It’s true, accountants have a reputation for applying the kind of hard logic it takes to let the numbers do the talking so that we don’t have to. And as capable as we are of churning through financial statements and performing stone-cold numbers-based based analyses with all the efficiency of a machine, there are actually warm hearts beating in our chests, too.
Like everybody else, we donate to charities, volunteer our time at food banks, mentor kids who need some help and guidance.
But there are other ways to give back to the community that really only accountants can. And particularly during the COVID-19 pandemic, we repeatedly saw CPAs and accounting firms stepping up to the plate to help out as the economy hit the wall.
During the pandemic, accounting firms all over the country did everything from keeping vital medical practices from going belly-up to bailing out other Good Samaritans whose charity efforts accidentally landed them in hot water with the IRS.
It’s not just the pandemic that creates the need for a little extra generosity from the professional accounting community. Whether it’s the opioid epidemic sending thousands to jail and creating unexpected obstacles for families, or the day-to-day challenges of non-profit health centers dealing with convoluted IRS regulations, there are always issues cropping up that CPAs and other accountants are uniquely qualified to deal with.
Whether you are someone who’s interested in nonprofit audits or you have strong skills in fund accounting for charities, hopefully stories of accountants giving back will inspire you to do the same.
Here are a handful of stories from around the country of times where CPAs and other accountants stepped up to go above and beyond, looking past the bottom line to help out individuals and communities that really needed it.
An Accounting Firm Was Among the First Businesses to Exemplify Racial Equity
As one of the northern terminuses for the Underground Railroad, Ohio has long been a point of focus for race relations in the United States. With a population that is 14 percent African American, according to the Census Bureau, the Buckeye state has had to grapple with a lot of difficult problems of culture and integration over the years.
There have been some victories and some failures, but one of the most resounding breakthroughs came, of all places, in the field of accounting. In 1971, a CPA named Elmer Whiting Jr. became the first Black partner in a Big Eight accounting firm when the practice was acquired by Ernst and Young.
Whiting had already had to smash a few barriers just to get that far. He had trouble getting his CPA license in the first place because no white firm would give him the opportunity to fulfill the experiential requirements. Despite nailing the test on the first try, he had to petition to get his bookkeeping work accepted to meet the license requirement.
In 1950, he was successful, and became the first Black CPA in Ohio. That helped open the floodgates. Whiting’s firm hired other Black CPAs and helped them get the experience they needed. He was a role model and innovator long before Ernst and Young came knocking.
Your drive to figure out how to become a CPA in Ohio might not have much to do with social or racial justice, but you will be entering a profession in a place where it has been shown that numbers matter more than skin color or background.
Suing the IRS to Save the Mayo Clinic’s 501(c)(3) Status
Just about everyone in Minnesota is proud of the Mayo Clinic. The Rochester fixture is one of the most profitable healthcare organizations in the world, and almost singlehandedly developed the concept of integrated multi-specialty practice. Today, it ranks first in the nation on U.S. News and World Report’s Top Hospitals list, where it has been for almost 27 straight years.
Bringing together specialists in radically different fields has been the key to the Mayo Clinic’s success, but in 2019, the clinic itself needed a specialist consultation in a very different field: accounting.
The IRS conducted an audit of the clinic and found that the organization was not an educational non-profit. Despite being a world-renowned teaching hospital, the feds interpreted a section of the tax code to exclude the benefit that the clinic had claimed. Under this interpretation of the law, the Mayo Clinic owed a stack of back-taxes.
The clinic sued, and with the help of highly trained accounting specialists was able to prevail in court and get the refund it deserved.
The World’s First CPA Was Looking Out For Everybody in the Accounting Industry
It’s entirely fitting that New York was the first state in the country to create the licensed CPAdesignation. In 1893, New York City accountant Frank Broaker had a dispute with one of his clients over his rate of pay. He believed his services were worth $3 per hour; they only paid him $1.
