FINANCIAL LITERACY MONTH: WORKING WITH SKILLS-BASED PROFESSIONAL VOLUNTEERS
Houston Arts Alliance
April is Financial Literacy month. What exactly is Financial Literacy in the arts? It’s understanding financial fundamentals and how to apply them to your organization. Throughout the month of April, we’re bringing you insights on what financial literacy is, how to improve yours and resources that can help. (Read previous posts about Financial Literacy Month here.)
“It’s wonderful to read about an organization in the paper, to follow their successes, and watch them grow in revenue and continue to prosper,” comments Kathy Ploch. “It’s difficult, especially in these times, to continue successful operations and keep pushing forward, especially when starting from the ground up. Many businesses simply don’t last and are no longer around.”
Kathy Ploch, a certified public accountant and Manager of the Entrepreneurial Services program at Houston’s Harper & Pearson Company, P.C. is in a good position to talk about financial growth and sustainability of an organization. She’s provided volunteer services to nonprofit businesses for more than two decades, dedicating more than 15 years of service to arts organizations specifically.
Ploch explains that “nonprofits employ some of the nicest people I’ve worked with, with a high level of loyalty amongst the staff. They’re more than willing to share their art form with you – with invitations to concerts and openings – which fosters an inclusive experience with volunteers. They’re eager to learn and adopt practices to help their organization grow and be sustainable.”
Ploch first started working with arts organizations through Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts (TALA). Volunteering with TALA has provided Ploch with the excitement of personally affecting the growth of start-ups into more established organizations – such as those participating in the Pre- and Resident Incubator programs in HAA’s Capacity Building Initiative. She feels the addition of skills-based professional volunteers is an essential component for any organization, and contributes to the “it takes a village” spirit that’s needed to propel organizations firmly into the future.
But skills-based volunteers like Ploch aren’t easy to find and are often reluctant to give the time needed to assist an organization with a high-level project. Sometimes this is based on previous experiences that didn’t meet a volunteer’s expectations, or more often, skills-based volunteering isn’t part of the corporate culture in key professions. Ploch believes both are reasons why many CPAs are slow to offer pro bono and volunteer services, especially in the arts. “Often CPAs have been burned by working with an organization that their records were a mess or they were very disorganized,” Ploch adds.
Ploch is working with Houston Arts Alliance to develop targeted workshops and talks for the Business Volunteers for the Arts and Financial Literacy for the Arts programs to address private sector volunteer’s concerns. She’s worked side-by-side with HAA gathering input from other CPAs, to create programming for organizations and board members that helps to demystify areas of basic accounting principles and teach financial fundamentals. She’s hoping the efforts to craft a program that addresses needs expressed by organizations and educates in areas seen as weaknesses by skills-based volunteers will help with long-term sustainability of the organizations that participate.
Ploch suggests there are key ingredients that are vital to the incorporation of skills-based professional volunteers that organizations should assess.
- Perform a SWOT analysis to determine strengths and weaknesses of your organization. Through the analysis, an organization will better be able to identify what kinds of skills-based professional volunteers can be of benefit to their growth.
- Second, Ploch suggests using board development as a tool to recruit volunteers in key areas where weaknesses exist. But use caution when cultivating board members to serve in specific capacities – if your board is a working board, the expectations of what type of help is needed and time commitment needs to be clear from the beginning. Additionally, it’s important to understand the experience level of each board member, and work with your board to ensure each member understands the role of the board in the organization – especially in respect to understanding budgets and their associated issues.
- Last, she recommends that any organization seeking to add skills-based professional volunteers take organization to a new level. If the organization is scrambling to pull together records and files, it won’t be a meaningful, sustainable experience for either party.
Ploch is a past president of the Houston CPA Society as well as Texas Accountants and Lawyers for the Arts (TALA). She is an active volunteer in the VITA program, which offers tax preparation assistance to low-income individuals. Ploch has also offered numerous workshops and talks with Houston Arts Alliance and Fresh Arts. Ploch will host the fourth in an ongoing series of workshops for HAA on April 23, 2015 on the topic of Reporting Requirements. For more information, or to register, click here.