Among all the topics surrounding accounting for nonprofits, the characteristics or hallmarks of top staff accountants are things rarely discussed. Of course, it takes accuracy to be an accountant, as well as a logical mind, strong attention to detail, and good communication skills.
But going beyond these requirements is a list of highly specific skills that all top-level staff accountants share. If you’d like to be numbered among the best accountants in your field, then make these skills a priority for your own personal development.
The Characteristics of Top Accountants
The best nonprofit financial managers and top accountants share the following characteristics.
- Accuracy: All accountants must be accurate, but top accountants leave no stone unturned in their quest for all the details that matter. Good accountants must regularly review their own performance and look for mistakes in their own work before sending material on to others.
- The big picture: Top accountants have the ability to step back and take in the big picture. They’re good at what they do, but they also have the ability to see how their work fits into the larger mission of the organization and, as such, they understand how to be helpful to others.
- Deadlines: Many professions are deadline-driven, but accountants are always exceptionally deadline-oriented people. Top accountants set personal deadlines and try to achieve their goals early. They allow extra time in a project for those “just in case” moments when someone calls in sick or competing deadlines take people’s focus away from their project. Good accountants plan; great accountants plan for deadlines along with contingency plans.
- Excellent communication skills: Accountants aren’t often thought of as communicators, but strong communication skills are a must for top accountants. Not only are you called upon to share facts and figures with others in your department, but you must be able to translate that information into language everyone within your organization can understand. There’s also the important matter of communicating with subordinates and managers. Keeping everyone informed, and understanding how and when to share information, is a hallmark of an exceptional accountant.
- Integrity: We want everyone working with us to have integrity. Accountants must have exceptional integrity. Because they are charged with nonprofit financial management, they must be rigorously honest in everything they do. They must also be responsive to questions, complaints, and problems brought to their attention. Integrity, honesty, and ethics are part of the package that makes a great accountant.
- Exceptional computer skills: Conquering spreadsheets, understanding the nuances of your company’s ERP system, and handling all reporting needs with calm assurance are all part of the job for the best accountants. They become the guru that everyone turns to when they need help with the number-crunching aspects of their company’s software. Even if you’re not a technical whiz, becoming fluent with the software package that your company has chosen is one of the ways in which top accountants go the extra mile.
Becoming the Best of the Best: Professional Development
What does it take to become and remain the best of the best? Ongoing professional development is a vital step for nonprofit financial managers and those leading accounting for nonprofits.
Such professional development need not be formal classes, although that can help. Professional development may take the form of attending seminars and online workshops, attending conferences, and networking with others in your profession.
Regardless of the form it takes, top accountants do not remain hunched over their spreadsheets all day. They are a vital and important part of the nonprofit team. Are you a leader among accountants? Set a personal goal for yourself to do all you can to be the best nonprofit accountant your organization has ever met.
Beck & Company
Beck & Company is a certified public accounting firm serving the greater Washington D.C. area and the Eastern seaboard. We offer consulting services, auditing, and software selection to help nonprofits with their accounting needs. Contact us today for more information or assistance.