Richard Armiger looks at financial software with churches in mind.
I wonder how many people struggle with their church financial accounts?
Maybe because they are having to juggle information in spreadsheets or maybe on paper armed with a pen and calculator. Well this month and next we have decided to explain some of the software options that are available to assist you in the management of financial information and accounts.
This month I will be taking a stroll through a couple of packages of standard software that is available from your average high street (or more likely out-of-town) IT Reseller.
The first thing to say having used and looked at a range of financial software packages is, whichever package you choose, you will still need to have a reasonable amount of financial knowledge, both for the initial setting up of the software and the day to day entering of information.
That being said, once you have mastered the ins and outs of the software, if you choose the package that is best suited to your needs then, the generation of reports for those church meetings or committee meetings becomes relatively easy.
So what packages are available? This is where the fun starts as there is a wealth of financial software available to you and even within a single product there are often several variations depending upon the various add-ons that you require.
Rather than trying to cover all of the options I am going to take a look at a couple of options that are readily available. We will be looking at specific account packages designed for Church and Charity use in a future column – the main advantage of these bespoke pieces of software is that they will cover any unique aspects of account requirements under the Charities rules and regulations.
The first of these is Sage software. Sage offer a range of different software depending upon your needs (and budget!). My suggestion would be to opt for their Sage Instant Accounts packages as this is the cheapest in the range of accounting products and would suit the needs of many churches. I use this software for my own business and find that it is relatively simple to use, once you have got to grips with the way that it handles the various financial transactions.
Sage Instant Accounts
Sage Instant Accounts provides you with a ‘Bank and Cash Book’ which enables you to keep track of your activity in you bank (or various) bank accounts, print statements and move money between accounts.
The software uses standard Sales and Purchase Ledgers to enable you to manage you income and expenditure. If you find the thought of getting to grips with a Nominal Ledger daunting then whilst this forms the heart of the software there are various wizards and an Accounts Analyser to help demystify the processes for you. You are able to look at your current financial position immediately on screen or instantly compare your financial position this year with the same position last year.
The software provides Customer and Supplier accounts so that you can track information for the people that you deal with on a regular basis. This may be a useful feature if you are hiring out your church halls or if you have regular maintenance on the church building or premises.
The creating and printing of invoices is very straight forward and again a must if you are hiring or letting your premises. If you opt for the more expensive version Sage Instant Accounts Plus you can set up more than one user on the system enabling more than one person to work on the accounts.
A new feature is the ability to send information directly to Microsoft Office products such as Word and Excel enabling you to view and reformat any information should you need to do so. If you employ people such as caretakers and cleaners for you church then adding on Sage Instant Payroll will enable you to electronically produce any payslips and track the information required for PAYE and NI contributions with all of this linking back into you main accounts software.
Sage provide good information on their website for their products and the minimum hardware/software requirements for running their software. Visit them at www.sage.co.uk.
All in all Sage is a good reliable package. Sage software prices vary depending upon where you purchase the software. If purchased direct from Sage: Sage Instant Accounts is priced at £109.79 and Sage Instant Accounts Plus is priced at £169.36. If you need the Payroll software then the Sage Instant Financial Suite is available from Amazon.co.uk for £116.35 - buy here - and includes the accounts and payroll functions.
The next package that I want to talk about is a package called MYOB, mind your own business. This software is available for both Macintosh and PC platforms which gives it an advantage over SAGE which is PC only. So for those of you operating Macintosh computers this may be the package for you.
As with Sage MYOB offers a range of packages depending upon your requirements. The range starts with a MYOB Business Basics and then progresses through to MYOB Accounting and MYOB Accounting Plus. MYOB Accounting Plus has the added advantage of multi-user capability which may be required for some churches depending upon how they work their accounts.
As with Sage there are a number of standard ‘charts of accounts’ which can be selected to match your accounts requirements. MYOB operates a ‘Command Centre’ window from which you can select the type of transactions or tasks that you want to carry out:
You will need to understand the Accounts List before you start entering information into MYOB and The Accounts List is simply a list of account categories for all the different income, expenses, assets and liabilities that your business deals with. For example, you may have different accounts for room bookings, telephone and bank charges.
Once you have checked that you have all of the necessary account categories set up you are ready to start entering information for your church accounts. The software is in some ways easier to operate than Sage thanks to the Control Centre interface and the flow charts that show you each stage of the process for each type of transaction.
MYOB Accounting has built in functionality for dealing with Payroll and gives the ability to change the layout of various forms and reports.
MYOB can be purchased direct from www.myob.co.uk and the prices are as follows: MYOB Business Basics - £78.34, MYOB Accounting - £243.16 and MYOB Accounting Plus - £360.66. These can also be purchased through Amazon at reduced prices. MYOB is a good alternative to SAGE and its multi-platform ability adds some weight to reasons for why you may choose this software.
At the end of the day MYOB and Sage both give you the same kind of functionality the main difference is the interface and different names for the various accounting terms.
Rather than provide you with a list of features the best advice is assess your account requirements, check on the respective websites for these packages and where available download a ‘Free Trial’ of the software to see whether you can get to grips with it.
There are other packages available but this article does not give me the scope to cover these. I am aware of groups and churches that have made use of Microsoft Excel for their accounts, and where the accounts are reasonably straightforward and you have a treasurer who understand the ins and outs of financial accounting this may well suffice.
Other cheaper options that I have known to be used are Microsoft Money, which is intrinsically designed to manage your personal finances, but with a bit of tweaking here and there, and again for simple accounts structure, can be used to good effect.
My basic advice is that the more complex the accounts the more likely it is that one of the ‘heavy-weight’ options. As I said at the start of this article we will be covering bespoke software for churches which will include software from Data Developments who provide a range of software packages for churches finance and administration.
Richard Armiger runs his own training consultancy and media production company, Armadillos, and is a Co-Editor of eChurch Active. Tel: 0845 2268507 or vist www.armadillos.biz