Accounts Packages

Introduction

Based on a round-up of software suitable for voluntary organisations which was started in 1996, updates include a major revamp in connection with an article in NGO Finance (March 2000). A lot of the issues tend to be put in terms of the charity SORP, which requires tracking of Restricted Funds plus a Statement of Financial Activities rather than a Profit and Loss account. However, most of the same issues apply to any voluntary organisation with project funding. See our Software Intro page for more explanation on this and software trends.

All software runs under Windows unless stated otherwise. Note that consolidation amongst suppliers is growing – contacts, package names and availability may have changed recently.

Budgeting

Many voluntary organisations will use spreadsheets to help them put together budgets. However, these do have problems (see below), and putting budgets into an accounts package is often time consuming. So there is some space for specialist software.

Checking Spreadsheets

Spreadsheets are often used for creating budgets, producing tailored management accounts (with data linking through ODBC or similar) and perhaps grant or project tracking. Not generally recommended for any but the smallest/simplest organisation for bookkeeping.

As well as the rawness of the basic screen format putting many people off , there is huge scope for errors to creep into spreadsheet design. For example summing functions which miss out lines, or links between pages which pick up the wrong figures, for instance. Error checking isn’t easy, although there are some tools available which help – we haven’t got current links so do a web search.

Accounts for the Mac

We have been asked on various occasions to provide more info on accounts packages for the Apple Mac. Unfortunately, there is a limited range available and none with a sector specialism as far as we know. You can try:

  • Do$h Cashbook – see below.
  • MYOB is no longer available. Mamut, who have bought the business, have released AccountEdge and AccountEdge Plus.
  • My Business has now got a Mac version. See Band 1.

Open Source Accounts

At time of writing (Nov ’03), there isn’t really any open source accounting software suitable for small to medium organisations. GNUCash is for personal finances, while SQL-Ledger is web/server based so for the high-end. Both are American. There are supposedly projects in progress, but its likely to be some time before anything useful appears for UK non-profits.

Update June ’06 – we note that Turbocash seems to have become a bit more established as open source – see ‘Other possibilities’ under Band 1 below.

Band 1 – Entry level

Finance Co-ordinator from Data Developments ‘software for churches and charities’, has been around since 1986. Designed to cope with Fund accounting, SOFA reporting, etc. but not VAT. The double entry bookkeeping convention is visible but doesn’t require prior knowledge. £159 for an organisation-wide licence, at autumn 2013.
– Data Developments, Wolverhampton Science Park, Stafford Road, Wolverhampton, WV10 9RU, phone 01902 824044

DO$H has become part of Mamut – their Cashbook (PC and Mac) is still available. The non-VAT Lite version appears to have gone but still provides a simple receipt and payments package, with a neat export facility (produces an exact replica of reports in spreadsheet, via CSV file) allowing report tailoring. The small business version is recommended by The Princes Trust and Lloyds TSB for commercial start-ups. £29-50 at Jan. ’09 – trial version available to download.

Kubernesis no longer supply their software, written specifically to work with Charity SORP accounting requirements, but will support existing users.

Paxton Charities Accounting With a background in providing accounting software for armed forces service funds, which now have to comply with the charity SORP, Paxton Computing has released a SORP accounting package for wider use, starting from £195 for single user (autumn ’07). It has some nice features, such as Gift Aid management in the Donations section, configurable ‘favourites’ buttons and up to 8 different VAT rates, as well as SORP reporting built in. Plus the type size adjusts automatically with the window size, making it good for those with poor sight. We did find some rough edges in the review copy but annoyances rather than significant issues. The lack of a sales ledger given the good VAT facilities is a bit odd (apparently on its way), and the report export functions could be easier to use (no general export function). Typical user: smallish charity with a need for Fund accounting and someone (treasurer?) trained in traditional bookkeeping.
– Paxton Computers, 15 Kingsway, Bedford, MK42 9EZ, phone 01234 216666.

Quick Books Focus now (2017) on online version, but desktop edition still available, and may be adequate for smaller charities. Following text may be out-of-date! An amazingly complete package for around £250 – just add payroll support and you have everything a small organisation could want. You can categorise costs (and income) in two ways (Customer Job, and Class) which could be adapted quite easily for SORP requirements. VAT rates can be customised. Navigator screens are easy to follow, while the alternative drop down menus suffer from too many options. Export facilities (to Excel) have been much improved in recent Pro versions. As Reports can be tweaked quite easily, most needs can be met within QB, though a SoFA would take time to set up. A customised edition for UK non-profits did appear but is probably no longer available (advanced budgeting, membership, donation tracking and fund accounting features). Don’t get confused (in non-UK reviews) by the American QB extension called Nonprofitbooks which won’t work here. Typical user: small organisation with no finance staff.
– Sales phone line 0845 606 2161. Get a demonstration version, and if you like it, phone/pay by credit card and get a code to turn it into a fully working version.

Systematics Standard edition including payroll, usual price £175, is offered free to charities and the required £95 annual support fee includes any software updates. It doesn’t have the Cost Centre analysis features of the professional edition, which many would want, but a 40% charity discount makes that only £135 for the usual set of modules (Sales, Purchase, Nominal and Cash Book). Work is being done on making SORP reporting more straightforward.

