Campbell Rinker Survey ImagesIn 2009, Campbell Rinker, a firm that specializes in research for the nonprofit sector, conducted a survey into the use of accounting packages in the sector and their users' preferences. In collaboration with TechSoup, Campbell Rinker was able to analyze results from almost 4,000 responses ' from readers like you ' across organizations of different sizes and specialties. Below is a summary of the survey's findings, and we encourage you to participate in our forums discussions and give other users your insight. The summary report (PDF) is also available for download here.

First of all, organizations rate "system reliability" as the most important characteristic in their choice of accounting package. Regardless of their size, it's understandable that accounting packages are "mission critical" systems. Other characteristics organizations look for are, in order of preference:

  • Overall ease of use
  • Ease of data entry
  • Cost effectiveness
  • Reporting
  • Flexibility
  • Ability to track expenses/revenues by program/department

In addition, in terms of data integration with other software packages, respondents ranked the following as the ones with which it's important to integrate:

  1. Spreadsheet software
  2. Word processing
  3. Fundraising/donor management
  4. Email
  5. Payroll systems

While this set of responses may not be surprising, are there other products with which you use your accounting package? Are there specific products that are critical as far as data integration is concerned? Discuss here.

Like other types of software, accounting packages are also moving online. Five percent of the respondents of this survey are already using an online (hosted) accounting products, while 58 percent aren't interested in an online solution. However, of those who are tentatively interested, most would be willing to pay the same or slightly more than they pay now for an online service that has the same or more features than their current solution. Given the mainstreaming of hosted solutions and software as a service (SaaS), use of online accounting software will grow as more options become available. For nonprofits, benefits like location and hardware independence can make managing the books much more convenient and efficient.

Would you be interested in an online accounting solution? If so, which one(s)? What are the advantages and disadvantages you see in using such a solution? Discuss here.

As far as training and technical support options, respondents overwhelmingly preferred printed manuals or how-to guides and online trainings (either as e-Learning or pre-recorded videos) rather than live trainings or other media. 51 percent of orgs liked being able to call the company for customer support issues, while 25 percent like instant messaging or chatting, and 15 percent preferred email or online support like forums or a website. At the same time, more than half (56 percent) of nonprofits with revenue under $1 million hadn't contacted the technical/customer support department of their accounting product, and only 19 percent of this some group contacted them once in the past twelve months.

Have there been times when you needed support for your accounting product but couldn't get it from the provider? Have you tried other avenues for help, like general community forums and websites other than that of the software company's? How about general product training? How did you learn to use your accounting product? Discuss here.

At TechSoup we recognize the importance of accounting solutions and resources for the nonprofit sector, and work with partners like Intuit, MYOB, and Sage who generously donate their software to the sector. We encourage you to read the articles in our Learning Center like A Few Good Accounting Packages and An Introduction to Grant Reports, and visit our Technology for Fundraising forum to discuss and ask questions about your organization's accounting packages and processes.

Kevin Lo | Senior Program Manager, | a part of TechSoup Global