Monthly Archives: October 2011

Church Software for Districts and its Churches.

The evaluation of district software for churches should take into account the various tasks performed at each level of the organization (e.g. Church, District, Regional, National, World Offices).

Capabilities of District Software:

  1. The ability to move a church from one regional office to another.
  2. Communication capabilities both within a single entity as well as between each entity throughout the organization.
  3. Communication is based on roles within the organization – e.g. regional secretaries versus church secretaries.
  4. Adding church plants or multisite campuses.

Using one software system throughout the organization helps simplify day-to-day operations

If the software is capable of handling data for individual churches as well as multi-site organizations, users do not have to learn more than one system and data entry is more consistent. The use of a single system throughout the district also allows each church to uniquely structure its own chart of accounts, contribution funds, etc. while allowing the district office to combine the data from each church into one consolidated report.

For example, a district office could collect the membership data from each individual church and consolidate it into one report to analyze the organization as a whole. An individual church would also be able to track several youth or memorial funds that would show as one youth or memorial fund total on the district office reports. The ability to customize separate structures for both levels is crucial.

Why is all this important?

First, the software needs to tackle head-on the various issues each entity is facing at their respective levels. Having one system reduces errors in reporting, ensures a high level of data integrity, increases speed in data gathering, and prevents the users from having to learn and manage five different systems.

We will use an orchestra to illustrate this concept: if each musician was playing a different musical composition would you expect a well-tuned concert? Certainly not – all the musicians have to be on the same page of the same song. The same is true when it comes to the technology used in churches and throughout the entire organization – shouldn’t the same software be used so your ministry can operate in-sync like an orchestra?

Second, providing data to the district office gives an early indication if certain churches will need help financially or within their ministry staff. It can help to determine which entities are flourishing with donations or declining. Is attendance increasing at one location but not the other? All of these and many more questions are answered objectively with the right software in place.

Third, with a one-system approach, confidentiality across the platform is essential so one church cannot view another church’s records. The system must also allow churches to opt out of sending data to the district office. Most district software packages fail in one or more of these areas: membership, financials, data gathering and confidentiality. But you can rest assured because there is an answer for district offices → IconCMO+ software!

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Church Office Software – What Makes it Different?

Church office software has various shapes and sizes. It is appropriate to distinguish between “church software” and “church office software”.

Church Software” – is any type of computer software specifically designed for use by a church”. Church software can encompass different types of software such as: bible verse, media production, donation, accounting, mass emailing, sermon, worship, and music software.

Church Office Software is one of the sub types of church software. Typically, the secretaries and financial staff use it in the office. Examples of this type of software are membership, contribution, accounting, newsletter generation, office communication tools, word processing, and spreadsheet software. The software is the heartbeat of the organization. For example, churches can still do their mission if they did not have music or media production software. Conversely, if they do not pay their bills or record donations the church doors will not be open too long.

Church office software is so vital to the mission of the church in keeping it running and the doors open, would it not be beneficial to ensure you choose one that fits your organization and still obeys government guidelines (e.g. IRS, FASB, etc). If the church could choose one thing to be correct within their organization what would it be? Most churches would choose to have the financial books correct. After all, if the church sings the wrong song on a Sunday the IRS won’t be there on a Monday issuing a violation.

Most churches realize the importance of correct financial books; however this area of ministry comes second to all the other activities in the church. When reviewing software, churches focus on the integration of membership or building a community. While these are important, they will not keep the organization out of trouble like having correct financial records. Choosing software that keeps you in check with government agencies first while building a community is the best way to start looking at software packages. It is safe to say that if the software does not have accounting included it is not worth looking at as a complete Church Office Software.

Churches some times fall into the trap of software longevity. Icon Systems can honestly say a company’s longevity in the market is not a good indicator of following the guidelines for financial reporting. If the church is unsure we recommend they do their due diligence and investigate the financial reporting requirements. A good start is to review the blog about “Fund Accounting Methods Compared“. The post discusses scenarios of incorrect guidelines according to FASB that are used in the church software industry.