TAS Books now part of Sage. Haven’t had a chance to look at the actual product for a while, but for its price, very flexible and integrates with Microsoft Office. Slightly more sophisticated than QuickBooks, and has gained various UK awards and accreditations. Now has Sage import facilities, is due to develop BACS (electronic payment) and has already demonstrated e-commerce facilities via XML web-based protocols (eBIS). Starts at £150 for single user (incl VAT + p&p), with a 60 day money back guarantee. Now part of the Sage company. Typical user: Small organisation with someone doing finance part-time.
– TAS Software, phone 0845 245 0220, email: sales@tassoftware.co.uk



Other possibilities

The Big Red Book (based in Ireland and available in Gaelic). Screen layout and reports are based on the traditional manual ‘red book’, so anybody familiar with that approach will find this very easy to use. Not sure analysis will be up to the needs of many charities, but if the idea sounds attractive, take a look. Starts from £95, and have said they will give discounts to registered charities.
– 1 Clonskeagh Square, Dublin 14, Ireland, UK phone 0161 926 8822, email: bigred@iol.ie

My Business is an integrated, easy-to-use, Bookkeeping, Diary/Project and Contact Management program written for small businesses. From £39-99 to £149-99 at spring 03, plus support from £39-99 to £69-99 , it is good value. But analysis is limited, and doesn’t appear at all tailorable. May be useful to very small organisations, especially if the non-finance facilities fill a gap on your computer. Payroll module available.
– My Business Ltd, Churchill House, 12 Mosley Street, Newcastle, NE1 1DE, phone 0845 1 20 30 40, email enquiries@mybiz.co.uk

Omni Accounts no longer available in the UK? (there is a South African website).

TurboCash is released as ‘open source’. It can be downloaded from Sourceforge for free.

Band 2 – cost up to £1,000

Sage Line 50 Probably the most widely used package in the sector, but this doesn’t mean it has any particularly relevant features. It is more that it is widely known and available, and has been around for sometime in various guises. Rudimentary department analysis, still has quirks such as 3 sorts of date fields with different default values, and not very friendly report writer (at version 6). But ODBC means you can do ‘live’ links to a spreadsheet such as Excel. Typical user: ‘professional’ bookkeeper and spreadsheet capable accountant or treasurer, to do monthly reporting. Basic cost, without invoicing facility, £395. 30% charity discount.
Sage, Sage House, Benton Park Road, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, NE7 7LZ, phone 0800 447777.
– See Suppliers section below for charity specialist resellers: Intelligent Solutions, Avant-Garde.

Access Accounts – Foundations See Band 3 – Horizons – for fuller details. This is largely a cut-down version of that, with limitations on analysis levels and length of code lists, but still can build up via extra modules, including Project Management, at only £100. Basic cost – £595, 25% charity discount. Note, autumn 03, that a ‘charity accounts production solution’ has been produced, ensuring charity SORP compliance, with full funds analysis and extensive annual report info. Typical user: cash-strapped organisation bent on growth.
– Contact Access Accounting for resellers (make sure you get one with relevant knowledge). The Old School, Stratford St Mary, Colchester, Essex, CO7 6LZ. Phone 01206 322575, email: info@access-accounts.com. See charity web pages. Also Edinburgh office, phone 0131 317 7700, email: info@access-scotland.co.uk, and Dublin, phone 01668 4991, email: accessac@indigo.ie

Pegasus Capital Gold Good analysis features, built-in report writer, strong commercial pedigree, various add-ons. Typical user: small to medium organisation with some commercial activity. £800. Web site Sold via resellers.

Band 3

Costing more than £1000. Analysis much better than Bands 1 or 2. Allow for some consultancy/installation costs. Ongoing support (preferably including upgrades) is a good idea, otherwise changes in requirements or regulations could be problematic. All are ‘modular’: Purchase and Sales Ledgers, and usually Cash Book, are separate. Prices are for single user unless otherwise stated.

AccountView Team 2 user Nominal/Sales/Purchase Ledger system for £1395, Project Costing £995. Unlimited number of companies, cost centre accounting. Loads of other modules, such as Activity Based Costing, Transaction Import (to link with membership, for instance). This European package seems to have dropped the UK version at summer 2015 – the website redirects to VISMA in the Netherlands.

Access Accounts – Horizons A fully featured package with good reporting, analysis and import/export facilities, but quite a reasonable starting price and winner of awards. As many chart of accounts (= companies) as you like, effective use of Windows and good drill-down. Latest versions run on 32 bit systems Windows or PowerPCs (Macs). Typical user: small to medium organisation with ambitions (as can build up facilities or move on to Dimensions – see High-End). £1495 for single user bundle, including Sales and Purchase ledgers, Nov 99, also 25% charity discount. Extra modules and users at £450 each, including Project Management, KPI. Also Transaction Broker module, allowing interfaces to be set up with just about anything. Crystal Reports Pro is extra.
– Contact Access Accounting for resellers details – Charity/NFP web pages. The Old School, Stratford St Mary, Colchester, Essex, CO7 6LZ, phone 01206 322575, email: info@access-accounts.com. Also Edinburgh office, phone 0131 317 7700, email: info@access-scotland.co.uk, and Dublin, phone 01668 4991, email: accessac@indigo.ie

Arrow Financials Comparable with Access Accounts, but claimed to be cheaper, starting at £400 per single user module with support charged at 12.5%. Fully scalable and upgradeable, ODBC and SQL compliant, can define own input and print screens. Used by a number of high profile non-profits in its native Australia. Not sure of current UK distributor with sector experience (at 2014).

Pegasus Opera II, 32 bit software, with 2 analysis ‘segments’. With a new new Advanced Nominal Ledger option (Mar 03) with nominal account, cost centre, project and department analysis, plus user definable views, this may now be a suitable product. Typical 10 user system £2500 for system manager, plus £600 per module (Mar 01). Phone 01536 495000, email: mailbox@pegasus.co.uk

Sage Line 100 Unfortunately this is not a big brother version of Line 50, but a completely different accounting package. It does have an import facility for Line 50 and increasingly the Windows versions look similar. Has greater analysis capabilities (3 character Department and Cost Centre codes, as well as alpha-numeric nominal). Check for relevant add-ons such as Enterprise MRM – see Membership software page. Note that a complete re-write of the program using Microsoft .NET architecture was announced March 03, which will have impact on the modules – it also adds the electronic eBIS-XML financial document exchange system. Typical user: medium-size organisation wanting safety but some flexibility. Financials ‘bundle’ starting from £2500 including Crystal Reports, 10% charity discount.
– See Software Suppliers list below for specialist charity resellers, including Intelligent Solutions (have developed an Excel-based SOFA reporting facility), Avant-Garde.

