Of Software and Secretaries: Lessons for New Organizations

I have been helping with a number of startups. 

  • Kingdom Channels
    • Began as bookkeeper and learned QBO by reverse engineering.
    • Identified the need for a fuller CRM and set up Kindful for donation and contact management. 
    • Identified the need and led the adoption of Microsoft Teams and SharePoint for systematizing our file storage and communication.
    • Identified needs for a more robust database for relating to staff, trainees, and churches. Oversaw design and implementation of a new database in sync with Kindful and custom apps built through the Microsoft Power Platform.
    • Specialized software and Saas selection
  • Anabaptist Perspectives
    • The pain story on accounting and donor records. We thought we didn’t have money for accounting software at the beginning and I spent way to much time on various “budget” solutions.
    • Mixed results with integrating donor software etc with our website.
    • Moved content management from spreadsheet/folders/approvals to Notion database
  • Local businesses
    • Set up Quickbooks and custom analysis spreadsheets
    • Payroll migration to Gusto
  • Wellspring Mennonite Church
    • Treasurer duties: I started totally green and had no concept of accounting software, so I had lots of pain debugging Excel spreadsheets.
    • Church website: Again started green, fortunately had a collaborator who knew a little more. But we started with self-managed WordPress hosting when a little more Saas would have served us well.
  • Starr Mountain Academy (launching fall 2024)
    • I will see if I can do better on this one.
    • Seriously considering the Zoho One suite.

Get software for your needs.

Software, especially software as a service, feels expensive. Staff time is expensive. (And volunteer time is equally precious.) Software that will do what you need it to do is important. Cobbled together solutions are a real liability and changing software solutions later can be a real pain. My story with Anabaptist Perspectives exemplifies that pain. 

On accounting we went from a simple spreadsheet, to personal finance software, to Aplos as combined accounting and donor software, to Quickbooks and separate donor software, still using Gusto for payroll. 

We have processed online donations through Paypal buttons, Donorbox, Aplos, CiviCrm, and GiveWP.

Some transitions are necessary as needs change, some come from initial ignorance of true needs, but other times software changes happen because we don’t want to spend the money on software as soon as we should and limp along too long.

Simplify, streamline, and build in procedures

What do you need to know? How easily can you know it? Does everyone know where something belongs? Does everyone know how something should be documented? A sprawling mess comes easily to an organization, especially one with multiple part timers and volunteers.

File organization, versioning, and record keeping, might not be the most exciting topics for entrepreneurs. But some creative discipline in all things data organizing can save enormous headaches.

Define procedures and administrative responsibilities for everyone 

Most procedures and data organization require everyone to use it. Nobody is exempt from putting their work and records in the official system.

Maintain adequate secretarial support 

Computers have changed a lot of things. Everyone can type, which makes dictating letters to secretaries unnecessary. Myriads of other tasks have been made easier by technology. But an organization still needs people to close the loops and keeps things flowing. Even with software, procedures, and holding everyone accountable, there is secretarial work to be done.

As one of my colleagues said, however good your system is, “It is always easier to use no system.” His point was that, we can’t just build systems we have to train users, and for more complicated processes, we may need one person in charge of the system and managing the checklists.

Multiple mindsets are needed for secretarial and operational purposes. Even if someone could do both, it is hard to be tuned into both at one time. Secretarial and administrative matters require their own dose of wisdom and the filling of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 6). Happy is the organization that recognizes this early. 

Appendix: particular software needs

  • Accounting: QuickBooks is standard and QuickBooks Online is generally your best bet, unless you are physically based out of one office and/or have multiple sets of books to keep. The software is pricey but registered non-profits can get it essentially free through Techsoup. If you don’t know your way around accounting, get QBO and some basic training. Every bookkeeper or accountant will be familiar with it and there are lots of good software integrations. If you know your way around a bit. There are other options that can be better for complicated situations.
  • Accounting accessories: Depending on your situation you may want separate (but integrated software for payroll, employee expense tracking, accounts payable, time tracking etc.) If the built-in features of your accounting software cover your needs, that is the simplest. For payroll it is worth comparing Gusto or competitors with QuickBooks payroll for your given situation. Gusto has a little richer feature set and prices are often competitive. (Gusto takes care of local taxes on all price plans whereas QuickBooks only handles that on their highest tier.) The Quickbooks integration for recording payroll in your accounting is decent. If you decide to use Gusto, use this link and we both will get gift cards after you run your first paid payroll.
  • Non-profit CRM and donation software: If you are processing any volume of online donations, you want those online donations to automatically flow into your accounting and automatic receipting. You also want donations automatically tracked for generating end of year summaries, keeping track of tax deductible and non-tax deductible funds etc. A system with integrated CRM and online donation forms is a must.

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