Thomas Avery

Why should I learn about nonprofit accounting?

posted by
Thomas K. Avery, CPA
ASU Lodestar Center
NMI Instructor /
Chief Financial Officer
Catholic Community Foundation -
Diocese of Phoenix

Good question. As a nonprofit accountant, I hear this question asked often. Some of the objections to learning about accounting sound very reasonable at first, especially when there's no one around to express a contrary view. So, I'll step up to the challenge and face those objections head on.

“I don’t need to learn that stuff. We have an accountant in our organization who deals with it.”

It's a good thing if you have a knowledgeable accountant on the payroll who knows the ins and outs of nonprofit financial tracking. After all, not every organization has the luxury. If you're one of the lucky ones that does, be kind to that person and tell them that you really appreciate all that they do.

Why? Many organizations need and want an accountant on their payroll. If your accountant feels under-appreciated or undervalued, he or she may head for greener pastures, leaving you without a thorough understanding of the basics of your organization’s financial results. Your remaining staff members may need at least a small knowledge of the basics to link to the new person you hire. So, don’t rely too heavily on your accountant. Attaining good financial management skills will help ensure that your organization moves forward, even without him or her.

“My brain is not designed for numbers. I supervise people that do that.”

Some people have a better understanding of numbers, accounting principles, and so on. Were they born that way? We can’t say with certainty that there is or isn’t a gene for accounting. But most of the math work of accountants is elementary school math: addition, subtraction, etc.