Paul Sparkes: Cloud accounting for charities

25 Feb 2022 Expert insight

Paul Sparkes explains how not-for-profits can simplify accounting processes and spend more time delivering social value

This content has been supplied by a commercial partner.

Many organisations find themselves constrained by time. There never seems to be enough hours in the day. This is nothing new. But in the case of not-for-profits (NFPs), every minute counts. That means that each hour spent conducting mundane day-to-day accounting tasks – sending invoices, chasing payments, reconciling accounts — is another period that could be better spent delivering what really matters.

This is an element that finance professionals working within the charitable sphere will find all too familiar, particularly those who are reliant upon legacy software that requires time consuming intervention to render its functionality useful.

But with the evolution of cloud accounting software, NFPs can streamline their processes and become more efficient, leaving additional capacity to tackle the more complex requirements which govern the fiscal side of this sector.

Simplifying the complex

With the charity industry subject to such stringent requirements, including partial VAT and the SORP, some organisations have historically struggled to find an efficient solution that can tackle the many intricacies with ease.

Managing budgets is another typically laborious task characterised by daily exports of data, multiple spreadsheets, several emails, and the manual allocation of money raised. Translating this information into a report for trustees adds to the significant time burden. When expense forms, receipts, and payments are factored in too, it is easy to see how complex and inefficient the task becomes.

The fact that the majority of systems are not designed with NFPs in mind, exasperates the difficulties experienced in this area. It also raises important questions around the feasibility of these processes and how this valuable time could be better spent.

Head in the cloud

While remote working has long been a consideration, in the current climate it has never been more important, which makes now the time to adopt slicker, true cloud-based technologies.

Ensuring accounting functionality is accessible from anywhere, via almost any device Making multiple servers and the associated maintenance costs a thing of the past can revolutionise and simplify processes, allowing organisations to future-proof their offering in response to the changing times.

Harnessing all this capability and designed with the NFP profit sector in mind, top quality cloud accounting provides a more efficient, accurate and secure solution that is overwhelmingly sympathetic to the needs of the charities. Taking away the need for hours of manual intervention, the software can automatically work out partial VAT, reclaiming money automatically.

SORP, which is a notoriously laborious requirement, is tackled easily too. Restricted funds can be isolated and earmarked to be spent accordingly. Keeping track of what has been spent and on what, as well as the balance remaining, becomes a simple task, removing yet another time-consuming burden from the hands of team members.

Budgets can be viewed immediately with the ability to segment the data in the desired manner — whether by activity, project, department, or fund — and answers to complex questions can be gathered in a matter of minutes.

Expenses forms and receipts can be photographed and saved to the system, with authorisation granted at the touch of a button. Enhanced reports for trustees can also be seamlessly created. With a desired date range, the iplicit system, for example, generates an overview of performance in seconds, minimising the headache associated with producing vast real-time insight at short notice.

Workflow can be set and managed easily. Assigning tasks to colleagues is an easy way to keep priorities moving, protecting the precious time of those keen to relinquish hours in the day to spend delivering true social impact.

Bringing all this functionality together is a clever reporting solution accessed via the touch of a button. This means that valuable insight can be produced in minutes, as opposed to hours, providing of-the-moment oversight for stakeholders without the need to create a timeburden for the finance team.

Barriers to evolution

Opting for a modern solution, however, may evoke concern from those who have always done things this way. Assuming days of downtime, difficulties integrating existing systems, and worries about the loss of vital data can prove a barrier for organisations when it comes to seeking a switch to a more capable and user-friendly alternative. However, this needn’t be the case. With a switch to cloud-based technologies these historically problematic areas can be tackled with ease.

Days or weeks of downtime is no longer a concern. The remote capabilities afforded by the cloud, installation can be conducted with minimal fuss. Ease of integration between fundraising and membership systems is another stumbling block for many, but with modern technology designed with NFPs in mind, this has never been easier and can be tailored to meet the needs of organisations working with a wide range of programs.

What’s more, unlike many of the legacy systems that NFPs might have originally adopted. all upgrades from true cloud are automatic, which means that users always have access to the most up-to-date version of the software without any time-consuming installations or dependent upon additional cost implications.

An example of this in practice is the Making Tax Digital change which recently came into effect. For iplicit users, this was made available immediately, at no extra cost, so that customers were fully compliant. For those on older legacy systems, this would have involved an additional charge and a time delay to allow for the latest version of technology to be installed.

Resistance may come from understandable worries about historical data and what will happen to crucial pieces of information during the transition. An archive data facility is, therefore, essential. But with a searchable database of content, organisations can remain confident that prior knowledge and insight remains accessible.

In a world where businesses rely so heavily on their systems, disaster recovery has become increasingly vital.

The bigger picture

As many profit-making businesses have begun moving away from these labour intensive, and wholly unreliable methods, NFPs have, in some cases, felt forced to continue. Understandably, the pandemic has further stalled this progress, meaning that exploring slicker options has been somewhat neglected.

But by never daring to dream, NFPs are missing out on a quicker, easier, and more accurate alternative which will save up to 40% of valuable time for finance professionals and stakeholders, each week. For a fixed, monthly cost, organisations can gain access to a secure, true-cloud accounting solution allowing transactions to take place anytime, via any device and with minimal effort.

Platforms specifically developed with NFPs in mind mean organisations need no longer be constrained by systems that are not fit for purpose, but can instead enjoy the benefits of a tailored accounting package which brings together a host of features to simplify even the most specialised of tasks.

And as technology moves forward, it’s vital that organisations are empowered to take advantage of what’s on offer. Recognising the value of the time gained, measuring the additional social value that can be delivered, and making a worthy investment in their teams and communities should always come first.

Paul Sparkes is commercial director at iplicit

Charity Finance wishes to thank iplicit for its support with this article

The Charity Finance Yearbook is the ultimate reference source for charity finance professionals. Produced by the Charity Finance editorial and research team it includes updates, advice and trends on accounting and audit, VAT and taxation, investment strategy, responsible investment and finance, risk, funding, performance and governance, law and regulation, HR and pensions, IT and property. Purchase online here.


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