through the lens of, of your, the size of your, your clients. What I'm interested in sort of you dissecting is kind of like, what does a healthy financial team look like for a nonprofit, right. And, you know, whether it's whether it's internal or outsourced, when you think of organizations that are starting to hit some scale, you have all sorts of like functions in finance, from accounting to a to, you know, more strategic at the CFO level. And so just be curious to hear sort of like what is the ideal make up of a of a finance team for a midsize nonprofit?


Jason Kruger I'm glad you asked that question, because a lot of times what the management team is told by the board is, hey, you have to get a CFO, right? And a CFO solves, all right. And so, so a lot of these organizations, they don't have a lot of sophistication at the lower levels. And now they're saying, well, I got to hire a CFO and they'll just take care of everything. And, you know, we'll we're off to the races and I have to worry about finance anymore. And the reality is one of two things happens if you. They're hiring someone and you give them a CFO title, and they don't really have that sophistication of what, you know, what we would consider a true CFO would be. And so now you're having them do some of the lower level accounting. Maybe they're taking care of the books or closing the books, and maybe they can speak to the board or the audit committee, or the finance committee or the executive team. But it's still more of a about historical. It's more about the numbers. And there's there's really a lack of it's not that sophistication of that high powered CFO. The other side of the coin is maybe you spend a little bit more and you do get that high powered CFO. The best use of that person's time is not going to be doing bank racks, closing the books and so forth. And so what what we what we recommend in most cases is making sure that we recommend starting from the ground up. So if you're going to hire a full time resource, we recommend that being at the lowest level, first. You need somebody that could do the data entry, the transactional work, make sure that that person is in place and can get things done. And then you need to build off of that person. So then you can start bringing in depending on your size, no matter what your size, you need somebody that can provide some level of oversight to that lower level person. Because they are they're lower level. They don't have the sophistication as that person grows. Maybe you hire somebody else at a full time level above that lowest level person, and then ultimately you get to a point where you have a controller and then ultimately a CFO. So the standard is you, you started listing them out. You have a CFO, you have a controller, maybe you have a county manager and a senior account, and then you have a staff level below that. That would be your standard hierarchy where you started to go off to the side a little bit is, you know, which is financial planning and analysis. And that's really more about taking the numbers and getting and driving better reporting. So now you're starting to look ahead in your business, right. You have a VP of finance which is more of a finance mindset. Maybe not quite the CFO level but a finance mindset. And so how we like to to recommend structure in an organization is make sure you can get the blocking and tackling done at the lowest level, but make sure that you have the oversight and processes to ensure that you're getting that accurate, relevant and timely information. So that's where, you know, I'm very biased, but that's where our model comes in, right? Which is. Yes, you may have someone at the lowest level, but provide them that leadership, provide them that support without having to hire a full time person, provide them that support to make sure that they're getting that you have confidence in the accounting department and in the finance function. As you grow, you can start building that out. You know, when you're a 200 million, 300 million, 400 million nonprofit, you probably have a full team. You don't need a fractional person at each level, but when you're smaller, it's more cost effective. It's more efficient. To break that down in that way.


Justin Wheeler Makes sense. Yeah. Thank you for sharing that. And as a follow up, do you have any sense of how important it is to the donor for a nonprofit to have clean books, strong accounting and financial reporting, like, have you have you guys done any work there to understand sort of the minds of the donor and, and why that's that could be important? Or is it maybe not as important from your perspective?


