Similarities and differences between a bookkeeper and an accountant

They both work with financial data; they’re both essential for managing a successful company. Yet the roles and duties of a bookkeeper and accountant rarely overlap.

If you’re like many nonprofit professionals, you may not be exactly sure of the differences between a bookkeeper and accountant – and whether you should hire one, or both.

An established, growth-focused company will employee the services of both an accountant and bookkeeper. The two professionals work in tandem, to ensure financials are up to date and accurate, and the financial health of the company is carefully monitored.

If you’re still in the early days of your nonprofit, you might choose to do the bookkeeping yourself, or hire a bookkeeper for a couple of hours a month until it makes sense to bring someone on full time.

An accountant, however, should be a key player on your team from day one.

A look at bookkeeping for small nonprofits

The primary role of a bookkeeper is to handle a company’s day to day financial management. A bookkeeper will take care of the small but important details that are essential for providing an accurate picture of where an organization stands at any given moment.

In addition to a bookkeeper’s main job – making sure every financial transaction is accurately recorded in the general ledger – they may also lend a hand with other key tasks like invoicing, paying suppliers and vendors, and processing payroll.

Why you need an accountant

An accountant’s primary role is to help companies make sense of their numbers for the purpose of strategic planning – analyzing, summarizing, interpreting, and reporting on financial data in order to provide “big picture” advice.

As a small nonprofit, you’ll want to work with an accountant from very early days to help with budgeting, forecasting, and decision making – as well as for strategic advice, and identifying opportunities to reduce costs and maximize profitability.

Many executive directors think they only need to talk to their accountant once a year, during budgeting season. But in order to be able to truly gauge the health of your company– and make the most of your accountant’s expertise – it’s recommended you check in at least once a month.

Your monthly meeting is a chance to review key reports, like your profit and loss statement, discuss opportunities or areas of concern, and get timely advice to help meet the goals you’ve set out in your strategic plan.

Final thoughts

As your organization grows, it’s essential to have trusted financial professionals managing your books and providing strategic financial advice.

After all, the busier you get, the more complex financial management becomes – and the less time you’ll have to maintain your books and try to make sense of all the data.

A trustworthy bookkeeper’s services are essential for a thriving nonprofit, and an accountant can do so much more than handle your 990. Think of your accountant as a trusted partner – someone whose services you rely on year round for advice on how to increase profitability as you take steps to achieve your strategic goals. 



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