Fund Accounting Jobs and Careers

In the accounting profession, there are two areas where the term 'Fund Accountant' is used. The first is concerned with investment funds and trusts, wherein the accountant manages (for example) a hedge fund, dealing with investment managers, brokers, investors and other trading professionals. The second is concerned with non-profit organisations, such as charities, trusts, governmental agencies, etc. It is this second area of specialisation that we explore in this article. Note that these positions are advertised under a very wide range of job titles.

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Non-profit organisations have different accounting needs, precisely because there is no profit motive. This means that the accountant must provide evidence of the organisation's accountability for the monies expended, with their role being more akin to a steward of public money. The accountant must show how the money was spent in pursuit of the organisation's goals, rather than how much profit was earned.

A complication is that non profit organisations can have more than one set of accounts. The accountant must detail expenditure and revenue for the various funds that feed into the organisation, not only reporting once for the organisation as a whole, but for those individual donor bodies. For this reason, many non profit organisations use custom-designed software for special reporting, or use different sets of account numbers for different funds.

Non profit organisations with these particular needs include national charity head offices, local and regional charities, housing associations (social landlords), schools and educational institutions, arts organisations, religious bodies, medical charities and community interest groups of various sizes.

Typical Responsibilities

There are regulations and principles designed to provide guidance for non profit sector organisations. These vary from country to country, as well as with the size of the organisation, but will usually cover some or all of the following areas.

As in general accounting, the aim is to produce a fair and accurate representation of the organisation's financial activities, as well as demonstrating the accountability of that organisation.

Additionally, the non profit or fund accountant can expect to complete some or all of the following duties, either alone or with the general or business manager.

Non Profit Organisations / Charities

There are several different types of organisation that require this kind of accountant. Here is a selection. Note that some also have company or corporation status, but are legally classified as non profit for accounting purposes.

Some companies or corporations set up purely for religious, charitable, educational, artistic, health, sports, welfare or scientific research purposes.

This list is by no means exhaustive but is indicative of the breadth of non profits that come under different accounting regulations.

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Hours and Conditions

Some accountants work as business managers for larger organisations. Others provide non profit or charity accounting to different organisations, working as an independent accountant or within a partnership and retaining a number of clients.

Hours are usually regular office hours. There will be exceptions, such as in the period of the financial year's end. If working under contract for different organisations, there is likely to be a need for travel to different locations.

Type of Person Required

Beyond the skills usually required for a career in accountancy, a non profit or charity accountant should have an interest in the nature of the organisation's work. A commitment to their objectives is usually requested. The ability to work in a team and liaise with a range of people, including volunteers who are not always as professionally skilled as their commercial counterparts, is important, particularly in smaller organisations. Skills in non profit accounting software are important, as are written and verbal communication skills.

Qualifications Required

As well as general accounting training and experience, further training in non profit / charity accounting requirements is usually necessary, particularly for larger organisations. Postgraduate training is available and the number of qualifications in charity or non profit accounting is now growing. Postgraduate diplomas provide comprehensive training, while Masters Degrees, which are also open to graduates of other subjects, offer a high level of specialist training. Seminars, conferences and short courses are also growing in number.

Salaries and Prospects

On the whole, unless employed by a major national or international organisation, it is likely that remuneration for non profit accountancy will be lower than the commercial equivalent. In the UK, a senior accountant can expect to earn up to £50,000. A finance manager can expect around £25,000-30,000. In the US, a Chief Finance Officer with an average non profit can expect to receive around $80,000 a year, while smaller organisations pay around $40,000. This is one reason why commitment to the organisation's goals is important - there is little reason to pursue these positions for money alone. Benefits and other compensations are unlikely to exist, while employees are usually expected to take time off in lieu of extra hours worked.

However, for those who prefer to work for non profits or charities, it is possible to gain employment with a smaller organisation and gain a considerable amount of on-the-job experience that will lead to rapid progression up the career ladder.

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