Nonprofit Accounting Degree and Training Program Information

There are several significant accounting principles with which accountants who work in nonprofit organizations should be familiar. Though there are no specific degrees that focus on nonprofit accounting, a traditional accounting education and Certified Public Accountant (CPA) designation are necessary qualifications. A bachelor's degree and often a master's degree in accountancy are requirements for this position.

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Bachelor's Degree in Accounting

A bachelor's degree in accounting, whether a Bachelor of Business in Accounting (BBA) or a Bachelor of Science in Accounting, is a 4-year program that prepares its graduates to interpret, analyze, measure and communicate a company's crucial financial information. While preparing students to sit for the Certified Public Accountant designation, these programs focus heavily on economics, finance, management and business law. Students learn effective critical thinking and problem-solving techniques that are applicable across all types of businesses, including nonprofits. Students complete these programs with supervised internships prior to graduation. Applicants must be high school graduates or have a GED certificate prior to enrollment.

Program Coursework

While nonprofit accounting is far too narrow a subspecialty in the industry to warrant a major or minor concentration, aspiring nonprofit accountants need a solid education in all aspects of accounting. Undergraduate accounting majors can expect to take classes such as:

  • Business core accounting
  • Business consolidations
  • Accounting information systems
  • Internal controls
  • Accounting and taxation
  • Cost accounting
  • Governmental and nonprofit accounting rules
  • Valuation and analysis
  • Audits

Popular Career Options

The scope of accounting positions available in the nonprofit sector is varied. An October 2010 search of nonprofit jobs on ExecSearches.com and Idealist.org revealed that a bachelor's degree in accounting qualified applicants for the following positions, among many others:

  • Financial reporter for a large religious charity
  • Fiscal director for an ecology grant funding organization
  • Grant accounting officer for a charity that builds homes for needy recipients
  • Director of finance for a large national nonprofit organizational association

Certification and Continuing Education Information

All 50 states require any accountant who files documentation with the Security Exchange Commission (SEC) to have earned the CPA designation. The CPA exam is administered by the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA), and each individual state regulates the requirements for practice. Many accredited accounting schools are geared towards preparing students to take the CPA exam; however, this should not be taken for granted and individual state requirements should be investigated.

Once so designated, CPAs are required to earn continuing education to keep their designation renewed. These requirements vary widely by state and are governed by each state's board of accountancy.


Master's Degree in Accounting

Many of the more advanced positions available to nonprofit accountants require a master's degree in accountancy. There are two types of master's degrees available to accountants who wish to further their education. One is the Master of Accountancy (MAcc). This degree program is usually, though not always, limited to students who have earned their undergraduate degree in accounting or finance. Aside from enhanced emphasis on advanced accounting principles, special attention is given to industry-specific information technology. Designed specifically for the career of a professional accountant, this degree program also meets the standards required to take the CPA exam if the MAcc candidate has not already done so.

Another option is the Master of Science in Accountancy (MSA). The MSA degree program isn't limited to undergraduate requirements in accounting or finance; however, MSA candidates with other undergraduate degrees can expect significant prerequisite requirements prior to beginning the MSA program. This program is business oriented and, along with advanced accounting principles, seeks to impart the business competencies and skills necessary for a successful career in accounting. The MSA program also prepares its graduates for the CPA exam.

Education Prerequisites

For MSA candidates, and for the MAcc programs that do accept candidates with undergraduate degrees other than in accounting and finance, a number of prerequisites must be met. Entrance into a master's degree program in accounting usually requires significant background in courses such as:

  • Financial accounting
  • Business calculus
  • Microeconomics
  • Macroeconomics
  • Statistics
  • Accounting information systems
  • Federal taxation
  • Auditing processes
  • Commercial law

Program Coursework

Graduate-level accountancy study focuses on both the theory and the practice of advanced accounting principles. Master's degree candidates are not only well versed in the skills necessary to perform in a nonprofit accounting capacity, but also graduate with expertise in business strategy and regulatory compliance, which are vital assets in the nonprofit sector. Students in either the MSA or the MAcc program can expect to study courses in:

  • Financial reporting analysis
  • Not-for-profit entities
  • Cost and managerial accounting
  • Legal vs. ethical accounting
  • Fraud and audit
  • Accounting theory and policy

Employment Outlook and Salary Info

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected that accountants and auditors would see an increase of 16% in employment, which is about average, from 2010-2020. The average wage of accountants and auditors were $71,040 in May 2012, stated the BLS.

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