Human nature is a funny thing. If given a choice most of us will take the easiest way out, even when it’s not the best way or gives the best results. The same can be said about anything free, including free church accounting software. People love free stuff – even if it’s not good for you.
Don’t get me wrong – I love free stuff, no strings attached. However, you still want to do your due diligence when selecting church accounting software. Just because it’s free, doesn’t mean it’s good for the church. An old saying comes to mind when reviewing any free offer – “there’s no free lunch”. In other words, even though it’s free, you will eventually pay somewhere. The only questions are when and how much?
Other facets when reviewing free church accounting software would be, will a free version actually work well enough for you? Are you going to need support? Are updates available with the free software? Should certain things not be used even though they are free? Is it truly free and without trade-offs? Does the free version actually save you time, not just money? Finally, are the same safety and security measures taken in comparison to a paid version? Let’s look closer at some of these questions.
Are You Going to Need Support?
Let’s assume at some point you will need support for the church accounting software. In the realm of accounting, it’s almost inevitable that a church will use support. How do you suppose a software company provides support and still keeps the product free?
The company could get creative. One way is to have a product they sell for a premium to subsidize the free product. They may sell worship software for a premium and then give away the church accounting software. Or maybe, they process online-donation and charge 4% on all monies donated to the church. These proceeds are then used to fund support for the free accounting software. That might work for a while until the support costs outweigh the proceeds from the online donations.
Free software business model breaks when support is needed
While getting sophisticated software for free is a novel idea, it’s impractical. It can’t be supported well, if at all. The business model breaks down when the software company charges 4% for their processing fee while the going rate is 3%. Most organizations don’t want to pay anything for a processing service let alone 3%, 4%, and so on. Although the church is getting the accounting support for free, more likely than not, they aren’t going to like the extra 1% in fees. People tend to look at the bottom, black and white number, and not take into account all the benefits which are harder to quantify.
As you can see, certain types of software, like accounting – need a support channel. Of course, this isn’t true with all software but specialty software like accounting, enterprise, CRM, and so on, needs more of an in-depth support channel. This need for support is the reason free accounting software simply does not work.
Are You Going to Need Software Updates?
Any accounting system worth using will have software updates. This is especially true if it includes a payroll system because taxes change monthly throughout the country. How do these updates happen when the software is free?
Software updates take a team of people developing and testing the software which requires resources. This is another reason free church accounting software doesn’t work – because updates are always required.
Is Free Always a Good Thing?
Short answer – No. Free items often have strings attached as discussed earlier, like ads or limitations that prompt purchases. Or they simply are not a good fit and it destroys your goals. Let’s explain that last one.
Getting something free isn’t always in line with your goals. The same can be said with free church accounting software. It can be free, but does it follow all the rules laid out by the IRS, FASB, and GAAP bureaus? More likely than not, it won’t follow these rules because the software company has no incentive to get them right when the software is free. Your goal is to have impeccable church accounting books. If your church accounting software does not follow the rules, then you will not meet that goal.
Does Free Church Accounting Software Save You Time And Money?
We know it saves money, but does it save time? Through your church software selection process you would have to determine this. Efficient data entry is a principle that is only achieved with a good user interface.
Simply, you want to take the least amount of time to accomplish day to day tasks. Let’s use a repetitive example like entering a family into the software. Using an efficient data entry system at one minute per family, it would take 6.66 hours to enter 400 families. For software that takes 1 minute and 15 seconds to complete the task, it would take 8.33 hours, almost 2 hours more. This is a big difference in total time, although the individual difference of 1 minute versus 1 minute and 15 seconds for each family is small. What does this tell us? Removing that 15 seconds from the data entry process may require a week or more of programming and design. That is a lot of development time spent to remove 15 seconds. Free software companies typically won’t put that time in.
Is Security Important In Free Church Accounting Software?
Security is an important consideration for any system – free or paid. It should be scrutinized thoroughly. Does the free software have similar safeguards as paid versions or do they at least have the safeguards that the church identifies as necessary? Security should not be taken lightly, ever. After all, it is one place that is typically invisible to the user and the least understood until something happens, which is too late.
Summary – Will Free Church Accounting Software Work?
The short answer is probably not. The church needs to comply with certain regulations or they can find themselves in trouble. Most churches would not want to sit through an IRS audit because their free accounting software failed to handle certain regulations.
Finally, how well does it handle the church’s day to day processes? Are they efficient and thorough? If the free church accounting software can pass all the tests mentioned above – then certainly the church should use it. In an honest review, we believe there will be faults in a free software solution for church accounting. Faults like data needed for IRS audits, security breaches, and missing important updates, such as payroll.