Why every charity needs to embrace cloud-based accounting

Finance should never be a standalone function. Its primary purpose is to support the whole charity – not just to manage the accounts, but to provide advice, recommendations and reassurance to help the executive team and trustees make better decisions on behalf of their beneficiaries.

So if finance underpins the whole organisation, what does that make accountancy software?

Something to simply record the charity’s income and expenditure? Or something far more comprehensive that boosts efficiency, productivity and security?

As a QuickBooks Pro Adviser, I’m a huge advocate of the platform. There’s a reason I’ve invested so much time, energy and effort into QuickBooks and it’s got nothing to do with how well it crunches the numbers (surely that comes as standard with every accountancy software package). No, I’ve committed to QuickBooks because of all the value-added functionality it contains – things you wouldn’t even think about.

Automate, automate, automate

I’m on a big mission at the moment, within my own business and within my clients’ charities, to automate as much as possible. Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean you should. If you can make efficiencies through automating certain processes, it means you have more time to spend where it matters most – adding value to the services that impact your beneficiaries.

“Oh, but I’m not sure we’re ready for all that.”

I completely understand. I’ve worked with several Chief Executives who don’t have a strong digital background, so the idea of employing technology to take on certain areas of their responsibility feels a bit daunting. I have clients now who still prefer paper-based systems – there’s something about physically signing off on paper that’s very reassuring for them. That’s perfectly ok.

Every charity, every organisation and every person is at a different stage in their journey towards embracing digital ways of working. I’m never going to command that you undertake a digital transformation and start doing everything in the cloud. My role is simply to look at where software workflows could enhance your current processes and then find a way of helping you and your trustees feel comfortable adopting them.

Start with what you have and enhance it

Most charities will have implemented accounting software, like QuickBooks, to help them manage their finances. You’ve already taken the first step towards automation, and so the second step is now really simple – plug in an app.

QuickBooks integrates with over 650 popular business apps. And the second you plug that first app in, is the moment you enhance your platform to make it more than just accountancy software. Plug that first app in and suddenly you have a powerful tool that’s going to boost efficiency and productivity to give everyone more time back to spend on the things that matter most.

“But with 650 apps to choose from, where do we start?”

Again, that’s really simple – start with my favourite app, AutoEntry.

AutoEntry: making data digital

Automated data entry software, AutoEntry allows you to scan invoices, receipts and statements, to extract the important information and populate the relevant fields within QuickBooks.

Besides testing it on my own business, one of the first clients I used the app with was a charity that had a tonne of paperwork I’d need to copy the data from before I could complete the accounts. Performing the exercise manually, it would have taken me 2 days to complete, but with AutoEntry I was done in just 2 hours.

But the real benefit isn’t the time savings…

It’s more secure

Once you’ve scanned the information and it’s stored within QuickBooks, you no longer need to retain paper copies anymore. With the paperwork securely shredded, it means you don’t need to worry about rogue files left around placing you at risk of a data breach.

It’s easier to store

Research suggests that 80% of your financial data doesn’t need to be readily available. So even if you felt more comfortable retaining paper copies of information relating to the current financial year, it’s going to streamline access to your data while still maintaining your compliance.

It’s easier to find what you need

Once you’ve scanned your information to make it digital, it’s instantly searchable, so if you need to find something really specific you can run a quick search, like you would do with Google. And if/when you’re audited or independently examined, you can simply provide access so they can find everything they need.

It’s a productivity boost

By making your information digital, you’re instantly going to see an impact on the way your people work – 46% of organisations say that removing paper from their processes has been the biggest single productivity improvement.

It’s more accurate

Visually checking manually entered data results in 2958% more errors than double/single entry. And it costs $1 to verify data accuracy at the point of entry, $10 to correct that data and $100 for each record if no action is taken. By scanning the data, you eliminate the risk of human error completely.

Step-by-step automation is simple

Once you’ve plugged in your first app and started realising the benefits, you can start to think about other areas that can be automated and simplified. For example, other apps that I recommend my clients take a look at include:

Expensify: receipt and expense management, which allows you to take photos and attach them directly to the claim in the moment, before sending on for approval (if necessary). It even records mileage for any business trips.

GoCardless: the easy way to collect recurring payments, it gives you the peace of mind of being paid on time and as expected through Direct Debit, meaning that you don’t have to chase people for money every month.

And then there’s various other categories of apps that extend out into wider areas within the business. For example:

Workflows: assisting with task management to push actions to the relevant people and ensure that things get done, with the Trustees fulfilling their obligations.

CRM: helping to generate donation receipts based on your legal requirements or keeping track of volunteers and beneficiaries.

Timesheets: measuring time and resources used to secure grant funding so you can track the effort spent versus the outcome achieved.

Automation is a journey

You should never think of automation as single task that you need to complete overnight – that’s far too scary and overwhelming a thought. Instead, embrace it as an iterative process that evolves step-by-step.

Automation is a journey, where some charities have travelled further than others, and some are driving faster than others. But it’s not a race, so take it at a pace that you and your trustees feel comfortable with.

My advice would be to set clear guidance to help you identify areas of the charity where automation should be considered, for example:

  • Reducing the risk of human error to increase accuracy.
  • Reducing the burden of paper to improve security.
  • Reducing time wasted searching for information by improving access to it.

Need some help?

A new service that’s proving very popular with my clients is ‘QuickBooks Guidance’ where I evaluate your current platform and make any necessary adjustments to ensure it’s set up correctly to meet your needs. I then check you have the right systems and processes in place to establish a strong foundation on which you can grow.

Part of this involves identifying areas where automation could boost your operational efficiency, giving you back precious time that is better spend adding value elsewhere.

To find out more, get in touch…

©2020 by Beyond Profit Ltd.

Beyond Profit Ltd is a is a limited liability company registered in England and Wales: Company No. 10752524.

The registered office address is Bolton Arena, Arena Approach, Horwich, Bolton, BL6 6LB