When you started your organization, you probably had a goal in mind, a mission that inspired you, something you wanted to offer to the market, or a way to improve your community. You were probably less excited about some of the day-to-day administrative work required to run an organization – human resources, legal compliance, accounting, government filings, etc. There are companies you can hire to do these functions for you. Is it wise to outsource them, or are you better off doing it in house?
It will depend on your organization’s circumstances. Is one option or the other cheaper? If you’re a small organization, do you or your staff have the time and expertise to do the work yourself? Even if you do, would you be more effective if you could free up your time to focus on other work, such as getting more grants and contracts, or serving more clients? It may or may not be a straightforward answer, but here are some factors to consider when you’re thinking about outsourcing your accounting.
Financial Savings: An outside bookkeeper or accountant can often do the work more cost-effectively than hiring someone in house. You don’t have to pay for benefits, payroll taxes, vacation time, or maintain office space, a computer, etc. for an employee. You may also pay less in audit and tax fees if your accountant keeps your financial records in better shape than you would on your own.
Time Savings: If you farm out the work, you’ll free up your time to build your organization, providing more services, networking, and building and strengthening relationships in the community.
Quality of Work: You may not have training in accounting, or you may not be financially-minded. If you struggle to maintain accurate records, hiring a professional accountant will ensure the quality of your financial statements and reporting. They stay on tops of accounting trends and best practices and will be able to make suggestions for how to improve your processes.
Distance and Availability: It’s harder to work with someone who’s not physically in the office. You can’t just walk over to their desk and ask a question, or hand them a project to do right away. You can manage this by having effective communication channels but there will always be delays at times, since they work with other clients and need to manage competing priorities.
Control: Because the accountant doesn’t work for you, you’re less able to manage how some processes are handled. A good service provider should still provide a high-quality finished product, but if something gets lost in the shuffle or a deadline is missed, you have less direct oversight about correcting a problem.
Security: Depending on the nature of your organization, your financial information may be sensitive. If you have information that needs to be protected, e.g. under HIPPA requirements, make sure the accountant you hire has practices in place to ensure security.
Neither in-house nor outsourced accountants are the right answer in all cases. Smaller organizations, and those with complex financial processes or reporting needs, should consider hiring an outside professional with the right skills. If you decide to outsource, here are some best practices to keep in mind:
- Look for someone who has experience in your sector and has worked with similar organizations in the past.
- Get price quotes from a few service providers to make sure you’re paying a reasonable rate.
- Set expectations at the outset. Make sure they know what you expect of them, which accounting processes they’ll be handling, deadlines, etc.
- Communicate any regulations or oversight you’re subject to, e.g. HIPPA, required federal or state filings.
- Have effective communication channels and oversee the work the accountant is doing. Don’t just run on auto-pilot; review reports and financial statements, discuss any red flags, and stay on top of your own finances. It’s easy to not pay as close attention when you’re not doing the work yourself, but make sure you know how well you’re doing financially so you can plan for the future and keep your organization healthy.