Art of Being Cheap: DIY Software

For years and years I’ve played around with trying to create an Excel-based accounting system. Here’s what I’ve learned: DIY is at best functional but is almost never user friendly. Few if any have the time and skills to build a good system that is usable by anyone but the creator.

Does that mean you should never try to create your own system? No! In fact, I often build templates to share with folks. I even put together another version of my Excel-based accounting system (linked below). Keep this in mind: besides the time you’re spending to create, you need about an equal amount of time for:

  • Polishing: You’re going to need time to make it look nice. You’re also need to make it easy to use. A lot of times when I build a spreadsheet, I highlight the cells that people need to fill in. Sometimes I lock the ones I don’t want changed.
  • Documenting: This is the least enjoyable part of the creative process. You either spend your time documenting (writing instructions for use), or you spend twice as much time answer the same questions over and over again.

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Merging Accounts in QuickBooks

One of my pet peeves: old accounts cluttering up my financial reports. As the ministry or business operations evolve, this is naturally reflected in the chart of accounts. The problem is when you don’t know how to clean it up. I walk you through cleaning up old accounts through merging them.


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How can you handle donor-restricted funds in QuickBooks?

I’m still working in my 30-day free trial of Non-Profit QuickBooks Online. One of the first challenges I’ve helped churches work through is how you handle all those church funds. I’ve seen two good solutions: 1)Track it all in the Equity section or 2)Track it in Equity AND Other Income. I show you this in the video below.

As an after thought, I wonder if it would work to set them up in the Liability section? Would this be better? It might help the church leaders see the obligation related to holding these funds.


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How do you track donations in QuickBooks?

Churches might avoid QuickBooks because they think they will need a separate system to track donations. Most church accounting programs have a module for accounting and a separate module for keeping the giving records. For years, the rumor was that you could track giving records in QuickBooks…and that rumor is true! I played around in QuickBooks and changed some settings, and it worked pretty slick. For very large churches, they may need a more robust system like Fellowship One or Church Community Builder, but for the majority of churches, that’s not necessary. They don’t need a system to track and communicate with members. They just need something that will give them a statement for each donor.

Below is my quick and fairly successful attempt at tracking donations in QuickBooks:


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  • Nothing useful…sorry

Is QuickBooks a good idea for churches?

Church treasurers rarely change. If you’re elected church treasurer, that’s pretty much a life sentence. Church treasurers are usually very constant and reliable people so chances are, once they find out what works best for them, it isn’t changing until the end of their life sentence. So, when there is a change in treasurers, a lot of churches…and the new treasurer…ask, “What are my choices for church accounting software?”

Most church accounting software is fine, but there is always a learning curve. How many accountants or bookkeepers are trained in Church Windows or PowerChurch before becoming a church treasurer? I would guess that number is probably south of 1%. Probably the vast majority of them have never even heard of any specialized church accounting software. That’s why I encourage churches to consider QuickBooks. Shorten the learning curve with QuickBooks. Here’s more on this:


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