What Gift Giving Means for CPAs

 – December 10, 2019
What Gift Giving Means for CPAs

CPAs by nature like to help people — whether it’s saving money, finding a more efficient way to organize billing or simply offering some business advice. For most accounting professionals, donating one’s time to helping a worthy cause, participating in a kickball or softball game, or spending a few hours packing some food items is just another part of their day — and it provides a welcome break from their daily routine. 

Getting professionals of all ages to participate in charity events has become a lot easier. Firm or corporate charity events are increasingly more fun and engaging for staff of all ages. And it’s a great way to get to know even one’s own coworkers on another level as well as meet other accounting professionals who have the same interests as them. Indeed, philanthropy not only helps supply food or other external relief to those in need, it helps professionals build their network and enhance their company’s image while doing a good deed for the community — a win-win for all.

Withum Empower Group Food Bank November 2017
Withum's Empower Group volunteers at a local food bank for Withum Week of Caring.

Levine Jacobs & Company LLC collects donations for Movers for Moms

Traphagen Annual Beard Shaving event with Cystic Fibrosis
Traphagen staff at their annual beard shaving for Cystic Fibrosis

Traphagen beard shaving
Robert Traphagen, CPA, managing partner, Traphagen Financial Group, gets a shave for a good cause.

Firms Giving Back

How CPA firms give back is as unique as their culture. Some prefer large philan­thropic donations and promotion, while others favor the personal touch, such as giving to a local sports club or town shelter. Some consider their gift giving to be more of a team project to fulfill certain objectives and others include whole groups of staff, if not the entire office.

Withum, for one, has an innovative approach to selecting charities. Its class of incoming staff accountants, dubbed its Empower Group, go through six weeks of onboarding and choose a charity for the year. After researching nonprofit organiza­tions and presenting their favorites, it was decided that in 2019 all firm-wide fundrais­ing efforts would go towards the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF). According to Matt Bilio, interactive marketing manager at Withum, “they far exceeded our expectations, and in a tight race ultimately selected JDRF after one of our new team members shared his personal history and struggles with diabetes.” As he explains, “the intent is for our Empower Group to become the ‘face’ of this program — we want them to help come up with some inventive fund­raising ideas that will shift away from the ‘jeans day’ concept, and to continue to keep our team members engaged and motivated to donate throughout the year.” Their goal is to raise $30,000 for JDRF before the end of 2019. 

Others also work to get a lot of employees on board. In August, Mazars USA LLP completed its fifth annual Days of Service campaign, where employees devoted a full day to assist local service organizations. More than 500 employees and partners spent the day at more than 30 communi­ty and nonprofit programs in New York City, Long Island, New Jersey, Maryland, Philadelphia, Sacramento, Los Angeles and Chicago. This ranged from partnering with the Ronald McDonald House of Long Island and preparing a meal for the families staying at the House to helping animals at the National Greyhound Adoption Program in Pennsylvania.

To Michael H. Karu, CPA, CFF, CGMA, partner and member of the firm at Levine, Jacobs & Company, L.L.C., the personal touch works for their office. “We know that we cannot help everyone or every organization, but if every person spent one or two hours per month volunteering or added $10 per week in charitable giving, incredible differences can be made in the lives of those in need of help,” he says. Little League teams, youth soccer tournaments and charitable organizations in the Livingston area benefit from their charitable efforts. For example, each year one of Levine’s partners takes his Harley on an annual toy run for children in local hospitals.

For Robert Traphagen, CPA, CGMA, managing partner at Traphagen Finan­cial Group, the more interesting the charitable event, the more engaging it is for staff and everyone involved. “All our associates find it exciting and rewarding to volunteer their time for worthy causes. In conjunction with our annual beard shaving tradition, we partnered with the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation to raise over $2,000 to find a cure,” he says. Staff grow beards specifically for the event and vary the charities to which the proceeds are distributed. This year, they also built safe and affordable homes for senior veterans in partnership with Habitat for Human­ity on a day when wind gusts reached 40 mph. According to Traphagen, they were surprised when 15 accountants showed up to work on a day like that.

What’s in It for Them?

CPAs can gain on a personal level just as much as those who may be receiving their generosity. Helping out an organization’s board, for example, provides a great opportunity to expand someone’s interests, learn a different business and network. And for those who may have joined something only because it relates to their favorite sport, they may discover new clients or business partners.

Susan Firriolo, CPA, CITP, CGMA, CISA, president of Tax Correspondence Service, notes that CPAs routinely distinguish themselves by taking their service commitment to the next level. “CPAs share their knowledge by volunteering, mentoring and in other unique and fulfilling ways,” she says. But whether volunteering as a treasurer or in some other capacity on a board, she cautions that “the best intentions do not come without risk. Make sure charitable organizations have insurance to cover volunteers and trustees in the event of donor and other claims of mismanagement.”

Nonprofit organizations certainly benefit from the extra help a CPA can provide. “Organizations can strengthen their financial reports by tracking and reporting volunteer hours,” says Firriolo. “Often times volunteer input is not factored in correctly when applying for grants or when showing donors. Whether they use a time and billing or fee for service system, CPAs are the premier time trackers and can train others how to benefit from their approach,” she explains. 

“CPA firms that are good neighbors, caring about their communities and engaging in philanthropic initiatives gain several advantages,” explains Ronald G. Matan, CPA, CGMA, PSA, member of the firm at SobelCo. “First of all, they are able to attract employees who want to be a part of a giving culture and who remain loyal for longer because they are at a firm that exhibits high standards. Secondly, the community supports and promotes those firms that help them succeed.” And he adds, “besides making clients, employees and community leaders proud to be associated with the firm, it actually feels good to do good.”

Many accounting professionals already serve on their town boards and community initiatives so getting a firm-wide commitment to a cause is not too hard a stretch. As Christopher D. Petermann, CPA, partner with PKF O’Connor Davies, LLP, and partner in charge of the private foundation practice, says, “social awareness is flourishing around the world, and today’s accountants are eager participants.” Carpenters, musicians, youth sports coaches along with a symphony orchestra treasurer and a Seeing Eye dog trainer are among the ranks at PKF. “Our specialists are more than just accountants and consultants. They are multi-faceted individuals who have diverse backgrounds that they draw on as they devote their energies to a range of activities,” he says.  

This article appeared in the November/December 2019 issue of New Jersey CPA magazine. Read the full issue.