Broaker recovered his salary in court but felt he had gone to more trouble than should have been necessary to have his expertise recognized. Working with state politicians, he helped draft and then pass the Wray bill: the first licensing law for the position of CPA in the United States. Broaker himself received CPA certificate #1, first in the country.
Today the state is up to CPA certificate #136,049, a long legacy of highly-trained, expert accounting professionals. Thanks to Frank, they are recognized and respected for what they do. They also don’t have any trouble getting paid!
Accountants Have a Hand in Saving Rural Communities From the Ravages of the Opioid Epidemic
Kentucky has been one of the state’s hit hardest by the national opioid addiction epidemic. According to the National Institute on Drug Abuse, the state experienced almost 1,000 opioid-related drug overdose deaths in 2018.
In 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, that problem only got worse. The state Drug Enforcement Agency saw increases in fentanyl trafficking across the state, and in Jefferson County alone, overdose deaths skyrocketed by a staggering 62 percent.
These aren’t problems that people usually think of as being related to accounting, but the human fallout from the opioid epidemic creates some real tax and financial challenges. That’s particularly true for families of addicts. The Journal of Accountancy reports that at least one Kentucky accounting firm has seen a significant uptick in elderly clients who are suddenly becoming caregivers for their grandchildren after the parents succumb to addiction.
That throws a wrench into retirement plans, since childcare costs aren’t usually factored into savings.
Skilled accountants are key to helping retirees in those difficult positions, helping them connect with Medicaid insurance options and reassessing their budgets to get through a second round of parenting. They also help with wills and estate issues that come up.
Stepping Up to Save Medical Practices that Communities Depend On
The COVID-19 pandemic stretched accounting firms in new directions just like every other major industry. Michigan was one of the state’s hit the earliest and the hardest. According to an analysis by Wallethub, it was the least safe state in the country during the pandemic, coming in second to last among all states, with a higher death rate than all but New Jersey, in addition to poor metrics on testing and hospitalization.
As the country recovers from the pandemic, though, not everything is going back to normal. In Michigan, some accounting firms are embracing the changes they were forced to make during the darkest days of 2020.
According to the Journal of Accountancy, Rehmann Solutions, a Detroit-based accounting firm, has many small medical practices as clients. Contrary to the overall surge in hospital use, many non-essential clinics were all but empty during the shutdowns. Rehmann stepped up to help those practices apply for Paycheck Protection Program grants and other funding sources to sustain them through the pandemic. The accounting professionals there also helped with business advice, making recommendations on IT outsourcing and ways to conduct business remotely.
Now, many of Rehmann’s clients are up and running again, but Rehmann has realized it can bring value to far more than just accounting basics. They are continuing to deliver business advice that goes over and above compliance recommendations.
Putting Your Money Where Your Mouth Is in the Time of COVID
The global coronavirus pandemic challenged every kind of business in every corner of the world. Illinois, though, was in the top 10 states for coronavirus deaths in a country that was in the top 10 for deaths globally. That made dealing with the challenges of both disease and social distancing restrictions here even more challenging than most places.
Many accounting firms had their hands full just keeping up with the shocking changes in their own working environment. Clients out of business, staff working from home, a flurry of uncertainty in tax code and government loan programs popping up every day.
It might have been totally understandable if CPAs in Illinois just kept their heads down and did their best to get through the pandemic themselves, like everyone else. But for some of them, the desperate need of the community came first.
The team at Mowery & Schoenfeld, a firm working out of Chicago and Lincolnshire, stepped up during the pandemic. They held socially-distanced volunteer events for staff and put together drives to support charity donations to hungry children and families and matched donations to worthy charities.
There are plenty of big business opportunities for CPAs in the state alongside tax and auditing firms, governmental accounting jobs, and estate planning and personal finance. By becoming a CPA in Illinois, you can take your place among some of the most skilled accounting professionals anywhere in the country.