I swear, I am not this stupid.
November 15, 2008 9:12 AM   Subscribe

I'm in over my head, and I just need a system that will help me do some very, very simple accounting.

We have a 501c3. It's doing >$5,000/year in donations/income, and I need to file our taxes. I have attempted Quicken for my personal finances and just hated it. I tried Gnucash, and I feel like it's written in another language. I am at a loss and just need to figure.this.shit.out. A little more info about what we do:
  • Shows are free. People make donations as they come in or leave.
  • For a flat donation, patrons can have reserved seating and they can order catering at an additional cost. We make *nothing* on the catering.
  • Snacks and drinks are available for $1 donation per item at every show.
  • We do a fundraiser event where tickets are $5.00 and concessions are $1 each, all considered for our ease of use, donations.
  • Since it's all "donations" to us, we do not track specifically what is in the basket versus what we make on concessions; we do know what we make on tables vs what we pay out for catering because it's an online reservation/donation system.
  • We have a bank account, and I download our statements religiously.
  • I can consult an accountant friend, but I need to have the information organized in a coherent manner when I do, and currently, it ain't. This person is not going to DO our taxes for us, nor are we able to afford an accountant as all of the 501's money goes to its mission. Please do not lecture me on this count, as it's not helpful to my problem. I know we could use an accountant, but I could also use a vacation in Aruba.
  • I am a relatively intelligent person, but I really, really do not understand for the life of me gnucash. If you are going to point me at that, please point me at a tutorial for idiots as well, because I need it. Free or low cost is best, as the cost will come out of my pocket - the 501c3 cannot afford to buy me fancy software to fix this problem. Made for morons is also best as well. Thank you, I'll follow up if you need any additional information.
posted by Medieval Maven to Work & Money (5 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Have you looked at the tax requirements for a 501(c)(3) with receipts of only $5K a year?

To the best of my knowledge (IANAAccountant etc etc), all you have to do if you're under $25K is file a 990-N, which doesn't even ASK for any financial information. The IRS even calls it a "postcard" and not a form.

It basically just asks if you're still in business and what your address is.

You're definitely overthinking this. With an organization of your size, where the entirety of your business is "donations deposited into bank account" and "expenses paid for out of bank account" you don't need anything else but your bank statement. Keep track of the total in a spreadsheet if you like; anything beyond that is overkill at this point.
posted by bcwinters at 9:43 AM on November 15, 2008

bcwinters - I will look into this, but I was under the impression we had to file a 990-EZ, which does actually require financial information. The other concern we have, and the reason I feel I need to do additional accounting, is that our state tax authority has been very specifically targeting small nonprofit theaters and zapping people for back taxes on ticket sales. I am not under the impression we will escape this, as it's happened to any number of small houses. If I have a good accounting structure in place, then I can fight it without having to quit my day job to do so. So, to sum:
  1. I will look into the other form
  2. But I still want to set up an actual accounting system that does not make me howl with frustration

posted by Medieval Maven at 9:48 AM on November 15, 2008

Sorry, I misunderstood the nature of your nonprofit. It sounded to me like you were having potluck suppers with a live performance to raise money FOR your cause, not actually operating it AS your cause.

Do you have a TechSoup account? They offer deeeeeeeply discounted software to nonprofits, and they have pretty decent articles comparing products as well as user forums. Personally I'd go with PeachTree Premium Accounting for Nonprofits, which is $65 instead of the $599 you'd pay at retail, for instance. It might seem like overkill (payroll for up to 50 employees!) but by having a comprehensive set of features it's more likely to have the ones that will fit YOUR particular needs.

You might also want to read a book on double entry accounting; every piece of software out there is going to assume SOME rudimentary understanding of that principle (and any accountant who will offer to help will expect to see your information in that format) and I don't really think there's any way around that...best of luck!
posted by bcwinters at 10:30 AM on November 15, 2008 [1 favorite]

The one I used, before going back to the lovely shoebox system was Tinybooks.

Not pretty, no bells and whistles. Super basic, bare bones. Unfortunately it is for Mac only, but nor a non accounting person, super easy.

And the guy (Kevin? will answer your emails right away)
posted by Vaike at 10:46 AM on November 15, 2008

Nor are we able to afford an accountant as all of the 501's money goes to its mission

This is a bad plan.

Next year, budget at least $250 for a cheap walk-up accountant, or get an accountant to pledge a "donation" to your cause in advance of the actual need.
posted by rokusan at 12:52 PM on November 15, 2008

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