High End

With a 2 user special ‘bundle’ for Great Plains Dynamics now starting at £4500, the cut-off from Band 3 is becoming less clear. At this level, it is important to know what modules include and which you are likely to need in the near future. They all require careful setting up to realise their potential and can be extensively customised for different users and areas of activity. Some larger audit firms have specialist consultants, although whether they liaise with their charity experts would need to be checked.

Access Accounts – Dimensions (the next step on from Horizons, under Band 3). From £3900. Client/server version with great flexibility in configuring screens, field names, etc.

Exchequer A full suite of business modules including Commitment Accounting and e-Commerce. See their Charity page. Customers include The Samaritans, Wildlife Trusts, Compassion in World Farming.

OpenAccounts The package used by professional accountancy body ICAEW, PDSA, St Vincent de Paul Society, Hospitaller Order of St. John of God (Ireland) and others. Now part of Advanced– see their charity pages.

Microsoft Dynamics (previously Great Plains) Was somewhat taking over from Sun on the more sophisticated/medium to large charity requirements before it became part of Microsoft. Designed totally for the Windows environment and SQL based. Seven analysis segments, plus FRX drill-down reporting tool. Touchstone is a reseller – see Suppliers list below.

Navision Financials Used by Woodland Trust, Archbishops Council, Diocese of London, amongst others. Now part of Microsoft Dynamics, so these contact details may be out of date: Elstree House, Elstree Way, Borehamwood, Herts, WD6 1SD, phone 020 8207 4141, email: sales@navision.co.uk

PS Financials Charity users include Save the Children Fund, Women’s Royal Voluntary Service. Stated strengths are: SORP and SoFA reporting, Automation of partial VAT recovery, Restricted and unrestricted fund accounting, Web reporting for trustees and remote users, Valuing volunteer input, Easy integration to membership, fundraising & other operational systems. Buy direct from the software authors. 7 The Forum, Minerva Business Park, Peterborough, PE2 6FT, phone 01733 367330.

SAP Business One (Baby SAP). Broadgate Infonet reckon they can supply a 2 user solution installed for under £8,000 to the Charity/Not for Profit sector (at Feb ’09). SAP Business One can report on Restricted, Non Restricted Funds, SOFA and SORP, and has up to 5 different levels of analysis against one GL Code – project, cost centre, department, profit centre etc.

SunAccounts Very solid and well-respected package. Loads of analysis features, very powerful recording and reporting once you’ve got it set up, but does require that initial effort. Not for the novice. See Resellers listed under Software Suppliers below. SunSystems now part of Infor.

Well at the top end

Agresso, now part of Unit4. Clients include British Museum, Salvation Army, Wellcome Trust, Age Concern, Jewish Care. Pricing – dependant on modules required, though typically starting at £50,000 +, for an integrated solution. Phone 01275 377340, email: sales.support@agresso.co.uk

Exact

Accounting Software Suppliers

This listing of accountancy software re-sellers for specific packages was a separate page on the old VolResource site.

AccountView Resellers

– Rowanberry Consultancy Ltd, 37 Sandy Lane, Maybury, Woking, Surrey, email: rcl@rcl-systems.co.uk Website. They point out that “AccountView is suitable for charity organizations as it is a very flexible accounting package with the capability of users constructing their own summarized financial reports”.

Sage, Sun, Great Plains

Computercraft, a democratic business, has been reselling SunAccounts since 1987. Phone 020 7284 6980, email: info@computercraft.co.uk

Lake Financial Systems SunSystems reseller for more than 10 years. Various charity case studies (in pdf) on the web site. Stable Mews, The Beechwood Estate, Leeds, LS8 2LQ, phone 0113 273 9303, email: info@lake.co.uk

Sapphire Systems is another Sun dealer with charity clients. Head Office: 31 Lombard Street, London, EC3V 9BQ, phone 020 7648 2000. Also in Manchester.

Accountancy Software Introduction

Starting points

Community Accountancy Projects are useful resources, where they exist. One of the most active is Community Accountancy Self-Help (CASH) which operates in west London. Its web site includes a variety of factsheets which may be helpful.

User Groups

  • Sage Charity User Group. Sage Line 50 (which used to be called Sterling) is perhaps the most widely used in the sector, with Line 100 less popular but growing (perhaps for the membership and other useful add-ons available). The User Group is independent but serviced by Intelligent Solutions, who are specialist Sage Solutions Dealers. See Suppliers for contact details.
  • Sun User Group. Special Interest Group of Charity Finance Group – see Helplines/Professional bodies.
  • Great Plains Dynamics. Charity User Group run by Tate Bramald – see Accounts Packages.

IT survey

The Charity Finance magazine/Kingston Smith IT survey, undertaken April 1999 and published July with the magazine, found that Sage had over 40% of the accounts software market for those with turnovers up to £5 million, but no distinction was made between the rather different Line 50 and Line 100 Sage products (or indeed Instant Accounting). Sun was predominant in the £5 to £10 million range (over 30%), with a good showing in even larger organisations. Pegasus got an overall 6% share. On the other hand, 46% used none of these product ranges (no other packages mentioned in the survey report). Microsoft Excel spreadsheet facilities were used by a quarter to produce management accounts (as opposed to financial accounts used for audit purposes etc.) but Sun users didn’t need to resort to such ‘add-ons’.

