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Blake Christian
Blake Christian

Public Service

Good for your community and your business.

June 23, 2011
by Blake Christian, CPA, MBT

Early in my life I was introduced to the value of giving back to the community. Through school, Church, Boy Scouts and even the dinner table (“there are children starving in Africa, China ...”), I was taught that regardless of your economic position, there are large numbers of people in your community, your state, your country and the world who are much less fortunate.

Needless to say, these messages can take decades to sink in before we take action, but community service is important and can be one of the most important and satisfying things we do in life. The not-for-profit sector also represents a critically important economic engine and job creator, which is important for overall economic development.

The business community and more specifically CPAs, are often gifted with either: time, talent or treasure (and later on in their careers — all three may be present) to give back to their industry and/or communities. Because of our unique skill sets, including financial expertise, the CPA community has a long history of supporting the not-for-profit community in a variety of ways.

Of the above three CPA assets, time is generally in the shortest supply during our working careers; however, the public desperately needs our expertise and waiting to get involved until retirement can shortchange the not-for-profit community in the interim.

The United States (U.S.) business community has a long and impressive history of philanthropy, led by the Carnegies, Rockefellers, Mellons, Fords and more recently Warren Buffett, Bill and Melinda Gates and Mark Zuckerberg.

Despite criticism of the U.S. being filled with selfish capitalists, the real fact is that Americans are the most philanthropic people in the world and donate dollars and time at levels far in excess any other country. Based on the 2010 Index of Global Philanthropy and Remittances prepared by the Hudson Institute, the U.S., U.K., Germany and Canada lead the world in private giving by significant margins.

As a result of being active with numerous industry and philanthropic organizations for the last couple of decades, I have had numerous opportunities to meet and hear some incredible business leaders, politicians and philanthropists discuss their impactful community service and philanthropy.

What I have seen throughout my career is an impressive combination of time and talent contributions along with the financial/treasure commitments from the business community.

In the last six months, I have had the opportunity to hear both Bill Gates, Sr. and Bill Gates, Jr. discuss their billion-dollar Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and their passionate and impactful $355 million commitment to polio eradication (partnering with Rotary International), as well as third-world malaria, clean water and education projects. Bill Gate’s simple view is that any person would not knowingly let their neighbor go hungry, drink contaminated water or contract a preventable disease, so why should we have a different standard because that at-risk person lives down the street or in another state or another country?

Last week I attended the opening ceremonies of the Long Beach, Calif-based Special Olympics and 14-time NBA All-Star, Laker player/executive and living legend, Jerry West, spoke to a packed audience, including numerous Special Olympic athletes. West is one of the most humble people you will ever meet and he gave an emotional talk on his very poor and abusive upbringing in West Virginia and how just one or two strangers who touched his life in positive ways determined his ultimate success. He encouraged the business community to step-up, get involved and commit some portion of their time, talent or treasures to organizations, such as Special Olympics, in order to improve the lives of those less fortunate. Not surprisingly, the recipient of the 2011 Rafer Johnson (1960 Olympian) Humanitarian Award, was retired Ernst & Young Consulting Partner, Dick Van Kirk. Again, showing how important the business community is to the success of these organizations.

Objectives

While public service is clearly good for the residents and the communities served by private industry and public accountants, there are numerous long-term benefits of getting yourself and your co-workers involved in community service.

Community service can come in the form of:

  • Assisting in developing budgets and financial controls for not-for-profit entities.
  • Assisting not-for-profit and other businesses in developing their business plans.
  • Assisting local residents in establishing businesses and securing capital and debt financing.
  • Working with government officials in agency budgeting, tax policy development and economic development matters.
  • Working with local universities, community colleges and trade schools in developing business incubators and assisting with career counseling.
  • Working with local bankers, local business leaders and private equity firms to develop financing packages for local businesses.
  • Establishing shared-service or shared-purchasing arrangements for community not-for-profits.
  • Evaluating public-private partnerships in order to complete community infrastructure projects in the most cost-effective manner.
  • Mentoring student, veterans and unemployed residents.

CPA firms and other business entities that focus on company philanthropy in addition to the primary objective of accomplishing community service goals and objectives can often enhance their recruiting and business development efforts through their community engagement.

Benefits

Generally the not-for-profit boards are made up of the significant influencers and decision-makers within the business community. Over time you and your co-workers will clearly develop deeper relationships with these other community leaders, which often translates into expanded relationships and new business.

Furthermore, Gen Y recruits are much more focused on community service and philanthropy than their predecessors, so the more active a firm or business is in the community, the more attractive the firm is in the eyes of your Gen Y recruits, employees, clients and referral sources.

Before jumping into a community service project or joining a not-for-profit board, you and your firm should fully evaluate how the specific project or board fit into your firm’s community objectives. It is also wise to review the last couple of year’s financial statements to evaluate financial stability and the financial efficiency of the organization.

I also generally advise that you attend a few meetings before making a long-term commitment to ensure that the “personality” of the staff, board and/or project team members fit with you and your co-workers.

Finally, it is important to have clear communication and manage the expectations of the organization’s leadership as to what you and your firm’s time and financial commitment will be on an annual basis.

Conclusion

Community service may be something you are considering in retirement, however, due to the financial challenges facing every community these days, our financial expertise and resources are desperately needed now. By volunteering during your working career, you often have more influence and impact than waiting until you retire.

Just find a match for your personal passion and your skill-set and you will find a lifetime of personal satisfaction, while you are helping others.

In closing, here are a few famous inspirational quotes which are applicable to public service:

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869 – 1948)

If you can't feed a hundred people, then feed just one.

Mother Teresa (1910 – 1997)

“Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country.”

John F. Kennedy — 1961 Inaugural Address (and Khalil Gibran – 1925)

If not us, then who? If not now, then when?

John Lewis, the son of a poor Alabama farmer,
who led marchers to the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1765



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Blake Christian, CPA, MBT is a tax partner in the Long Beach, Calif-based office of Holthouse Carlin & Van Trigt LLP and is co-founder of National Tax Credit Group, LLC. He can be reached at (562) 216-1800.