How to Become a Nonprofit Payroll Specialist

Aug 01, 2018

Learn how to become a nonprofit payroll specialist. Research the job description and the education requirements and find out how to start a career in payroll management.

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Nonprofit Payroll Specialist Career Info

Degree Level High school diploma or equivalent; associate or bachelor's degree preferred
Degree Fields Accounting and business
Certification Optional certification from the American Payroll Association helpful
Experience 3-5 years of related experience
Key Skills Attention to detail; math, written and verbal communication, and organizational skills; accounting, spreadsheet, database, and payroll software; knowledge of payroll laws and ability to compute complex wage calculations
Salary $41,000 (2015 median salary for all payroll and timekeeping clerks)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Payroll specialists working for nonprofits use similar processes and accounting principles as specialists for other organizations, taking into consideration tax rules that are unique to nonprofits. They ensure employees are paid accurately and on time, and proper taxes and deductions are taken from the employees' pay. They are also responsible for the accurate documentation of these payments on the organization's accounting books. Overtime work is required at certain times of the year.

Some employers prefer payroll specialists with an associate's degree, while others prefer those with a bachelor's degree. Optional certifications are available. In either case, payroll specialists should have some key skills. These include attention to detail, math skills, written and verbal communication, organizational skills, accounting skills, knowledge of payroll software and payroll laws, and an ability to compute complex wage calculations. Payroll and timekeeping clerks earned a median salary of $41,000 per year, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2015.

Consider Earning a Degree

Although some employers only require candidates to have a high school diploma, many prefer candidates have postsecondary training; either an associate's degree or a bachelor's degree in accounting. These degree programs address basic accounting principles, theories, and techniques including payroll and tax accounting and the preparation of financial statements. Students pursuing a bachelor's degree in accounting will have additional business courses, as well as general education courses. They also have the opportunity to take courses in nonprofit management.

Aspiring payroll specialists can volunteer with a nonprofit organization to get an idea of the payroll process. Nonprofits have various types of volunteer opportunities available and individuals should look for opportunities in payroll, finance, or project management.

Gain Experience

Many payroll specialists receive on-the-job training using payroll software and producing reports. Payroll specialists at nonprofits learn the accounting rules relating to the organization, including retirement rules. Payroll specialists must maintain accurate record keeping to help nonprofits keep their tax exempt status.

Obtain Certification for Career Advancement

Some employers prefer that candidates have the Certified Payroll Professional (CPP) certification. The American Payroll Association offers this certification to payroll specialists with at least three years of experience. He or she must pass a qualifying examination, which consists of 190 questions on payroll. In addition, those who are certified must recertify after five years.

To sum up, aspiring payroll specialists who specifically want to work for nonprofit organizations might want to consider earning a degree in accounting, business or a similar field, before gaining experience in the field.

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