Suggested criteria to use in selection
Adapted from Accountancy Software Challenge, 1996. More work to be done!
So what was it that make our needs different? Disregarding any thought of larger charities (e.g. Save the Children or Cancer Research), we came up with three areas. Your comments are welcome.
Sector Specific Criteria
1. REPORTING AND ANALYSIS
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?
SORP (Statement of Recommended Practice) makes certain principles essential for registered charities in compiling annual accounts. Can the package satisfy these, and can reports during the year reflect the principles where appropriate? This requires good analysis facilities to feed into the report ‘extraction’ routine.
Even for small charities and voluntary organisations which aren’t registered, there will be pressures from funders and others who will be increasingly familiar with SORP formats. The need for management reports very different from standard business formats, with complications around multi-funded projects for instance, makes this area important in judging.
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.
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.
Obvious, but commercial companies can justify investment in terms of better financial management and therefore improvements to the ‘bottom line’ more easily. Smaller voluntary organisations are less likely to be in-house computer or finance experts, increasing costs where the package requires a lot of setting up.
A. Ease of Use
B. Adaptability (for changing needs), upgrade path
C. Robustness (doesn’t crash a lot, and doesn’t corrupt data if it does)
D. YEAR/PERIOD END PROCEDURES
In our experience this can make the difference between pleasure and pain in using a package. Some insist on complicated ‘clear-down’ procedures, others have no means of closing off a year (or month) to late alterations, which can confuse reporting or even audit preparation.
E. KNOWLEDGE BASE
This is mainly for organisations big enough to employ finance staff. In recruitment, is there a large enough pool of people out there who will have some idea of how to use the package, without a long induction period or expensive training? Are you severely limited in who will be able to re-jig reports or compile annual accounts? Will the package be around for some time?
To develop further/add
A well-featured package should nowadays have:
– ability to hold bank accounts details for suppliers, ready for electronic payments (e.g. BACS).
– bank reconciliation facility (manual definitely, and possibly interface with electronic bank information).
– variable VAT rates (minimum of 10), but may be ignored if not registered for VAT.
– job costing and/or project management add-on, which may be capable of adaption to track restricted income and expenditure.
Useful for most volutnary organisations:
– analysis levels
– reporting flexibility
– import facilities: specific packages, ODBC or OLE
– export facilities: ditto
Downsides/limitations to check:
– demo version: what operating system is it being run on, what add-ons or extras are included to get the functions you are interested in
– known sector clients or other comparisons