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What are the top bookkeeping software options for non-profits?

Diane Robbins's Profile

best 2013 non-profit bookkeeping software


Topic Expert
Keith Perry
Title: Director of Global Accounting
Company: Agrinos, Inc.
(Director of Global Accounting, Agrinos, Inc.) |


It depends on your scale. For mine, I use the desktop version of quickbooks. It has plenty of horses to deal with our business. It is simple and cheap and works.

I dislike (strongly) the online version of QB; in a year you will have paid for several desktop copies, and it is much, much less robust unless you shell out serious $$$ for the might-actually-work version. There is *no reason* for the online version unless you have your accounting in several which point you have a very different problem.

I've tried Wave and Freshbooks, and both are, well....just don't bother.

Beyond a certain scale I've not had direct experience. One of my colleagues who does accounting for 20+ not for profits (plus a few dozen startups) uses QB-online as the primary tool. She pays for the full-full version with lots of seats and shares them with her clients. This works extraordinarily well from a cost/scale perspective. Notably you can't do this yourself; you need to work with an accountant who does this for you. The benefits are the QB subscription is a small fraction of what you would pay, and they (the accountant) do the heavy lifting for you for a (very reasonable) fee. If you get to the point where you need to hire an accountant, I'd outsource it to the pros...the 15% vig that is their profit is more than made up for by efficiency (expect the cost to be 1/3 to 1/2 of what it would cost you, not including your rent).

Sarah Jackson
Title: Associate Editor
Company: Proformative
(Associate Editor, Proformative) |

Diane, take a look at this free report here at Proformative:

"Five Trends in Nonprofit Technology"

Best... Sarah

(Director Member Education ) |

I worked in the arts as the general manager of a medium sized production company. We tried other software but Quickbooks did work best. Exception is that it does not deal with some of the tax exceptions and grant situations you need to record. Where I am now (a larger non profit) we use Great Plains, but it is not great.

I too would outsource this and many other positions which are not core. The ability to scale expenses up and, more importantly, down is invaluable in an industry where revenue is very volatile. There have been a lot of very established arts companies that had to close their doors since 2008. The other advantage is this group of contractors can keep up to date with the changing standards and software and the small/medium not for profit does not have to make this investment.

Topic Expert
Wayne Spivak
Title: President & CFO
LinkedIn Profile
(President & CFO, |

I was bidding on a job for a $24M not-for-profit. They had budget creation woes and couldn't get the right CFO.

I was told they outsourced the entire department, so the actual software decision wasn't an issue anymore.

That's what I was told, but I don't believe that outsourcing your basic accounting functions is always the best alternative. Sometimes, penny wise is dollar foolish!

What software is used, what reports or ad-hoc queries can be made, timeliness are just some of the factors one needs to be interested in and look at prior to outsourcing.

Paula S
Title: Owner/Bookkeeper
Company: Small Stepping Stones
(Owner/Bookkeeper, Small Stepping Stones) |

Hi Diane,

As a bookkeeper for non-profits & for-profits, I advise that you meet with your tax preparer to help determine the software appropriate for the size of your non-profit. Anonymous was correct that QuickBooks works well for a smaller non-profit than a larger one with more reporting needs.

You do not need an accountant or CPA to setup QuickBooks for your non-profit using the Unified Chart of Accounts (UCOA), training or regular bookkeeping. You can enlist the help of a Certified QuickBooks ProAdvisor or other bookkeeping specialist (Certified Bookkeeper, etc.).

The software options for smaller non-profits range from completely free (e.g. Wave, Outright) to paid (e.g. QuickBooks, Sage, Xero). A bookkeeper and/or accountant who understands the nuances of non-profit accounting & GAAP should be able to create systems enabling the reporting you require, regardless of the software used, even if you only use a series of spreadsheets.

Most software offer trial versions & I'd suggest using the trials to examine the interface & the intuitive layout of the software. Additionally, Tech Soup offers deep discounts to 501(c)3 corporations on a variety of software, including QuickBooks and Sage. Sage was formerly known as Peachtree & offers divisional financial reporting and allocation within the software. You can also achieve this in QuickBooks, but it's a manual process.

Good luck with your search!

Topic Expert
Barrett Peterson
Title: Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis
Company: TTX
(Senior Manager, Actg Stnds & Analysis, TTX) |

The size matters greatly. Quickbooks Premier has specialized industry options, including non-profit with fair functionality. The Uniform Chart of Accounts can be downloaded and modified as needed before importing into Quickbooks. Non-profits over $10 Million in size may want to consider more robust options, and will certainly need todo so by $20 Million. Specialized needs for integrated investment management can change the answer.

Helen Rosen
Title: President
Company: Direct Approach Solutions, LLC.
(President, Direct Approach Solutions, LLC.) |

I worked for a non-profit as Finance Manager using QB desktop. It works well. However, everyone here by-passed the most important part of non-profits - the CRM system. We used QB to house all client contact information. It was a nightmare, and something I highly do NOT recommend. Debits are debits, and credits are credits and just about any decent accounting system will handle that. But what you need to look at first or at least at the same time is the CRM system, and how it will integrate with the accounting software.

Helen Rosen

Lynne Taylor
Title: Principal
Company: Cloud Accounting Services for Enterprise..
(Principal, Cloud Accounting Services for Enterprises (CASE)) |

@Helen, excellent point! I'm leading a project implementation of at a non-profit right now and thankfully they recognized the importance of the CRM and that the database for their operations was of primary importance for their organization. While I'm a CPA, the last thing we are worrying about with this implementation is the accounting system! As you and @Paula have correctly pointed out, the application for the "back end" isn't as important as how it will integrate with the front end and "middle" where operations occur and the majority of the users live and do their work. Smaller non-profits can use, which has tight and seamless integration with Salesforce and other cloud-based CRM solutions, and robust tracking and reporting for the fund accounting-type requirements of most non-profits. Larger non-profits may want to look to, which is built right on the Salesforce platform and basically enables Salesforce to become a complete ERP solution. When it comes time to convert this particular non-profit from their tired, non-cloud and non-mobile accounting application to keep up with the mobility and flexibility of their Salesforce CRM app, at least they will know they have some good options!

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