Jason Kruger Yeah. It's critical. I mean the from a what your accounting and financial information does, is it it and it gives the credibility and security to a donor when they are going to make a contribution. So if an organization is one or 2 or 3, three and 3 or 4 years behind in in finalizing their audit, that's public knowledge. Any donor can see that. And if they want to ensure that if they're going to be giving, you know, money or funds to an organization that's being taken care of and accounted for appropriately, and if they see that, you know they're behind on the audit or they're not able to get good financial information, there's nobody within the organization that can speak to the numbers. It's definitely a red flag. And create can create some challenges. I did hear more recently that I think now is one of the first times ever where I think there was a study done, and I have to find it after the call after we get off. But where and people or individuals trust nonprofit organizations less now than they do for profit businesses? And the reason behind that is because I heard an example last week, actually, where bringing in a high powered donor and they say, well, I don't trust nonprofits. And they say, why don't you trust nonprofits? And he says, because I don't know where the money's going. Right. If I'm going to give you my, my, you know, hard earned dollars, I want to make sure I understand where the money's going. And that is, you know why? I mean, that just adds to if you can show that donor, hey, here's where your money's going. Here's our programs, here's how we account for it. Here's the here's what we're doing. Here's all the good we're doing with that. And not just the good, but how that then relates to the cost and the impact, and everything else that we're doing adds tremendous credibility and allows organizations to continue to grow, which is why, as they do grow and the ones that do are able to be successful, you see that they've created that sophistication in their finance and accounting function.


Justin Wheeler Yeah, I think that that's a that's a really great example.



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Justin Wheeler When you think about that big question from the donor, where is the money going? There's the accounting aspect to it. And then there's also what's the communication aspect. Right. And what you see too much I think in the nonprofit industry is sort of just this disconnect from the PNL to the fundraising teams. And, you know, the fundraising teams are told we do X, Y, and Z a year look at our impact, but they don't own the PNL or the categories of the PNL that they really should own as as the fundraiser. So I think that, like, bridging those two things is incredibly important will ultimately hopefully yield, you know, more transparency to to the donor and those interested in in supporting a nonprofit. Yeah.


Jason Kruger And, you know, if a lot of donors or, you know, a lot of less sophisticated journalists say, well, I want 100% of my money to go to the programs. Right. And the impact, well, for better or worse, you know, if that's the case, you can't run an organization, right? And so last fiscal year, donors will say, hey, I want to actually understand that you I want to make sure you are investing in your infrastructure. It's not exciting, but you you've got to create an infrastructure to support the mission of what you're trying to accomplish. Otherwise, what I'm giving you is, is going to be very. And if you're going to spend it very inefficiently, right. And they say, hey, I want you to bring in Funraise, you need Funraise, you need a fundraising platform, right? Why why don't you have Funraise? Or you need better, you know, you need to make sure that you're managing and able to get the right financial reporting that also support and shows that we're making progress in the mission of the organization. And so that, I mean, it's critical you don't want to go over, you don't want to, you know, have to have costs. But at the same time, it can't be zero or even, you know, 1 or 2% either. You have to have the right mix to be able to really move forward. And it's not bad to promote that even to donors. Hey, look at what we're doing to invest in our in our infrastructure to take us from where we are now to where we're going to be. And a lot of times the donors respect that. And they're excited about that.


Justin Wheeler Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I mean, it's you know, it's if you put on sort of like your investor hat and you're like, if I'm going to invest in this thing, I'm going to make sure that it has the potential to be around in three, five, ten years from now to accomplish what I invested in. You know, same from the donors perspective is like. They see a 100% volunteer run organization. Is that organization going to be able to scale and, you know, be able to achieve its big mission and vision? I don't know. Yeah, probably not be very, very challenging. And so that actually like leads me to this next question of how like how much of an objection is it in your conversations with prospective clients, when they're thinking about maybe the cost of hiring, you know, an agency like signature, how much of the time is it? Is it like, do you. Do you see the internal conflict of like, oh, this is gonna cost. This is not a program cost. This is going to, you know, this is going to bring our overhead up a couple points, whatever it might be. How often do you see that dialog kind of play out, whether in conversation with you or you can tell it's an objection that you have to get the the prospective customer, you know, comfortable with and how do you educate them?


