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How technology can take your accounting function to the next level

May 29, 2020

Many nonprofit organizations have an AP workflow that looks like this:

An invoice arrives in the mail. The paper invoice is walked over to a manager or department head, who physically signs the document. Then, the approved invoice is delivered to an accounting team member so it can be keyed into an accounting system to issue payment. Depending on the amount and type of remittance, a check may travel to the CEO or CFO office for a physical signature before it’s re-routed to an assistant for mailing.   

That’s exhausting to think about, let alone do on a daily basis. Manual, paper-based accounting processes are time-consuming and vulnerable to error and delay.

Luckily, there’s a better way.

Many of the software programs accounting teams rely on have moved to the cloud. By adopting cloud-based accounting technology, nonprofit teams can skip or automate many of the cumbersome steps required to receive and issue payments. And CFOs can keep the organization’s financial status up-to-the-minute accurate. 

Compared to the traditional “paper shuffle,” cloud-based accounting software offers several major benefits:

  • Less paper. The ability to accept and remit payments electronically can drastically reduce the amount of paper, postage, and office supplies needed to perform essential activities. Every operating dollar saved can be redirected to mission-central programs.
  • Streamlined processes. Accounting software can automate routine workflows like purchase requests and AP approvals. Instead of passing around (or potentially losing) a scrap of paper, your accounting software can initiate, route, and track important accounting actions.
  • Increased visibility. At the micro level, everyone involved in a process can see exactly where it stands (vs. wondering whose desk it got stuck on). Using cloud-based software, leaders also get a more timely and accurate view of the “big picture” of the organization’s financial health. As soon as a transaction enters the system, it becomes part of the financial reports (e.g., balance sheet, profit, or loss). With real time information – that can be accessed from anywhere – leaders can make better decisions.
  • Better business continuity. Cloud-based software can be accessed from nearly any place you can access the internet, so you can keep the accounting department running regardless of what’s happening in the outside world. In uncertain times, your ability to accept donations or issue payroll may be the most mission-critical actions you can perform.
  • Tighter control. Workflow rules and access levels can help financial leaders enforce internal controls – automatically. During set up, CFOs can limit access or user privileges according to a person’s role or responsibilities, and they can automate approval workflows to ensure policies are met. For example, invoices under a certain dollar amount can be routed to managers for approval, while larger invoices automatically go to the CFO.
  • Deeper insight. Dashboards and reports are relatively easy to create (or even automate) using software. Many dashboards are also interactive, so you can drill down into the figures. In just a few clicks, leaders can see which bills or journal entries increased an expense amount or investigate other drivers.
  • Smoother auditing experiences. Cloud-based software offers more transparency than legacy systems, especially if the “old way” includes Excel files saved on staff desktops or collections of paper files. Most software systems leave a digital trail of activity so it’s easy to see everything that’s been updated, who touched it, when, and why.

Moving to a cloud-based accounting system makes sense from the C-level perspective. But that doesn’t guarantee the transition will be successful. To take off, everyone who interacts with the software needs to get behind the initiative. The entire team needs to work together toward a successful outcome.

To encourage buy-in, figure out how individual roles will be affected by the change; highlight pain points that will be removed or benefits that will be gained. Position the new system as a value-add for everyone, while still recognizing how challenging it is to change.

And if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask. A professional team can guide your transition, adding their experience and lessons-learned from dozens of previous software deployments.

Change is difficult. But so is managing the organization with outdated, paper-based financial processes. Nonprofits that embrace technology can take their organizations to the next level.

Want to learn more?

Interested in learning more about how technology can help your accounting? Sign up to attend our National Conference, which includes onsite training in Las Vegas and more than 40 virtual sessions. In one of those virtual sessions, Rebecca Hurst will show how you can customize transactions, templates and reports in Sage Intacct. Get conference info.


Rebecca A. Hurst, CPA
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