How Does a Chart of Accounts Differ Between a For-profit Business and a Non-profit Organization?

A chart of accounts is a structured list of all the financial accounts used by an organization to categorize and record its financial transactions. While the basic concept of a chart of accounts remains similar between for-profit and nonprofit organizations, there are some key differences in how accounts are organized and labeled to reflect the distinct financial and operational characteristics of each type of organization. Here’s a comparison of how a chart of accounts may differ between a for-profit business and a nonprofit organization:

For-Profit Organization:

  1. Revenue and Expenses Focus:
    • Emphasis on revenue-generating activities and profitability.
    • Accounts include Sales, Cost of Goods Sold (COGS), Gross Profit, Operating Expenses, Interest Income, etc.
  2. Equity Accounts:
    • Reflects ownership and distribution of profits.
    • Common accounts include Owner’s Equity, Retained Earnings, Dividends.
  3. Taxation and Depreciation:
    • Accounts for income taxes, tax-related expenses, and depreciation for tax purposes.
    • Accounts such as Income Tax Expense, Depreciation Expense, and Tax Deferred Assets.
  4. Stock and Dividends:
    • Accounts related to issuance and repurchase of stock and payment of dividends to shareholders.
  5. Profit-Centric:
    • Accounts track net income as a measure of profitability and performance.

Nonprofit Organization:

  1. Mission Focus:
    • Emphasis on program-related activities and achieving the organization’s mission.
    • Accounts related to Grants, Contributions, Program Expenses, Fundraising Expenses, etc.
  2. Fund Accounting:
    • Reflects the use of funds designated for specific purposes.
    • Accounts include Unrestricted Fund, Temporarily Restricted Fund, Permanently Restricted Fund.
  3. Net Assets:
    • Instead of equity accounts, nonprofits use Net Assets categories: Unrestricted Net Assets, Temporarily Restricted Net Assets, Permanently Restricted Net Assets.
  4. Contributions and Donor Relations:
    • Accounts for various types of contributions (cash, in-kind, pledges), donor restrictions, and recognition of donated assets.
  5. No Profit Distribution:
    • No accounts related to dividends or distribution of profits to owners, as nonprofits do not have owners in the same sense as for-profit companies.
  6. Transparency and Accountability:
    • Accounts highlight the stewardship of resources and accountability to donors and stakeholders.
  7. Program Allocations:
    • Accounts may track how funds are allocated among different programs or projects, showing how resources are used to fulfill the organization’s mission.

It’s important to note that the specific structure and naming conventions of accounts can vary widely depending on the individual organization’s needs, industry, and reporting requirements. The differences outlined above provide a general overview of how the focus and categorization within a chart of accounts may vary between for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Caroline Grimm

Caroline Grimm is an accounting educator and a small business enthusiast. She holds Masters and Bachelor degrees in Business Administration. She is the author of 13 books and the creator of Accounting How To YouTube channel and blog. For more information visit:

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