Whether you've been filing reports for years or managing your first PAC, you understand the crucial role that filing software plays in making sure the numbers always come out right.
We asked Vicky Schumacher, the EveryAction Team's PAC pro, for some tips on how to avoid the most common, annoying filing pitfalls + the ways that you can leverage your accounting tech into an advantage at reporting time.
Filing new reports before past amendments
The first rule to a successful filing: always, always, always amend past reports once you recognize an error + before filing a new report.
Why is this so important? Because, as all PAC managers can attest, amendments are the worst and, with every report you file without correcting an error, you'll have increasingly more opportunities to make a mistake, which will (of course) require further amendments.
Your filing software should help you steer clear of amendment filing issues, not add to them. The software you're using should allow you to easily view + amend previous reports so you can avoid more errors in the amendment process.
Failure to reconcile
Plain + simple: reconcile early and often, and always keep a backup record of transactions.
Two of the biggest sources of reconciliation woes are credit card vendors that don’t sync with your filing software + a bad/lacking batch management structure:
- Credit card vendors don't care about the difference between contribution dates + when funds hit your PAC's bank account, but your filing software should be able to sort that out + help you avoid filing amendments.
- Without a batch management structure, one little mistake can mean massive frustration when it's time to reconcile. Your reporting software should allow you to easily batch, organize, and lock deposit batches.
Knowing which deposits are pending or which checks are outstanding can prevent the headache of realizing that your numbers don’t match right before a filing.
Password problems: losing access to the FECFile database
The person responsible for filing at the end of each reporting period is likely the only one who:
- understands how to file the reports and/or use the software,
- receives the bank statements + reconciliations delivered monthly,
- has the .dcf file saved on their computer (FECFile databases are still saved on individual machines), and
- has the filing password scribbled in some notebook somewhere.
Duplicates causing aggregate issues in YTD totals
Charles Smith and Chuck Smith are the same person and live at the same address - keep an eye out for duplicate contributors like these in your database, which will greatly impact your year-to-date figures.
Your donor management software should use an algorithm for finding them. If not, you'll have to remain vigilent + follow up as necessary to avoid adding/reporting duplicate donors.
If you don't, the FEC might catch these oversights for you, and then there might be a Request for Additional Information (RFAI) coming your way.
Losing track of contribution limits
If your filing software doesn’t let you know when someone has exceeded their contribution limits, or you have exceeded your contribution limits to an organization, you could be in trouble.
Don’t wait until just before filing to look for these excesses! Your reports will be cleaner and easier to manage (not to mention more compliant) if you are able to issue any necessary refunds during the same filing period the excess funds were received.
Ideally, your filing software will alert you to excessive contributions before the check even hits the bank!
Waiting until the deadline to file
For some cosmic reason, filing deadline days are also days when life's unexpected emergencies come up: a sick child, internet connectivity issues, a last-minute fire to put out, etc.
Instead, plan to file at least 5-10 days before the deadline. If you’re waiting until the due date to file for strategic reasons, it's still a good idea to have the filing prepared well ahead of time.
Run a copy of your report as soon as possible after the data from the previous period is entered. The FEC’s native validation process will catch some mistakes you might not have noticed (missing dates, addresses, etc.)
Hopefully your filing software runs an additional layer of validation for other issues, such as too many missing employer/occupation data points.
Unavailable support teams
Another reason to avoid filing close to the deadline is simply the fact that many people do + that could mean a long wait on hold for customer service.
Know your support team’s hours, especially on filing deadlines, and do your best to dodge last-minute crises by taking advantage of your filing software's benefits.