While all church software is important, if certain software is not used the organization can suffer dire consequences. An organization can lose their tax-exempt status when audited with incorrect financial statements according to the FASB guidelines. Whenever there is uncertainty about proper financial reporting of money within a church, distrust spreads within the organization’s members. An organization using a FASB compliant system like IconCMO cloud base solution can be assured they are within guidelines.


Church Software Jargon: Legacy System

Legacy System defined:

An old technology, computer system, or application program that continues to be used, typically because it still functions for the users’ needs, even though newer technology or more efficient methods of performing a task are now available. (Wikipedia)

System that has been in existence for a long time and that continues to be used to avoid the high cost of replacing or redesigning them. (Pearson Education)

Most legacy systems use client/server architecture. This means the program has to be installed on each computer and a local server is needed to network the software and data. Hiring an outside IT person to manage the network is typically necessary.

We’re not trying to give Legacy Systems a bad reputation…

Legacy systems are often times great programs that still achieve what they were designed to do. Many Icon Systems customers still use our legacy system, Revelations. And there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. If you currently use a legacy system, just be aware of fresher technological improvements; they may be able to accomplish the same tasks more efficiently – which will save you time and money. Again, we don’t want to discourage you from purchasing a legacy system such as Revelations because it really is a great program and continues to effectively meet the needs of many churches. We just want to make sure you weigh your options carefully when choosing a legacy system for your church management software because it is a long-term investment.


Church Software Jargon: SaaS

Definition of SaaS:

Software as a Service (SaaS) is software that is rented rather than purchased. Instead of buying software and paying for periodic upgrades, SaaS is subscription-based, and all upgrades are provided during the term of the subscription. When the subscription period expires, the software is no longer valid.

SaaS can be implemented with local applications that expire after a certain time, but it is ideally suited for cloud computing in the Internet and Web browser-based applications, which can run in any desktop or mobile device, no matter the operating system. In this model, the applications are maintained in the service provider’s datacenter, and every time users launch their browsers and log on, they get the latest version. In addition, the data can also be stored in the provider’s datacenter.

This approach has been touted as the wave of the future, many believing that local applications will be history down the road. However, legacy architectures tend to last longer than expected, and the road could be long. (PCMag)

Church Management Software as a Service

The popularity of using the SaaS concept with web-based applications has grown due to the increased availability of broadband internet access. Paying a monthly or annual subscription allows you to access your data anytime, anywhere you have internet access while letting someone else host the software, install updates and enhancements, store and safeguard your data, perform backups, and deal with any outages.

SaaS is like living in an apartment: you pay rent each month based on how much space you occupy (e.g. a three-bedroom apartment would cost more than a studio.) The management company is responsible for resolving any problems such as when the heat stops working or if the appliances need to be updated. And if you decide to move, you can take all of your furnishings and belongings (church’s data) with you.

Many churches are quickly adapting this concept because they can spend less time and money on Information Technology (IT) while getting immediate access to the latest technological innovations. Also, the financial risk you take is lowered significantly; instead paying the hefty license fee associated with traditional software upfront, you only pay for what you use and the subscription fee can easily be incorporated into your budget. And if, for some reason, the software is no longer meeting the needs of your church – you can take your data with you. For more information, read our post on security and data storage.


ChMS Technical Jargon Introduction

Now you can understand technical mumbo-jumbo without getting an IT degree

Every industry has a set of unique words, expressions, and acronyms that sound like gibberish to outsiders. (For example, the above sub-heading uses IT as an acronym for Information Technology.) Understanding the marketing puffery and technical jargon used in the church software industry without an experienced IT guru handy can be likened to visiting a foreign country without knowing how to speak the local language. This is a series of installments defining terms used in the church software and non-profit accounting industries.