Accountancy Software Issues

This section (previously a separate page on the old site) is based on a paper produced for Charityfair 96 – Accountancy Software Challenge, updated and extended. It covers:

  • basic terminology
  • why accounting in the charity/voluntary sector is different,
  • why accounting packages can be a help, but aren’t always,
  • relevant trends and future developments in software,
  • dilemmas in software choice.

Terminology

Every software supplier tends to develop their own use of words which can cause some confusion when discussing facilities or ease of use. In SunAccounts for instance, a Journal refers to the normal way of entering data, while this would be an exceptional item in many other packages. We prefer to refer to the process of entering a complete accounting record (e.g. NatWest cheque for £50 made payable to Kim Bloggs, for summer playscheme expenses) as a Transaction.

Chart of Accounts is the accounts structure, made up of account codes and/or names, and may incorporate further analysis (e.g. into Projects, Departments or Funds). If you are used to a Cash Book or other manual record with columns, think of them as the column headings, with Project analysis etc. requiring separate books or ledgers. Codes are usually numeric with the sequence being important in creating reports and setting a logic (although in isolation such codes can be meaningless). Some people prefer to have alphanumeric codes to make them more memorable, but not all packages will support this. Also called nominal coding.

Trial Balance If you don’t know what this is, for most packages you will need your auditor or other accounting expert to advise you on the Chart of Accounts and analysis issues.

Important charity finance terminology
– SORP (Statement of Recommended Practice). The accounting regulations as part of Charities Act 1993 brought this into effect from 1st March 1996 for all registered charities. This requires certain principles to be followed in compiling annual accounts. ‘Minor’ revisions due to be agreed summer 2000.
– SOFA (Statement of Financial Activity) under SORP replaces the Income and Expenditure Account (which was similar to, but not quite the same as, the Profit and Loss Account)
– Fund Accounting: Restricted, Unrestricted, Designated, Endowment.

What could a package do for you?

ON THE PLUS SIDE
Improve reporting, and therefore financial management
The complexities of providing appropriate financial information to funders with the ‘contract culture’, mixed and multi-funded projects and so on have already pushed up the demands in reporting. Then add increasing pressure from new charity regulations and greater public exposure of ‘poor management’ at the same time as needing to get every last penny work to meet the demands on your organisation! A good accounts package implemented properly can make a massive difference.

Banish arithmetical errors

It is virtually impossible with most packages for them to get ‘out of balance’. (However, processing transactions during a thunderstorm has managed this in my experience!) Reports should always add up, too.

Make record keeping more consistent
You can still enter a transaction against the wrong code, but a good package will reduce the possibilities and ensure that there is a reference and amount for every cheque or receipt. This does not eliminate all manual records, though. All vouchers will still need to filed, in a logical order, and details of what was entered to the package (and preferably by who if there are many operators) should be written on them too. This will help in tracking errors, in the audit and if disaster strikes, requiring re-entry of transactions.

Reduce audit fees
The above items should mean audit work is reduced, although how easy it is to extract detailed information from the package at the year-end will also make a difference (in either direction). And any hidden problems (see below) will count against this.

ON THE DOWN SIDE
Add another layer of mystification/hurdle to get over
Aren’t finance matters bad enough without having to learn how to use a computer too? With packages like QuickBooks aiming clearly at the non-accountant, the problem is much reduced. However, it still helps that you have some idea about how your finances work, and what end-result you are expecting to get out of the system. If this applies to you, crack financial confidence first.

Hide problems
Computerisation by itself won’t solve all accounting problems. If the person doing the books doesn’t understand what cheques have been written for, or how to do a bank reconciliation, this won’t help. The spurious authority of computer generated reports makes people more reluctant to challenge figures or ask what may seem a silly question. It is easy to produce SOME figures with an accounts package, but are they up-to-date, understandable, complete and based on reality?

Use scarce resources
See issues on cost. Buying, installing and setting up systems are obvious costs, but what about continuing support? Does this mean you have to pay for upgrades to keep up-to-date? Will you need expensive consultants if you change your organisation structure, to make the accounts fit?

Lock you into an unsuitable system
This is the one which should terrify you if you have started computerisation without adequate preparation. A badly set up system is worse than useless. It can make data entry complex, slow and inconsistent; reports misleading (without all the relevant data) and late; and mask the underlying problems, making them difficult to spot, clarify and correct. Huge sums of money can be lost, due to knock-on management inefficiency and in resolving the issue.

Make you dependent on software and hardware
Regular back-ups are essential, in case of computer failure, fire, theft, thunderstorm (see above) and sheer human stupidity. Make sure the package you select is easy to back-up, and institute a clear procedure immediately.
Once you’ve computerised, it is very difficult to go back to manual records if disaster strikes. You need to be able to get your accounts system reconstituted as soon as possible – do you have another machine you can use, or are you reliant on the insurers coughing up eventually?

How does the voluntary sector differ?

REPORTING AND ANALYSIS

Tracking Restricted Funds and reporting in SOFA rather than Profit and Loss format are key needs for registered charities, while project or grant management and measures of success not reducible to a ‘bottom line’ are common complexities. Concentrating on Cost of Sales and Gross Profit before Overheads in reporting structures, typical in accounts software, is not a helpful approach. What flexibility is there in report formats, and/or what facilities to produce reports to charity requirements?
To be able to report on Funds, projects etc.. it is necessary to have been able to have analysed the transactions to this level of detail, preferably as you enter them. Are there facilities to do this, outside of the basic account codes, or do you have to have a very long chart of accounts, which is difficult to manage and familiarise?
Can the package meet the SORP requirements, and can reports during the year reflect the principles where appropriate? This requires good analysis facilities to feed into the report ‘extraction’ routine. Or in practice, do you produce monthly management accounts in a way which makes sense to your budget managers and only want to produce to SORP format at the year-end, in which case getting the precise layout is less important.

