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Accounting Volunteers

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There's a saying that accountants are the prophets of profits.

But even in the nonprofit world, good accounting is an essential part of an organization's operations. Many organizations need volunteer accountants to balance the books.

Donors want to be sure that the charities they donate to use their money responsibly. And because accounting is part of that, it has become a very hot topic these days, says Ryan Moynes.

Moynes is a chartered accountant and volunteers as a board member with a charity called Cottage Dreams. The charity enables cancer survivors to spend a week at a donated cottage so they can relax with their families.

Yet, there is a real need for board members with accounting skills, says Moynes. Many nonprofit organizations seek volunteers to help them with their accounting functions -- from basic bookkeeping to financial reporting; budgeting and tax help to the overall management of the organization's finances.

Typically, bookkeepers keep track of an organization's financial transactions. Accountants carry out bookkeeping, auditing and other financial reporting and analysis. Treasurers often sit on the organization's board of directors and are responsible for overseeing the organization's finances.

For young people looking to gain accounting experience, Moynes suggests volunteering in any accounting-related capacity.

"People are always looking for people who want to be a volunteer bookkeeper," he says. "And it gives you that experience to learn in a less high-pressured environment... It also allows you to take a little bit more ownership and progress your skills at the speed you want to."

The networking opportunities are a big benefit, he says. "Not only do you get the opportunity to network with people that are a little bit more senior, you also... get more experience in meeting with financial and non-financial individuals, and that can only help progress your career."

But there's something else Moynes likes about his volunteer work. Every month or so, the president of Cottage Dreams sends him an e-mail from a cancer survivor about what a great time that person had at the cottage.

"Reading those e-mails are great pick-me-ups during the long, regular work days."

Two years ago Peter Yien interviewed for a volunteer position at a youth shelter. And it was the hardest interview he has ever had. His interviewer was the CFO of a major bank -- the charity's board chair at the time.

"Typically, you don't get to see somebody like that unless you interview for an SVP (senior vice-president) job," Yien says. Yien is a chartered accountant.

"When you talk to people like that, they ask very, very good business sense questions," he adds. "That's where it's tough."

Yien sits on the charity's audit committee. And recently he was admitted to the board of directors. In his volunteer role, he reviews financial statements and determines whether anything requires further investigation. He's also involved in fundraising activities.

With two young children of his own, Yien wanted to help children, and still use his accounting skill set.

"A lot of [nonprofit organizations] need help because they don't always get the talent they want," he says. And it's a great way to develop accounting skills. "As students starting to take on a career, you really develop a business sense. You don't learn that through school. You learn that from others."

When accountant Serena Wolfe first moved to the United States from Australia, she didn't know how to navigate the red tape to obtain her certified public accountant designation.

"In order to work in the U.S. as a public accountant, you need to become a CPA," she says. "Your qualifications just don't transfer across. And it's really quite complicated because the requirements differ by which state you are in in the U.S. and also which country you originally come from. And I couldn’t find the information about it."

So Wolfe contacted the president of the Association of Chartered Accountants in the United States. And he set her on the right path. Wolfe is now a senior manager at Ernst & Young in New York City. She also volunteers as treasurer and board member for the association that helped her.

As treasurer, she sets the association's annual budget and works with the auditor. She also works with the association's controller, who keeps the books and records, writes checks, pays bills and maintains the bank account.

"You get to see basic operational finance, things that you wouldn't necessarily see in your own job," she says. "Like, for instance, setting up a bank account and trying to figure out how to make that work with the database.... It's real practical business experience, but on a small scale. So I think you learn a lot about small business, and I think that's really a valuable skill set."

A recent immigrant, Kanwal Kohli was looking for a volunteer position where he could use his financial skills.

He's a credit manager at a finance company, and recently completed his MBA/finance degree. But he wanted to expand his accounting experience. So, he started volunteering as the treasurer for a charity that supports people with osteoporosis.

"I've always loved to volunteer," he says. "So, other than my love for volunteering, this position was of my choice because it was related to accounting."

As the treasurer, Kohli reconciles financial statements, signs checks and approves payments. And he hopes to expand his role.

"I've tried giving them some ideas so that the organization can grow," he says.

He finds many benefits to volunteering. "The biggest benefit is that, when one is interacting with people who have had experience for so many years in senior positions, one is treated the same way as those who are experienced. It gives a great sense of responsibility and confidence."

How to Get Involved

Look for volunteer positions as bookkeepers, accountants or treasurers at nonprofit organizations. The level of experience required of accounting volunteers varies. For instance, organizations seeking treasurers or volunteer accountants may prefer certified or chartered accountants (accountants with a professional designation).

Others may simply ask for volunteers with accounting experience. Organizations seeking bookkeepers may prefer accounting or bookkeeping experience. Others will simply ask for people with strong organizational, clerical and computer skills and a knowledge of QuickBooks accounting software.


Association of Chartered Accountants in the United States

The American Institute of Certified Public Accountants

American Institute of Professional Bookkeepers

Find free accounting information, a dictionary of accounting terms, educational materials and more

Clearinghouse for Volunteer Accounting Services
Learn more about the role of nonprofit bookkeepers and treasurers from the government of Ontario

Charity Village
Search for volunteer opportunities

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OCAP believes that financial literacy and understanding the financial aid process are critical aspects of college planning and student success. OCAP staff who work with students, parents, educators and community partners in the areas of personal finance education, state and federal financial aid, and student loan management do not provide financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice. This website and all information provided is for general educational purposes only, and is not intended to be construed as financial, investment, legal, and/or tax advice.