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QuickBooks — Online or Desktop?

Which is the best bookkeeping system for a congregation?  Online or not?  While “cloud-based solution” has become a common phrase, it may be a solution to problems that congregations don’t actually have.

When deciding on software for bookkeeping, there are a number of considerations: cost and access, but more importantly essential reporting features.

  • COST  How often would you have to upgrade the desktop version if you purchased it?  At what cost?  Compare that with the monthly cost for software rental.  For example if software costs $200 and you must upgrade every three years, compare the 36-month cost.  At $40 per month, the online cost for the same three years would be $1,440.
    • Note that a non-profit can join (for free) and purchase software very inexpensively.
    • What happens when you stop renting the software?  Is your data in a format that can be accessed?  Desktop software will work as long as you have the computer to run it.
  • ACCESS  Online software makes it possible to access software from anywhere on the internet.
    • While this provides some convenience, it also raises data security issues.  Where would your financial data be stored?
    • Simultaneous access can be a benefit for multiple employees working the same hours, but not usually necessary for part-time staff and volunteer treasurers.  Consider the actual number of hours and times of potential overlap.
    • Remote access is either free (Remote Desktop Access in Windows) or less than $100 per year (, and provides locally-controlled security.
  • FEATURES  Online versions of software are not identical to desktop versions
    • In QuickBooks, there is an essential report for monitoring restricted funds.  It is currently only available in the desktop version.
    • Online versions can be changed by the vendor, which can either be an advantage or disadvantage, depending on how quickly the user can learn the new features.

While the features of online QuickBooks may be helpful to many businesses and organizations, it is important to consider the situation and resources of your specific congregation.

IMPORTANT UPDATE April 2020:  In the past, Intuit included a download link for those wishing to convert from QBO to QB Desktop.  This option is no longer supported, and now requires a computer running Windows7 and internet explorer 11 or earlier.

UPDATE TO THE UPDATE September 2021:  Intuit has reinstated the conversion from QBO to QB desktop.  The process is outlined here at this link.

More information about QuickBooks is included on the Recommendations page.