COMPATIBILITY

Import facilities: There are a number of packages around dealing with specialist income areas: covenants, membership, relationship fundraising, rent accounting, investments. Transferring data directly to the accounts prevents errors in re-keying as well as saving time. However, you may not want a ‘live’ link, as it is good practice to do checks on data brought in to the accounts package from elsewhere (e.g. membership income by batch controls).
Export facilities: This is closely linked to reporting. If a package has enough analysis available, but not the reports, a spreadsheet (or possibly database) can solve this as long as the data can be transferred to it easily. This can also be useful in building cash-flow projections and ‘what-ifs’ around changing budgets or establishing new projects.

SALES

Credit control and sales invoicing are generally much less important. Some packages have limited options – will grant income have to be entered as a paid Sales Invoice, or as an ‘exceptional item’ through a journal?

VAT

VAT is not relevant to the majority, but is often a compulsory feature – work-round required (suggestions: ignore this data item; if not allowed to, treat everything as zero rated or exempt).
Where VAT is relevant, organisations often have to deal with ‘partial exemption’, where only some VAT on expenditure can be reclaimed. This means that VAT on central costs can only be claimed in proportion to VATable activities. Generally, an adjustment outside the accounts package will have to be made before the VAT return is completed.

COST

Commercial companies have finance as a central concern, so accounts software can easily be seen as an investment. For the charity trying to squeeze every drop of benefit from its income, this is harder. Also, resources to buy new, higher specification, computers are becoming scarcer for many smaller groups. There are less likely to be in-house computer or finance experts, increasing costs where the package requires a lot of setting up.

Trends

Utilities such as wizards incorporated with spreadsheets and databases make it tempting and quite easy for small organisations to do all their accounting and reporting within these, without the cost of an accounts system. The downside comes when dealing with growth and changes of personnel – such an approach may be unable to cope or impossible to understand, with resulting disruption and costs of starting again from scratch. Usable package start at £99, making this problem avoidable, although unexpected growth may still require upgrading software (and probably hardware if you need to get into the high-end client/server arena).

Crystal Reports, a powerful but fairly inexpensive (from approx. £100) report designer, provides extended capabilities for many packages. It can link data from a variety of databases and bring it onto one sheet, but does require a knowledge of the source data structure and is likely to be overwhelming to the novice.

Developments in Job costing/project management add-ons could help in project accounting, but can be complex to set up and use, and so tend not to be suitable for use by project workers looking to manage their own costs.

Looking ahead

With continuing efforts to topple Sage from its dominant market position, and the gradual exploitation of connectivity and 32-bit benefits of Windows, analysis and reporting should continue to improve gradually for the cheaper packages. Data ‘warehousing’ and web technology are also likely to have an impact. For larger organisations, centralisation of information into database ‘warehouses’ with access via web intranets is already starting to happen.

Sage reckons it will take up to10 years for small businesses to move to ‘online’ processing and filing of data – with the accounts package no longer sitting on your machine, but accessed via a (customised) web browser. Other suppliers have already demonstrated practical use of XML web-based protocols to do electronic processing of orders, invoicing and payments, which could quickly replace EDI (Electronic Data Interchange) whose cost and complexity has limited it to the big boys. Getting this to work initially could make those 5 page Y2K questionnaires previously required by large institutions, before you invoice for a single publication, seem trivial.

Put the two (warehousing and web) together, and perhaps we are looking at outsourcing large parts of the finance function for the smaller voluntary organisation as the way forward. Another possibility is a revolution in inter-action with branches or supporters, with summary monthly accounts potentially easily accessed.



Striking the balance

There is a dilemma of balancing cost, ease of use, underlying strength of software company and product, and facilities written specifically for the sector. The latter don’t come cheap, although Kubernesis provides real value for money if you are happy with its lack of pretty screens, and they and Blackbaud can give good phone support on charity accounting problems. How important is SoFA reporting, if you only use this format at the year-end? Or do you really need to track balances on Funds during the year?

The newer written-for-Windows packages, such as Access, provide impressive facilities for the money and have used the operating environment to good effect. If you understand what you are trying to get out and hence can put together an effective chart of accounts and analysis structure, they will serve well. On the other hand, the security of a product from world accounts software leader Sage may be a deciding factor, and any problems in using the fundraising or member management modules are unlikely to hit the core accounting activity.

Selecting Accountancy Software

A REALISTIC APPROACH TO SOFTWARE SELECTION FOR THE SMALLER ORGANISATION

Some updating from original 1996 version.

Basics Allow yourself enough time for the process. Read this document through, and come up with a draft timetable. Then add time for slippage (sickness, holidays, staff changes etc.), and some more for luck!

1 What are you trying to achieve?
1.1 Look at our criteria (on Checklist), and decide how relevant they are. Look at reporting and analysis in particular.

1.2 Think about SORP issues if you are a registered charity. How do you want to handle the more tricky areas – will you leave it all to the auditor at the year-end? If not, here are some items to chew on:
i) Allocation of (eg) bank interest across Funds – is this significant, and do you want to do it within the accounts, or export it to a spreadsheet first?
ii) Is the SOFA of importance? Will you (or your auditor) be making so many year-end adjustments (eg via an ETB) that the SOFA produced by the accounts package won’t help?

1.3 What are the problems with your current accounts system (manual or computerised)? Make sure you address these in the approach, but don’t solely concentrate on them. You need a rounded view of where you are going as well as where you are coming from.

1.4 Compile your list of needs, and be clear what is essential, and what can be worked round.

2 How much can you afford?
2.1 Be realistic, but do view it as a relatively long-term investment, which can pay back repeatedly in years to come, by being able to use your finances better. Include future maintenance costs in the assessment.

2.2 Don’t forget to look at initial and future training. Perhaps you can use an existing training budget here.

2.3 Check that the proposed software will run on your hardware adequately. This includes when importing or exporting data, which tends to require more memory. If you have to upgrade, cost this, and add in extra to allow room for growth and increasing expectations.