Church Bookkeeping Software vs Church Accounting Software

Church Bookkeeping Software vs. Church Accounting Software

Is there a difference between bookkeeping and accounting? If so, what is it?

Businessdictionary.com Definitions

Bookkeeping:

The systematic recording of financial aspects of business transactions in appropriate books of account.

Accounting:

The practice and body of knowledge concerned primarily with:

1.    Methods for recording transactions
2.    Keeping financial records
3.    Performing internal audits
4.    Reporting and analyzing financial information to the management
5.    Advising on taxation matters

It is a systematic process of identifying, recording, measuring, classifying, verifying, summarizing, interpreting and communicating financial information. It reveals profit or loss for a given period, and the value and nature of a firm’s assets, liabilities and owners’ equity.

Accounting provides information on:

1.    The resources available to a firm
2.    The means employed to finance those resources
3.    The results achieved through their use

Summary

From the lengthy definition, it is obvious that accounting is somewhat more complex than bookkeeping. Basically, bookkeeping is the tedious task of entering the amounts and dates of revenue and expense transactions (i.e. contributions and purchases). Accounting is the bigger picture: an accounting system uses the bookkeeping information to create reports that can be used by decision-makers and for tax purposes.

Most church software applications accurately handle the bookkeeping part: tracking member donations and spending, even the printing or emailing contribution statements to members and generate giving total reports. Unfortunately, many of these applications fall short when it comes to the most important aspects of having accurate accounting records and providing the reports required by the Financial Accounting Standards Board. For more details, please read our post Fund Accounting Methods Compared.

Conclusion

All businesses, for profit or not, need accurate bookkeeping software to avoid negative consequences (e.g. fines, damaged reputation, having to close the business). These repercussions tend to be magnified for nonprofit organizations; they face losing their tax-exempt status, and the loss of credibility can prove to be devastating since the general public tends to hold churches and nonprofits to higher standards.

Icon Systems understands the value of accounting standards, and we make every effort possible to provide you with the tools necessary to ensure your church is in compliance with FASB guidelines. We even hired an outside CPA firm to certify our software, IconCMO, meets these standards!


Using IconCMO+ as Denominational Software

Many denominations require individual churches to report specific information to a regional or national office.

The head offices need the ability to generate member, contribution, and accounting reports for each individual church as well as the entire organization. The headquarters for the denomination are interested in the statistical tracking of the membership and financial health of the organization. Compiling information across the entire denomination can be tricky. For example, each church may have its own set of contribution funds or campaigns. The reporting for the district office itself is also different from that of a regular church; since the main office does not typically hold worship services, it has no need to track attendance.

IconCMO+ includes denomination-specific features for congregational reporting. Denominations can pull data from their churches like membership status and special date totals (e.g. births, baptisms, marriages). Using IconCMO under the IconCMO+ platform, each church can send a more detailed report to the denominational office that lists ethnic origin, member transfers, lost members, and attendance totals.

The IconCMO+ platform was developed by Icon Systems in 2006 to meet the unique needs of regional and national denominational church offices.

Using a cloud-based church management system gives denominational offices the ability to instantly communicate across the organization. All of the information is updated in real time so church leaders always have access to up-to-date figures. This denominational software package includes a fund accounting system to ensure each church complies with guidelines set by the Financial Accounting Standards Board (FASB).

The easy-to-understand reports, graphs, and charts offered by IconCMO+ help denominational offices make informed decisions, ensuring the district is run as effectively and efficiently as possible.

Here are just a few ways you can put this denominational software solution to use:

  • Track and forecast revenues and expenses
  • View a snapshot of the organization’s overall financial health
  • Create a visual representation of weekly giving averages
  • Monitor attendance for individual churches as well as the entire district
  • Assess statistical information for both active members and visitors
  • Find out the number of new marriages, baptisms, confirmations, etc.
  • How well are certain mission campaigns doing

IconCMO+ also accommodates the specific needs of multi-site organizations, church plants, sister churches, and even mergers.


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