Accounting is most certainly a challenge for non-profit organizations because of the impetus on them to save as much money on operating costs as they possibly can. This usually means making do with a low number of staff and then asking those few staff members to do jobs at which they are not experienced. Accounting is usually one of these jobs. Non-profit accounting is left to a single member of a small staff who, even if knowledgeable, becomes quickly overwhelmed and misses important things. In an organization where transparency is key, this is a huge issue.
One of the biggest challenges within non-profit accounting is taxation. Taxation must be done, even by those non-profits with special tax-exempt status, or charitable organizations. The fact of the exemptions just makes the processes more complicated and full of different regulations that also make the job of your account more difficult. Any problems with reporting and the special status, as well as the credibility of the organization, is lost.
The best solution is to consider the money spent on hiring an accounting firm specializing in non-profit accounting as an investment. It is a good idea to leave this important aspect in the hands of professionals because of the two reasons mentioned above. Non-profits and charities are responsible for public money and so must be transparent, and mistakes are very likely to be made when something this important is left with inexperienced or overwhelmed staff.
Experience is another reason to hire an accounting firm that specializes in non-profit accounting. You want an expert helping you. Accountants understand the ins and outs of financial reporting, taxation, and audits better than anyone. They can see that you are in compliance with every regulation, and they are prepared for changes when they come. Look carefully at the accounting firm that you hire to see that they work regularly with non-profit organizations and will work for you. They should know specifically about issues affecting you, and they should work with you. A firm that knows non-profits can also help and advise you on all the financial and non-financial concerns that will affect your bottom-line, such as hiring senior staff and choosing board members.
You may think that, as a non-profit organization, it would be irresponsible to outsource your accounting, but in fact, it is a very profitable thing to do. The non-profit accounting specialists understand how to make your organization more cost-effective, and become better managed, which will result in greater compliance, less problems, stronger confidence and therefore more donations.