3 A standard, voluntary sector or bespoke package?
3.1 Software written specifically for the voluntary sector may meet your needs most effectively. But be aware of the smaller knowledge base and that the supplier is nearly always very small (and you may be reliant on their survival), as well as cost.

3.2 Bespoke software, written for your organisation, may appear to offer advantages. However, it is likely to be costly initially, be dangerous if the author is not totally professional, and make you even more reliant on individuals. It is rare that documentation (if there is any!) is adequate for future users.

4 What packages meet the requirements?
4.1 If there aren’t any, reconsider the above!

4.2 Make sure you do a good search. Ask other similar organisations what they use, ask co-ordinating bodies, find a current computer magazine survey, re-visit the VolResource web site for updates..

5 Check them out
5.1 Arrange to see the packages in action, in a realistic setting (eg another voluntary organisation) if at all possible.

5.2 Think of difficult questions. Sales people will tend to reel off a list of features, and glibly say that they will meet your needs. Get them to tell, preferably show, you HOW they will actually do that, and have some examples to run through. Reporting and coding/analysis are the obvious tricky ones. If they can’t do it themselves, as they aren’t technical enough, get them to come back with the solution later.

6 Decide best fit
6.1 What fits your wish list best? Be prepared to compromise, but be clear what those compromises are, and why (and how you are going to cope with any rsulting complications).

7 Work out practicalities
7.1 Can you negotiate a charity discount? Be given extra time to pay? Will you in fact have the cash in the bank to pay the bill when needed?

7.2 Timing is vital (again). The obvious target is beginning of a new financial year, to start using the package in earnest (‘go live’). However, this may be a bad idea – will you be able to cope with all the year-end sorting out at the same time? It also means that there is no fall-back if something goes wrong with your timetable, unless you completely re-think. The only real rule is go live at the beginning of a month, or perhaps a quarter if that is an important time period.

7.3 Parallel runs are strongly recommended, where you run both the new computerised system, and the old one (manual or whatever) at the same time, and compare results after a month or two. In practice, this level of sophistication rarely happens, but you do need to do some sort of dummy run, and get proof that your systems will work.

7.4 Who will install the package on to the machine(s). If you have a network, who will be responsible for this aspect? The package supplier may not know enough about networks, and your network consultant may have no idea how an accounts package needs to be set up. Get them to talk to each other (easier said than done)!

7.5 Who will set up the accounts structure? Who will enter initial data? Do you need the auditor’s involvement to ensure the structure will meet their needs, and the opening data is correct? Design/adapt your paper systems to make data entry and referencing easy.

Membership System Suppliers

Customer, and Client/Service User, Relationship Management systems, including web based.

Can be called CRM (customer/client relationship management) – CRM systems in general may now have sufficient capabilities, so we may include ones which are in active sector use. Also see Membership software intro page.

Noted Suppliers

This selection is not definitive, but generally we have seen their products in action or heard good reports. They should still be checked out properly by you.

  • Enterprise MRM (Membership Relationship Manager) links to Sage or Pegasus Accounts. Also Enterprise SCS for small charities. See Intelligent Solutions.
  • Blackbaud Raiser’s Edge for Windows Concentrates on fundraising. Now also own AppealMaster (produced by ngc4it) which is widely used in small to medium size organisations for fundraising, alumni management, membership and general contact management; can be accessed over the internet or standard telephone lines, works alongside Microsoft Office (it is based on Access). The European company is wholly owned by Blackbaud Inc, of the US. Single user version £5,000 (Dec 00). Phone 0141 575 0100, email: sales@BBEurope.co.uk
  • civiCRM is a web-based, open source, Constituent Relationship Management system which builds on open source software, namely Drupal, Joomla or WordPress. There are various UK suppliers.
  • Computercraft FirstPoint More of a contact manager, but Computercraft have been developing databases for the voluntary sector for 20 years, and RNID use it for their call centre. Off-the-shelf extensions cover Grant Management, Course Bookings and Subscriptions Management, amongst other tasks. Intelligent Solutions were favouring this over Accounting Answers (qv) when last we talked, bringing their expertise on working with smaller Sage clients. Phone 020 7284 6980, email: enquiry@computercraft.co.uk
  • contactLINK from ITsorted, a “low cost database designed and priced specifically for voluntary organisations”, launched 2006. The people behind it have extensive experience in the charity sector. Advanced version can handle events and membership. (Based on MS Access.)
  • iFinity (was Fisher Technology) Supply the iMIS* range of products (and integrate it with Sage, Access acs, Sun etc), over 2750 systems installed, Windows and Mac, starting at £1225 per product. Plus VCGenius content managed web site integrates with a wide variety of membership systems including iMIS. Phone 08712 880251
    *iMIS is an international product from Advanced Solutions International – European office phone 08705 887 700.
  • Progress CRM Windows based, can be quite cheap to start with. ProgressAnywhere is their ‘over the internet’ service. Part of Advanced Solutions International (ASI) – originally from Fisk-Brett.
  • Westwood Forster Visual Alms. Definitely the high end of the market, over 200 systems installed. Having started as purely for fundraisers, now handles grant-giving, membership, alumni management. Phone 020 7251 4890, email: info@westwood-forster.co.uk
  • Ebase FREE ‘An integrated database template for non profits that want to manage interactive communications with their donors, members and citizen activists’. Developed in the US with various American funding for registered US and Canadian non-profits. Based on FileMakerPro database which runs on Windows PC or Apple Mac systems. You may well want to check out what the position is on using non-American format postcodes and phone numbers, and you may need to live with dollars and funny dates too. They have introduced pay-for support.
  • KISS Contacts Based on MS Access, up to version 1.5 when we reviewed (Dec 00). Simple to use and cheap. Restrictions to selection and reporting are the flipside of this, but will be more than adequate for many small to medium organisations. Version 2.9 (at spring 2006) has extended the reporting, added Gift Aid, Direct Debits and Standing Orders as well as facilities to print badges and send emails. £100 plus VAT. Email: sales@kissoftwaresolutions.com

Web-based

This section was created when web features in membership systems were rare. Internet functionality is now pretty standard in most systems listed on this page.

