Make Your Bookkeeping More Efficient

One of the most common questions I get asked is the one that is most difficult to answer. “How long should the accounting take?”
(This is the transcript from my Facebook Live video on Feb. 14, 2018)

I hate to sound like an attorney and respond, “it depends”, so I’m going to give that same answer in a much longer way.

Let’s start with a church office in a small town. The church administrator is doing double duty as the bookkeeper. As she’s entering the donations from the Sunday service, the phone rings. She picks up the phone, answers the phone and turns back to the donation list and tries to remember where she was. Just as she gets back into the rhythm, a volunteer bursts into the office.

“I have to have a check right now for the gardener.”

Wanting to be helpful, our administrator cuts the check and tracks down the pastor to sign it. The phone is ringing when she gets back to her desk and the next thing she knows four hours have gone by and she hasn’t even entered half of the donations.

Sound familiar?

Train. The most important tip I’m going to give you to become efficient at your bookkeeping is to train your co-workers, volunteers, and anyone else who is always interrupting you. Just like when you are training a child or a puppy, you have to be firm and consistent. 

What do I mean by train your volunteers? Explain that you will only be paying bills on Wednesday (or whatever day you choose), so if they need an expense report reimbursed or a vendor paid, they will need to have the report or invoice approved by the program director or pastor and in your office by end of day Tuesday. No exceptions.

I warn you, this will be painful for the first two weeks, but stay strong. By the third week, everyone will be trained, they will understand and follow the rules.

Hide. The second tip is to block out one morning (or afternoon, if you aren’t a morning person) to focus on the most important bookkeeping tasks only.  If you have other jobs, ask a volunteer to cover for you on that morning. If the phones are the problem, let them go to voicemail. Turn off your cell phone and notifications from Facebook, Twitter or other social media. You may or may not be able to get all of the work done in that block of time but having that dedicated time to focus on the most important tasks will save you aggravation and stress.

Automate. Let’s embrace technology where we can! Set up your accounting system so the credit card and bank transactions are automatically fed into the system and design rules to automatically post them to the correct accounts and classes. Send invoices or a donor thank you via email as soon as you enter the data. Design reports that will automatically update and then email them to your board after you’ve reviewed them. Allow your donors to pay via your website with a payment processor that will interface with your accounting system.

Your financial statements will be more accurate if you can spend more time reviewing the data than entering it.

Simplify. If one of your processes is taking a substantial amount of time, ask yourself, “do I really need to do this?” Can I design a slightly different report that will come out of the system automatically? Are you tracking 20 different programs? Does anyone look at that information at that level? Can you consolidate it?
If you are thinking, “No way can that happen”, I must disagree, because I’ve done it. By converting my church from a cumbersome accounting system to QuickBooks and following the steps above, I helped them reduce the necessary bookkeeping time down from 3 and a half days a week to less than one. (except at year end, of course). That was substantial savings and the board now has more accurate information on a more timely basis to make decisions from.

Lots of small donors take more time to track than a few big donors. If you need to track 20 programs, it will take longer than 5. If your system is not automated, data entry will take longer. So when someone asks, how long should the accounting take, I’m afraid the answer still is, “it depends”, but you can do it more efficiently.
For more tips, tune in next week, where I’ll explain how to use accounts, items, and classes most efficiently in QuickBooks. Also follow my AccountantBesideYou page for information about an upcoming seminar for pastors, treasurers, and church administrators. The other Accountants Beside You, Vickey Boatright and Eulica Kimber, will be joining me for a two-day seminar at the beautiful North Carolina coast in May. We’d love to see you there!

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