Not all enterprise-level accounting solutions are created equal, but most offer the capability to implement the following tips, which originally appeared in a commissioned article in the January 2016 edition of The NonProfit Times.

  1. Configure auto-scheduling. Not all software solutions have it, but people often don’t take the time to set it up even when it is available. Auto-scheduling lets you configure reports to run at regular intervals triggered either by calendar dates or specific events, and then automatically email those reports to specific people—for example, program staff, board members, or funders. Not only is auto-scheduling an enormous time saver, but it can ensure a consistently transparent view of certain accounting features for the people who supervise or monitor them.
  2. Integrate payroll. Most organizations use software to manage payroll. Many accounting systems can manage payroll or integrate with other payroll-specific systems, though many lightweight solutions require add-ons or modules to do so. Another time-saver, linking payroll and accounting can also eliminate error and reduce the need for double-entry.
  3. Use built-in time and expense-tracking systems. Again, some of the lightweight tools don’t support this functionality, which is actually geared more at small business users, but time and expenses can be critical for small nonprofits. Tracking either or both in a system can give an organization insight into how and where it spends its resources, which can pretty quickly make them more efficient—and often more effective.
  4. Set email alerts and notifications. Whether you set dashboard notifications or configure the tool to email users, automated notifications are an excellent way to ensure that the right people are alerted when certain actions occur. For example, an expense report that needs to be approved or a purchase order that needs to be signed or a check that clears the bank. This simple step can cut down on wait times and make sure nothing gets overlooked.
  5. Push your systems to achieve insight rather than rote reporting. Rather than a specific, tactical setting or feature, this is more of a philosophy. Capturing outcome metrics and move data between systems—for example, so your organization knows how much it costs to provide each meal or the per-participant cost of each program—can add a ton of evaluation and management value. Take advantage of the technology and what it can offer you. Spend the time it takes to figure out what you want to measure and track, and then set up your systems to track them.

Read Beyond QuickBooks: When Should You Upgrade Your Nonprofit’s Accounting System?