So, You Want to be an Accountant?

When people think about accounting and accountants, most immediately think, “spreadsheets, number crunching, boring.” Those of us in the accounting world tend to view our careers differently, and those of us here at N4N use our passion for numbers to focus solely on helping nonprofits manage their money so they can focus on their missions. A lot has changed in the accounting world since the days of boring spreadsheets. If you or someone you know (your teenager, perhaps?) is exploring a career in accounting, take a look at the nine different career paths an accountant can take and a brief summary of each to pique your interest.

Certified Public Accountants

CPAs are the accountants everyone thinks about and believes are knee-deep in taxes, record keeping and auditing. CPAs tend to do most of the other accounting jobs you’ll read below. A CPA is centrally involved as a trusted advisor to an organization. CPAs help with financial goals, audits and reviews, forensic accounting, consulting and/or litigation services, and taxes. To be a CPA, you must graduate from an accredited school and pass the Uniform CPA Exam.

Management Accountant

Business strategy, financial health, and profitability analysis are just a few items management accountants work on. N4N is a great example of a firm using management accountants as partners with the nonprofits we serve. We work with executive directors to make sure they are bringing the best information to their board of directors in order to remain financially stable. Management accountants work on planning and budgeting, risk management, cash flow, and financial reporting. A degree in accounting is required and there is an exam to become a Certified Management Accountant (CMA).

Cost Accountant

Business owners look to their accountants to find ways to help save money. This is the central role of a cost accountant. These accountants need to understand supply chain issues in order to look for expenses to cut and to prepare budgets. Cost accountants analyze every part of a business from labor and materials to administrative costs. Cost accountants are zeroed into profitability analysis and efficiency. A bachelor’s degree in accounting or finance is needed for this career along with becoming licensed as a CCA: Certified Cost Accountant.

Project Accountant

As the name implies, this accountant works on a project-by-project basis. A business may hire a project accountant to help with budgeting, employee billing hours and verification, product launches, and invoicing. Project accountants need a BA in accounting and preferably hold credentials as a CPA or CMA.

Forensic Accountant

Are you a fan of the TV Show “CSI” and also love digging into numbers? Forensic accountants are detectives. They spend their time making sure laws are followed while searching to uncover fraud. Most forensic accountants work with attorneys or law enforcement and support court cases as expert witnesses.

After receiving at least a bachelor’s degree, most forensic accountants get their CPA credential and also work to become a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE).


Accuracy is key in accounting and auditors are needed for nearly all organizations, including nonprofits, since regular audits are recommended to ensure compliance with policies and regulations. Generally, auditors are hired as a third party to work in conjunction with your permanent accountant to eliminate possible bias. Auditors look through systems, books, records and operations as well as analyze financial statements. Once the audit is completed, they offer ideas to improve accounting processes and procedures within your organization. An accounting degree is required and credentials help in terms of employment.

Government Accountant

Every form of government, from federal to small town, needs accountants. Since governments utilize taxes from citizens for the public good, government accountants are needed to ensure theft and waste aren’t occurring. Government accountants must have accounting degrees and a majority have master’s degrees in other fields including business administration and taxation.

Investment Accountant

This field of accounting is where accountants who desire a fast-paced workplace tend to land. Finance and Investment doesn’t always mean “slow.” Investment accountants have to know the ins and outs of stocks, bonds, and any other investment vehicle while maintaining strict adherence to state and federal laws. Investment firms looking for investment accountants require a degree in finance, economics, business or accounting and may require a CPA credential as well as a credential for a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS).

Taking an accounting career path is both exciting and fulfilling.

The staff at Numbers 4 Nonprofits enjoys exercising our knowledge and skills in nonprofit accounting to help our clients succeed in their missions.

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