The Accounting Department

Posted on Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Many people do not understand the differences between the positions within the accounting department and thus titles are often used interchangeably.  Each position represents a specific capability with specific responsibilities.  Smaller organizations probably do not have all of the positions listed below.  But since their needs are similar, one individual may perform duties of multiple positions.   For example, a small organization may only have an accountant which performs both the bookkeeper’s and controller’s duties, as well as the accountant’s duties.  


The bookkeeper is responsible for recording the recurring daily transactions of the organization.  These include recording invoices from vendors, paying bills, recording receipts, reconciling cash accounts and possibly performing payroll processing.  Often times the bookkeeper is an individual that does not have a college degree in accounting. 


The accountant oversees the bookkeeper and makes sure the accounting system is working as it should based on accounting principles.  An accountant can certainly perform bookkeeping duties; however, the accountant performs more analysis than does the bookkeeper.  Accountants usually make general journal entries, review accounts payable activity and other reports containing information recorded by the bookkeeper.  The accountant is likely to have a college degree in accounting. 


As the top accountant, the controller is responsible for supervising the accounting and financial reporting of the organization.  The controller makes sure transactions are being captured and recorded properly and that internal controls are in place and being followed.  Other responsibilities of the controller include financial reporting, cash flow management, budgets and projections.  The controller usually has a degree in accounting or finance and is usually a CPA. 

Chief Financial Officer (CFO)

The CFO is the top financial position of an organization.  The CFO is responsible for managing the financial performance and risks of the organization and reports to the executive director (chief executive officer).  The CFO takes the information prepared by the bookkeeper, accountant and controller and uses it to plan for the current and future financial needs of the organization.  The CFO focuses on the big picture of the organization’s financials – where is it going and how to get there.  Like the controller, the CFO usually has a degree in accounting or finance, has a CPA and/or MBA and experience in financial leadership roles.

Posted by: Carrie Minnich, CPA

Posted in Mission Minded Nonprofits

Disclaimer: The information contained in Dulin, Ward & DeWald’s blog is provided for general educational purposes only and should not be construed as financial or legal advice on any subject matter. Before taking any action based on this information, we strongly encourage you to consult competent legal, accounting or other professional advice about your specific situation. Questions on blog posts may be submitted to your DWD representative.

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