Has anyone noticed just how much technology has creeped into our lives these days? I sure have, and I have also noticed how much technology has creeped into our Elks lodges! Think about it. The Secretary manages membership and dues through a computer program (CLMS), the Treasurer keeps the books through a computer program (usually QuickBooks), the bar and restaurant sales and inventories are managed through some sort of point of sale (POS) program, and on and on!
Fortunately, I am young enough to have the resolve to embrace technology and wonder how I lived without it! On the other hand, I am old enough to remember my many years as a Lodge Secretary and remember when membership and dues tracking were done on ledger cards and when the Treasurer actually reconciled the checkbook by hand!
So, is the use of technology helping or hurting our lodges? I suspect the answer to this is unique to each individual and more than likely has to do with your personal views on technology. I recall an experience I had recently in a medical office. Upon entering, I went to sign in and was directed to a computer to scan my appointment confirmation or enter my name and birthdate so my information could be looked up. I had no problem utilizing the technology but as I took a seat, I wondered how this was going over with those more technology-challenged. It didn’t take long for me to get an answer as in the door walked two somewhat “mature,” if you will, ladies! I suspected the young woman behind the counter would be an option but when asked, she immediately directed the ladies to the tablet. What transpired was nothing short of entertaining and the two ladies made it so quite willingly! Suffice it to say, they were challenged by the touchpad and entering a name. Their comments surrounding their vulnerabilities soon had the entire waiting room laughing along with them! The torture for the two ladies continued for a few moments until the attendant finally intervened. The ladies could have easily lashed out at the attempt to force them to conform, but it was the gregarious nature in which they approached the challenge that made it somewhat tolerable for them, and once they had succeeded in signing in, you would have thought they had conquered the world! It is this spirit that we too must embrace technology if we are to not let technology beat us! But, should we do this at the expense of the lodge?
Take the Treasurer’s office and our requirement to use the Elks chart of accounts, the framework upon which the accounting system is based but also a most confusing concept to a layman. Used properly, the Elks chart of accounts would make every lodge comparable on an apples-to-apples basis, but using it properly is the problem. Most lodges are struggling to get their accounting systems operating properly and because of this, many lodges are not getting the financial reports they need to adequately manage their operations. Not knowing if you are making or losing money or in what areas you are having problems is a recipe for disaster. To fix this, many lodges are bringing in “new” members as treasurers who have a working knowledge of QuickBooks. Often, they have little knowledge of nonprofit accounting and can make no sense of our balance sheets or profit-and-loss statements. Their attempts to deal with restricted versus unrestricted funds (nonprofit accounting) cause them to create a bigger mess than they inherited.
Is it time to return to simplicity while we work to get a handle on the lodge’s finances? Should we perform the old-fashioned account reconciliation on the back of the bank statement so we at least know how much money is in the bank? Should we go back to doing a physical inventory of our food, liquor and supplies to determine its value so a real profit or loss can be determined? My nature is to forge ahead with technology until I have mastered it, but I cannot be in every lodge! My nature is to encourage you to not let technology get the best of you, but if it is, why keep repeating the same mistakes? The financial success of the lodge is of much greater importance than having and using the latest technology! Until we can master technological aids, we must do things in a comfortable manner especially when the survival of the lodge might depend on it! Sometimes the latest and greatest is not always the best, and this might just be one of those times!
In the coming year, I have asked our staff CPA/CFO/Accounting Director, Barbara Shepard, to immerse herself in the accounting for lodges and our use of technology. She will advise us on the best way forward. It is time for us as an association to get involved and help our lodges. I hope we are not too late! In the interim, I strongly recommend that lodges send their Treasurer-elect to our officer training seminar in Orlando, Fla., March 16-18. This training is not required but is highly recommend for Exalted Rulers, Secretaries and Treasurers.
My aim in these articles is to inform, educate and instill a sense of responsibility in our success. I do this by sometimes offering ideas that are not your normal run-of-the-mill thoughts and ideas. We are not perfect and sometimes we have to look at ourselves as others see us before we realize the need to improve. So, how am I doing? Let me know what you think and let me know how your lodge is overcoming the challenges of technology. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.