Jason Kruger So to your point, a lot, you know, a lot of it is education. And also, for better or worse, a lot of times we get in front of or we referred or we have a potential client, speak with us because they've experienced the pain points. Right. So they go try to go the cheap route or they try to go one route and it didn't work out. And they tried it again and it didn't work out. And now they're really feeling the pain. And so now they're they're willing to actually make that investment to, to actually make some real change and to be able to move forward. And I think a lot of times it takes that nobody's going to prioritize accounting if they're not having a true pain point at that moment. Right. Everybody's busy. Everybody has, you know, 100 different things are trying to do that day. So, so in most cases there's got to be some level of pain point. Now, I would love for everybody to be super proactive in their organization. You gotta set this up for success. But the reality is there's got to be a pain. So for better or worse, when we come in, a lot of times I've experienced that pain and we start to talk through, okay, what were the decisions that you made? How did you get to this pain point and then start educating them as to, okay, you know, helping them understand why, why they are where they are and helping them understand how they can rectify that and then develop a plan on how they're going to move forward now and then into the future to achieve the goals and the mission of the organization. From a cost perspective. A lot of times it does come down to the budget too, right? It's like, well, I got to get approval or I got to talk to the board. We're talking to one organization right now that is, you know, they're talking to their board about it. Well, let's put it this way. They're finalizing the audit from over a year ago right now. So they fallen behind there. They're 4 or 5 months behind on closing the books. And now they're you know, they're trying to they're educating the board. And a lot of times in some cases we'll actually go back and we'll meet with the board as well and help them to understand, okay, here's where the the challenges have been. Here's what we've seen in the industry has been successful. Here's what we feel the plan out of that is. And to your point earlier about, you know, as working with you, our our goal is to develop a long term relationship with the organizations that we work with. And we know that cost is an important component of that. And we want to establish the right expectations with cost. And we are incentivized to bring our costs down and create efficiencies, because if we come in there and just stick it to them in the first month or two, get a few extra bucks, they're not going to want to be our client very long. Obviously. And we know that there's parameters of this is a nonprofit. We have to show the value in what we're doing. How is it, how is it driving and how is it contributing to the success of the organization? What is the value of the board? And the finance committee is getting out of this. And so that piece is very critical. So we're always working with cost. Always making sure that we're we're aligned with them on what that cost structure looks like. And you know and the reality is there are some baseline metrics, right. If you're under 3% of a combination of accounting finance, HR is under 3% of your organization's revenue, or budget, you probably are understaffed and probably should look at, okay, what what do I need to be doing so that I can set myself up for success moving forward?


Justin Wheeler Got it. Thank you for that. And as as, a follow up, somewhat, related. Are there like, common pitfalls that you've observed as you get into working with clients? You mentioned, like a lot of times it's coming when someone has like a pain point. And so like where that takes me is, okay, what's a signal that can maybe be like, where nonprofits can be little bit more proactive so they don't have to get, you know, to maybe a certain threshold of pain before they come to you guys. So any like sort of signals or action items, you could say like, this is what we see. And if you're experiencing this or, you know, a degree of of this experience now is probably a good time for you to, to think about professionalizing and your finance function. Yeah. Any, any sort of like trends that, that you could share that. Yeah. Helpful for listeners.