Specialist Database Systems

Systems for contact, client or service user management (previously on a separate VolResource page).

  • CharityLog, although described as a web-based Contact Management system, revolves around a diary screen allowing the management of client related work e.g. booking a home visit, recording result, ensuring follow up, referral or other action. Will produce a variety of reports, for internal or funder use.
  • LampLight records service users, the work done with them, and produces detailed monitoring statistics, with Version 2 (March ’06) dealing with outcomes as well as outputs. Functions for second tier organisations have been added. Costs £10 per month.

Other sector CRM systems

Advanced Was Iris NFP, which itself took over/merged with a large number of software companies in this area. Check their membership and fundraising products website section – OpenEngage, NG and NFP Dynamics.

Previously the company or predecessors offerings included: CARE First membership system was installed in 1987, for large users such as RSPCA, RSPB, Save the Children; Charisma Clients included RNLI, Nat Housing Federation, Dogs Trust; Consensus focused around training course, membership administration and event management, with web-based .NET CRM application; Integra software, as well as membership, had events, examination and case management options; Profile Concept – a particular niche in learned societies and professional bodies, but not limited to this, and specialise in membership systems.

3Si Open Market manages member details at an individual and organisational level. Subscriptions, Events, Product sales. Can be web enabled and tailored to specific organisation needs. Phone 01782 713409, email: sales@3-si.com



APT Solutions Stratum Contact Administration Designed for associations, charities, clubs, institutions, trades unions; runs on Windows NT or UNIX. Facilities include Contact Management, Subscription processing, Covenants, Legacies, Campaign Management, Conferences & Events, Examinations, CPD, Help Desk, Merchandising, Directory Publishing. Managing over 8 million contact records (at spring 07). Phone 01952 214000, email: sales@aptsolutions.com

Ariadne Computer Systems Acquired by Miller Technology, April 2007. Customers for their membership system (AMS) include CAMRA, Royal College of Physicians, trade unions and friendly societies. Modules include membership, subscriptions, committees, events & venues; integrates with Microsoft Office and Exchange, uses SQL Server. Phone 01223 263243, email: mail@ariadnesystems.com

Avant-Garde Proclaim – as website now gone (forwards to Sys-Care) this software presumably no longer available. A donor and contact administration system, used by over 40 charities. From £750 for a single user (Lite version allows 10,000 records), developed with MS Access. Phone 020 8408 1590.

Care Management Systems, a division of CMAC Computer Systems, produce DonorFlex, which is mainly a fundraising tool. Phone 0121 458 7887, email: donorflex@care-data.co.uk

Data Developments ‘for church and charities’. Membership Co-ordinator (£129 at spring 2013).

Dataware Consultancy Centre Subscriber.NET (developed in MS.NET technologies) includes member/contact management, events, fundraising and gift aid, volunteer management, BACS processing. Linked to MS Office. Phone 01375 489820.

Decisions Express The usual membership management competences (look under CMS on the web site), but ‘unique replication ability’ catering for the needs of regional structures – regional offices can handle new members and get data verified centrally later (very crudely put). Phone 020 8441 9800, email: info@decisions.co.uk

Exact Abacus 3EX. Mainly for commercial order processing, but has list/membership management capabilities. Installed software (min 4 users) or ASP (min 50 transactions/week) approach. Phone 01772 455052, email: sales@exact3ex.co.uk

Icaris (previously JA Computer Solutions).

Miller Technology was set up to provide computer systems for the administrative requirements of membership-based organisations in the not-for-profit sector. Based on Oracle databases and online access, with customers handling from 5,000 to 2 million contacts/members. Contact Philip Crouch, Sales Director, phone 020 7843 9724.

Oomi “CRM for anyone anywhere” – integrated Engagement Management System for the NFP sector, combining CRM, Website, Collaboration, Engagement & Social Media. (Previously as Centrepoint Computer Services, provided a Membership Management System as part of the Target range, with events and publications management modules too.) Phone 020 8390 8899.

Pangaea Consuling supplies systems based round Aptify – membership, events, susbcriptions, fundraising etc.

PowerDev Circle, a membership system for the smaller organisation, no longer features on their website, but they do have sector customers for their bespoke database consultancy and development services.

ProTech Computer Systems Pro-7 ‘Designed in conjunction with some of the UKs largest membership associations to handle diverse information management requirements, including membership, contacts, fundraising, marketing, events management.’ Phone 01922 722280, email: enquiry@protech.co.uk

Rubicon Accelerator. Phone 01276 706900, email: sales@rsuk.com

SDA Software (originally suggested by a VolResource subscriber) provides online leisure management software, which includes sports clubs membership management.

Senior Internet Ltd supplies RiverCRM, a CRM specially developed for membership, NFP and charitable organisations, as well as e-vol for the voluntary sector. They also provide membership websites through their CMS, River, as well as CPD. Contact Commercial Director Ben Mactaggart on 0115 838 9555 or project@senior.co.uk

SystemWise MemberWise Facilities offered are: Membership Records, Subscription Calculation & Collection, Membership Administration, Club Accounting. Phone 0131 339 8304, email: general@systemwise.co.uk

ThankQ Clients include Comic Relief, Concern Worldwide (Ireland). Has a Small Charity Edition? Phone 01509 235544.

Touchstone CRM.

TSG Tribe CRM for membership organisations.

