cluttered desk with man working on a laptop whose screen shows an accounting analysis

Choosing the Right QuickBooks Software for Your Organization

Eighty-five percent of all small businesses, including nonprofits, in the U.S. use QuickBooks as their accounting software. This market share has been fairly consistent over the last 10 years. What has not been consistent is the specific QuickBooks product nonprofits decide to use.

I teach a number of courses on QuickBooks aimed at nonprofit professionals. And over the last five years, I've seen a dramatic increase in the number of students who choose to use QuickBooks Online instead of QuickBooks Premier or QuickBooks for Mac. However, either solution might be the best fit for you.

drawing of two small figures standing in front of a calculator and surrounded by various three-dimensional graphs and printouts

Desktop versions of QuickBooks and QuickBooks Online are both good choices and have multiple versions to choose from. Here are the five solutions available through TechSoup:

So there are many QuickBooks solutions to choose from. I'd like to take a moment to review some key points that might help you in your decision-making process. If you scroll down, I've even included a handy feature comparison chart for quick reference.

Important Things to Know About QuickBooks Accounting Software

There's much to keep in mind when deciding which version of QuickBooks is best for you, and separating fact from fiction can be tough. But keep the following in mind:

  • QuickBooks is a great accounting solution for your nonprofit. No choice is a bad one. If you change your mind, switching is doable and fairly seamless as long as your files aren't too large.
  • You get anywhere access with QuickBooks Online. The main advantage of QuickBooks Online remains the ability to access files from anywhere.
  • QuickBooks Online has improved in both functionality and reporting over the last five years. While it used to be true that the desktop version had much better reporting functionality, this is no longer the case.
  • Some accountants prefer desktop versions of QuickBooks. But there are also accountants who prefer Online. While your accountant's preference should be considered, do not always assume that they know what's best for you and your organization. Some work in both and know both well. But most simply know what they like to use. Having said that, if you decide to pick a version your accountant doesn't use, it may be time to find an accountant who does.
  • QuickBooks Online is the future. Cloud-based software is where technology is moving. Desktop versions of QuickBooks will be around for the foreseeable future, but 10 years from now, most nonprofits will be likely be using QuickBooks Online.

Lastly, Intuit also offers QuickBooks Online Advanced. When Online Advanced was introduced, Intuit placed certain list limits on QuickBooks Online Plus. The chart of accounts in QuickBooks Online Plus is now limited to 250 accounts and 40 classes (used for program tracking). While those exceeding these limits may upgrade to QuickBooks Online Advanced, the honest truth is that anyone with more than 250 accounts (or 40 classes) is most likely overusing these lists and needs to purge them anyway.

QuickBooks Feature Comparison for Nonprofits

Each version of QuickBooks has a different set of features, and it can be tricky navigating through all the details. This chart will give you a better picture of what's available.

QuickBooks Feature Premier Desktop QuickBooks for Mac QuickBooks Online Plus QuickBooks Online Advanced
Anywhere Access    
Restricted User Access yes yes very limited yes
Report-Only Access yes yes yes yes
Number of Company Files Supported (per Account) unlimited unlimited 1 1
Number of Accounts Allowed 10,000 10,000 250 unlimited

Number of Classes (Programs) Allowed

10,000 10,000 40 unlimited
Number of Donors or Members Allowed 14,500 14,500 unlimited unlimited
Tracks Pledges, Restricted Grants, and Inventory Sales
Batch Membership Invoicing  

Generates Donor Ask Letters and Donor Thank-You Letters

need app need app
Customized Fields for Donors  
Emails Donors
Donor Reporting (LYBUNT, etc.)
Tracks Accounts Payable, Purchase Orders, and Credit Cards
Downloading from Bank Card or Credit Card
Downloading Rules That Remember Correct Account and Name
Downloading Rules That Remember Correct Class (Program)  
Downloading Rules That Remember Split Between Programs    
Automatic Downloading Is Free    
Budgeting by Account and Program or Grant
Financial Statements for Board
Profit and Loss by Program or Grant

The Bottom Line: Choosing Desktop vs. Online

As the chart above demonstrates, both QuickBooks desktop and QuickBooks Online are good solutions and share much of the same functionality. But remember, those who choose the desktop version may eventually need to make the switch to QuickBooks Online, as cloud-based solutions become the industry standard for all IT products. In the meantime, however, the desktop version remains a great choice for certain organizations.