Jason Kruger A lot of organizations have challenges when they are growing, and then they have rely on full reliance on one person to do all the accounting. Right. So two things can happen. One is the person can handle the responsibilities when they're smaller. And as the the organization grows, there's the level of sophistication maybe outgrows their skill set. So that's one. And so then they they lose the they don't have the experience to be able to maintain and keep up in the right way. The other challenges, if that person leaves us and you have nobody that understands anything that's going on with the accounting finance, so all sudden it's like, oh no. And whereas to to add a double double negative, there is a lot of times that person that was there when you were smaller, now you're growing, they start to kind of like like I just mentioned, they start to struggle a little bit. And so they know they're struggling. And so then they leave. Right. And then now that things are behind, you realize, oh man, we haven't closed the books in 3 or 4 months where we can't get through the audit. Now, we don't have anybody. And so that's where making sure you have that added layer of support at any organization, even if it's not us, there are other, you know, potentially maybe it's another consultant, maybe it's a board member, maybe it's somebody that can add some layer support and understanding of what's really happening. So if somebody does leave that, at least you have some level of coverage. The other thing is make sure that the SOPs, the standard operating procedures, how things are done. If the if you can get your your internal team to document how they do things, it's so much easier if they leave and somebody else comes in and now they can duplicate those efforts. But a lot of times those aren't documented at all. So now somebody's left and it's like, well, I don't even know where they were getting this information from. I don't know how they got this. I don't know what's going on over here. So those are some significant challenges. And the other piece, which is the area that you guys are in, is in software. Right? So as as an organization grows, you know, maybe before at the beginning they were using QuickBooks and they're using Excel spreadsheets to track their donor base. Right. Well, now you have QuickBooks. And then now you may have a separate CRM like a Salesforce. And then you bring in a fundraise and now you have three different systems. How are they all working to. Gather. How were you able to get the information effectively and efficiently. So those are also can present some challenges. If you're an organization you're looking to grow and you're and you're having challenges with your current systems or you're looking to bring on fundraise or you're looking to bring on a sales force, or you're looking to change accounting systems, even let's make sure if number one, you have the sophistication internally within your team to be able to support that transition. Because we see a lot of challenges during technology transitions that quite honestly make things worse than they were before. I'm sure you see that more than I do with challenges associated with, you know, transitioning. Yeah, you guys have a fantastic process to onboard your clients very quickly, but I'm sure you've seen how they're integrating their systems and all that different thing.


Justin Wheeler Yeah. And that's a that's a really good point. Are there sort of like deal breakers for you when you're thinking about onboarding new clients. And you know, part of that onboarding is assessing tech stack that they're using all the different systems. What makes it really hard, what makes it harder for for your team and therefore any accounting team really to work with a client when you know what are like some of the maybe like the just like the the showstoppers for you. Right. Like, you know, not I'm not saying like a specific platform or anything like that, but just like the lack of communication between platforms, any examples that you can share that make accounting the job of accounting really hard to do if your technology doesn't do X? Yeah.


Jason Kruger So on the technology side, again, as I mentioned before, a lot of times we come in because the integration didn't work the first time or the second time. Right. And so now they're saying, oh man, you know, now I'm trying to we can't get any information. And so, from a technology perspective, I don't think there's any showstoppers where we said, hey, you know, we can't help you out now if we need to bring in the experts, like, we're not an expert in fundraise. We're not we can't customize, fundraise for our clients. Right. We know that you guys can do that. So if we need to bring in the expert with, you know, of the platform that they're working with, then we'll do that. QuickBooks is pretty pretty straightforward. I mean we're pretty much are the expert, right. But if you get to a more advanced ERP system and there needs to be some customizations to actually make it work, right, we will work with and help them help, you know, bring in the experts from a customization perspective. But what needs to happen is there needs to be that leadership on the on the organization side that understands how things should really be structured and set up and the what they call the business requirements of the systems. And that's the expertise that we bring to the table. And so a lot of times, the organization doesn't have the sophistication to really understand how it should be working for that organization in the first place. And so they rely too heavily on the ERP implementer who doesn't know their organization and just says, oh yeah, yeah, this should work. This is fine. Just do it this way. And then they realize that it actually isn't set up for to to maximize success for them. And now the team starts using Excel spreadsheets on the side, you know, and now also and you're like, okay, why do we even pay for this when we're still doing stuff on the side over here? Right. So yeah, that's where we see challenges. And then also with the integration of data between systems, we do have a technology team that can support some of that. But once it gets to above a level where there needs to be a level of sophistication or, or customization, we know our limits, but we also know that we can bring in the experts as needed to.


Justin Wheeler Yeah, that makes sense. Well, Jason, thank you so much for for your time today. And for those listening, please do check out in the show notes. Be a link, directly to Signature Analytics. Learn more about their services. And again, as a customer for six months, we are very happy customers and willing for anyone listening to be a reference. If you're looking for this type of service, I would highly recommend Jason and the Signature Analytics team to those of you listening. And so Jason, again, thank you so much for for your time today and look forward to continuing to dig in and build out a truly meaningful partnership for the nonprofit community that we both serve. Have a great day.


Jason Kruger Thanks so much, Justin.



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