Velum has disappeared into Godeltech, taking all traces of MRS (Membership Relationship System) with it (was RSS/Rivington Street Software/TISL).

VeryConnect includes non-profit management, stakeholder engagement, and giving back. UK based team, starts from £150 a month.

Workbook In use by a variety of charities etc – case studies on the website (at Oct ’14) include Coeliac UK, Chartered Accountants’ Benevolent Association, Index on Censorship, Regen SW.

Membership Software Intro

Also see: Membership software systems.

Preparation

Be aware that often the suppliers are also the authors of the software, and are reliant on a remarkably small number of employees or consultants to come up with the goods. They may have good intent, but you need to be sure they can deliver on your requirements. Will they be around for a few years yet? Ask to see the software doing what is essential to you, with some serious data loaded; get a reference and follow it up; don’t rely on promises but get it in writing with timescales and compensation for any failures which are down to them. Will they update key facilities quickly when regulations change (e.g. charity tax reclaims)?

Do they have a User Group – how independent is it, and can you speak to somebody from it? Is the company really only familiar/interested in a particular type of membership organisation eg trade associations? Some may only have a peripheral interest in the membership side – they may have only one (or even no) client using it for the software for this purpose. Don’t be impressed by how many systems have been installed, but try to discover how many are actually in use, and fully implemented. Above all, be clear from the start what you are looking for – what is crucial and what is wishlist, and don’t overlook the former due to fantastic but marginally useful extra facilities.

There is a multiplicity of offerings out there, and it is not always easy to tell why some cost a lot more than others to implement. Overall cost of implementation and ongoing support is very important to assess in advance – there can be a load of ‘extras’ which end up being essential to get the results you want. There is also always something that ends up being impossible to do, or requires major changes to the way you work. Consider whether you would be better using your limited time elsewhere, and buying in membership management. Things are getting better slowly, as software houses get to grips with how organisations operate in practice.

Customer Relationship Management software (CRM) developed for commercial business is improving and getting cheaper. If your requirements are straightforward, these may be worth a look.

Related software

Address/data capture and entry

This needs a fresh trawl of what is available – but should be easy for you to find too!

Technology: Software

IT training is on the Technology Services page.

Digital Resources

There are/were various sector sites with some coverage of useful software/technology. Key ones include:

  • Computanews from Lasa in Storify format, ended Sep. 2016?
  • Connecting Care A Department of Health project delivered by Lasa, designed to help charitable providers of adult social care make the most of information and communication technologies. It includes a round-up of useful resources.
  • Technology Trust’s blog.
  • Our CharityBlog links page has examples of various social media based and innovative charity sites, and a few resources.

ICT Developments

This section, and connected IT pages, have largely been retired with the VolResource reboot, Dec 2013. We’ve left some links about Open Source, but these need an update too.

Open Source, use in the sector

Sourced from a discussion on UKRiders list, June ’06:

Creative Commons is wider than open source software, working to create new forms of open copyright.

Software Development Advice

Warning: free advice in this area can be very costly! Developing software from scratch, or even assessing and implementing existing packages, based on a volunteer’s personal approach, often with little or no documentation, can lead to short-term gains but medium to long term disasters.

Miscellaneous Specialist Software

For software written for specific types of organisations, check out the appropriate umbrella organisations listed on Professional bodies or Areas of Concern.

Charity tax reclaim software. Often part of membership software, but also see specific programs listed on our Tax Reclaim page.

Churches and hospices. See the IT for Charities website for software lists.

Community profiling/appraisals. See Community Resources page.

Contacts management As it is often connected, this is included under membership software.

For infrastructure or umbrella bodies, see Membership software. There are also a number of other databases written for Councils for Voluntary Service – the Merlin system was one, developed for Basingstoke Voluntary Action, but no longer any info on their website? See our Local contact page for your nearest CVS, which may know more.

Lobbying See Campaign Resources page for what is happening on email and other communication facilities.

Volunteer management software – see Volunteer page.

Data Management

Care, client, case, advice management

  • AIMS (Advice & Information Management System) is produced by LASA.
  • Caseworker Connect from Blue Door Software.
  • Social Care Network Solutions (was CHL Systems).”SCN provides the CHARMS system which is the most widely used by independent adoption, fostering and children’s residential providers. The Adults version is also widely use by adult care providers both statutory and independent across the UK. CHARMS manages all aspects of case management, securely and online.”
  • The open source CiviCRM has a case management option, as well as events, members, campaigns etc.
  • Gallery Partnership’s Apricot online data management system for charities – clients, services, performance.
  • careLINK from IT sorted: A database for organisations providing help and support for patients, and help and assistance to the elderly, disabled and disadvantaged.
  • Legal Case Management system for use by not-for-profit legal advice centres. For case follow-ups, including client consultations and court events. Developed as open source, with no cost to download, first released in 2004.
  • Real Systems, a social enterprise connected with St Mungo’s Broadway, designs and manages client monitoring databases for voluntary and public sector organisations.

Contract and Grant Management

  • Benefactor from Gallery Partnership is designed for grant-making organisations.
  • Keen Systems has developed a system to manage institutional funding contracts.


Specialist Software Developers

  • Appropriate Software Foundation Software systems for web site content management, contact relationship management, project management, and various other activities, delivered as application services. Eg Contact Relationship Management system for small group of organisations.
  • Real Time Information Systems ‘is an Information Technology partnership specialising in designing and developing database applications, delivering in-house training and performing data analysis for the voluntary sector as well as manufacturing’. Email: mail@rtis.co.uk
  • The Information Works Associated with Co-op Systems, specialising in web databases and strategy. Unit 4.09 Bondway Business Centre, 71 Bondway, London, SW8 1SQ, phone 020 7793 0677, email: team@infoworks.co.uk
  • Keen Systems Bespoke solutions for the sector, including the “interactive template for Full Cost Recovery”.