insight magazine

Beyond a Day of Service

The benefits reach far and wide when CPAs create a culture of giving back. By Eric Scott | Fall 2017


Most job descriptions for accounting and financial positions don’t include a bullet point about taking time to make the world a better place. But while catching a tax calculation error or explaining a financing strategy may earn congratulations or save a company’s bottom line, more CPAs are taking on the task of saving their communities—one cause at a time.

For the last eight years, the Illinois CPA Society has held its annual CPA Day of Service, which has significantly grown in size and recognition during its short history. In September of 2016, a record number of more than 1,350 CPA Day of Service volunteers teamed up at events across Illinois, helping with everything from building homes and community gardens to packaging food for families in need.

For those who choose to roll up their sleeves and volunteer during the annual CPA Day of Service, it’s a great opportunity to do something meaningful for people outside of their workplaces. But for many others in the profession, giving back stretches well beyond a single day of service.

Firm Priorities

“It’s a priority for our firm. We take it further than just writing a check,” says Leslie Finn, director of marketing and recruiting at Deerfield, Ill. CPA firm Warady & Davis LLP. With a large not-for-profit client base, Finn says her firm of about 100 staffers has a charitable-minded focus; volunteerism and community support is a core value—something staffers know when they walk in the door on day one.

“It’s ingrained in our culture. We talk about it at orientation, and it’s part of our hiring process. It’s communicated frequently throughout the year,” Finn explains. “We encourage everyone to get involved with associations and boards that interest them.”

In fact, Warady & Davis has its own charitable committee where employees have a direct voice in the causes they’d like to support as well as the overall charitable theme for the year. The staff then works in teams to support these causes—even during tax season. Last year’s theme focused on honoring veterans, and many firm staffers took part in CPA Day of Service projects at Edward Hines Jr. Veterans Administration Hospital near Maywood, Ill. This year’s firm theme centers on health and wellness. Warady & Davis staffers even step up to assist their own not-for-profit clients on tight budgets.

“People generally care about each other here and the clients,” Finn says. “You serve the clients better when you enjoy what you’re doing.” In similar fashion, Wipfli CPAs and Consultants ingrains a year-round focus on volunteering and giving back. The entire firm was honored with the Time and Talent Public Service Volunteerism Award at the Illinois CPA Society’s Leadership Recognition Dinner last June—more than 100 area staffers participated in local CPA Day of Service activities, and about an equal number of associates from its Rockford, Freeport, Sterling, Dixon, and Mendota offices volunteered their time at local park districts and other not-for-profit organizations.

“It’s easy to say one day a year we’re going to donate our time, but Wipfli takes great pride in giving back to our community,” says Gary Shutan, Wipfli’s geographic market leader for the Chicago market. “We have a great response from a lot of our associates and partners. It’s part of the culture here, giving back to our communities and helping others that aren’t as fortunate.”

Corporate Cares

From small CPA firms to very large practices and corporate finance departments, those dedicated to their professions seem equally dedicated to serving their communities. And for some in large companies, taking the time for group volunteer projects also leads to valuable networking and team-building opportunities.

“I met someone I would never have spoken with if she hadn’t volunteered,” says Chris Roberts, an accounting manager with Exelon in Warrenville, Ill. “It’s nice to get out of the office. You’re doing it for a good cause and meeting others makes it a win-win.”

For last year’s CPA Day of Service, Roberts organized a team to assemble and pack meals for needy families at Feed My Starving Children in Aurora, Ill. And while he’s experienced in rounding up colleagues to give back to their community, Roberts says his colleagues really don’t need much encouragement when it comes to volunteering.

“The office is extremely supportive of being active in the community, and Exelon encourages its people to get involved. It’s definitely part of our culture,” he says, pointing out that there’s a volunteer calendar on the company’s intranet where employees can easily join upcoming volunteer opportunities. “Our volunteer calendar is the center of the buzz. It just starts with the culture and word of mouth.”

In describing Exelon’s recently wrapped-up giving campaign, Roberts highlights that Exelon and the Exelon Foundation donated more than $46 million to charitable causes in 2016, and Exelon employees contributed more than 171,000 volunteer hours.

Future Givers

Even for those with few dollars or hours to give, the impacts stretch far and wide. Samantha Newmark is a 22-year-old accounting student at Bradley University in Peoria, Ill. who’s set to graduate with both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. Cramming classes and late-night studying into a five-year program is enough of a load for any college student, but Newmark still finds time for giving—a growing trend among the younger generations entering the business world with hopes of working for a cause they care about.

As a member and chapter leader of Beta Alpha Psi, an international honor organization for accounting, finance, and information systems students, Newmark arranged for about 15 of her Bradley classmates to volunteer at a nearby camp for kids from lower-income families during last year’s CPA Day of Service, helping to clean up facilities around the camp, including a play area where she says it was a big thrill to ride down the camp’s huge slide when they were done. While the tasks were fairly simple, Newmark says her team’s efforts had a huge impact on both the camp’s staff and everyone involved.

“It’s definitely more satisfying than getting an ‘A’ in class. It’s so rewarding being there for other people and that it means so much to them,” she says. “It really opens a door to the real world.”

When asked if volunteerism and giving back were important qualities for future employment, Newmark made it clear that it’s definitely a key factor. “It’s essential for any employer to have that responsibility; giving back is something that’s really important to me.”

The desire to volunteer time and give back for the greater good is an increasingly common bond among firms, corporations, schools, and individuals today, and the efforts impact far more than just the communities being served—a culture of caring is good for us all.

Finn sums it up best: “It just brings people closer together when working side-by-side in an effort that brings about the greater good. It creates a certain kind of energy and connection among firm members. There’s no better way to help yourself than to help others.”

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