Going Green: Lessening Your Impact By Taking Your Nonprofit Paperless
With the revelation of a growing mass of plastic taking up precious ocean, even drinking straws are coming under fire for their waste generation. And, while plastic appears to be more environmentally harmful than paper, every little bit counts. Whether your nonprofit deals in the environment or not, going paperless saves money and even time, while improving your image as a more globally conscious business.
If you’re interested in taking your business from paper-filled to paperless, there are some easy wins that can help get you there--particularly as it relates to nonprofit accounting.
Making things easier
For many businesses, accounting is something that happens across a variety of locations, many of which are not in the same building. In these instances, digital solutions actually improve efficiency and cut into less internal resources. The variety of secure cloud services available makes it easier than ever to digitize every aspect of your business, from receipts to tax returns.
Digital management, perhaps surprisingly, can leave more of a paper trail than paper--an assortment of online tools allows users to upload additional versions, check documents out, and even see who the last person to touch something was. Whether you’re working with a nonprofit bookkeeping service or someone in house, this can be a useful way to make sure your accounting process and results tells the full story.
Advantages of going paperless
If you’ve ever had to move more than one box of books, you should have no trouble understanding the value of going paperless. Paper is cumbersome and heavy, difficult to keep track of, and messy. Getting rid of unnecessary paper makes your office more free of clutter, which is great for small staffs and spaces.
Paper is also an additional expense. Chances are, you’re paying for some type of online storage anyway--and fronting the cost of printouts that you could probably live without. Your copy machine likely needs regular maintenance, your ink cartridges need replacing, and you’ve got to have a place to store your files.
Nonprofits rely on the generous donations of their supporters and going paperless sends a message to the larger community that you’re committed to helping the world around you through your own actions. It shows that you’re environmentally aware, current, and well informed.
Digital files are often actually more difficult to steal, which means that paperless offices are more secure than their pen and paper counterparts. If someone breaks into your office, they won’t have much of a problem breaking into the file cabinet that someone lost the key to five years ago, but they won’t be able to get into your password protected digital files, which also can’t burn down.
I want to go paperless…. now what?
If you’re an older nonprofit and have been operating with paper for some time, it can be difficult to imagine what the paperless process might look like for you. It can seem overwhelming, but it isn’t--the only way to eat an elephant (not that we’d ever do that) is one bite at a time.
First, make a plan to digitize all of your existing paper. This probably means making a lot of copies/scans of documents and then either storing them off site (maybe not ideal) or disposing of and recycling them, ensuring you’re a company committed to remaining paperless in the future.
Of course, you’ll need employee and community buy-in, which shouldn’t be difficult if you explain why you’re going this route. Part of getting your team on board will be to present them a well thought out plan regarding the transition and the process once you’re paperless--show them that you’ve given this a lot of thought, and they may share your enthusiasm.
Office adaptations like dual monitors can help employees transition and even show them that paper is actually much more inconvenient, so think about ways to make their lives easier within your own nonprofit office.
Work with your vendors, including your nonprofit bookkeeping services. There are lots of options for paperless billing statements, online work tools, etc., as long as you’re clear with your service providers.