When we think of giving back, we tend to think of donating money or goods. But as an accounting or finance professional, your professional expertise and experience may be more helpful than you realize. Here are the stories of five professional women putting their talents to good use in volunteer roles. Let these women inspire you to give more of your time in meaningful ways.
DOROTHY ASHLEY | VITA
Dorothy Ashley, CPA, is retired from the State of Arizona General Accounting Office. She continues to work for a small CPA firm during tax season interviewing clients and preparing tax returns.
How and why did you first get involved with VITA? I was introduced to Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA), which offers free tax help to people who need assistance in preparing their own tax returns, through my membership in AFWA. I began volunteering every Saturday for VITA, sponsored by United Way, because I wanted to help people that really could not pay a preparer. It gave me a good feeling inside to see the smiles on clients’ faces after we helped them.
How did you use your professional skills in your volunteer role, and does VITA require any special qualifications? I used my skills in interviewing the taxpayers at VITA the same as I did at work at the CPA firm. Actually, my main job at the VITA site was to do the interviewing to make sure they had everything needed for a tax preparer to complete their return which included items they may have forgotten to bring. Every year, VITA volunteers have to pass a test in order to participate. There is not a requirement to be a CPA or an accountant, but you must learn the tax code and the software.
ALANNA ABREU | NON-PROFIT CONSULTING
Alanna is Audit Senior at Dannible & McKee, LLP. She specializes in not-for-profits (NPO) in her firm but also serves in various capacities as needed for local NPO’s.
(Alanna) Through work, there are several NPO’s that I work more closely with to make sure they are in compliance with new laws and regulations, as small NPO’s don’t have the means or the know-how to be able to understand and know what they should or shouldn’t be doing in some cases. My time both professionally and in a volunteer basis fluctuates with need. I work with an NPO on areas that need improvement and then set them up to maintain on their own. I think it’s important that I “teach them to fish” vs “giving them the fish”.
Why did you first get involved with non-profits? In my household growing up, I learned young that it was important to give back to community. At home we helped our mom with her Women Nursing Associates through various functions or other organization she was helping with, and in high school I become actively involved with Young Life, which only grew from there.
How do you use your professional skills to help NPOs? I help with anything that is in need, I either give advice from what I know or just give them a resource for something I don’t. Sometime with small NPO’s it’s simply the lack of knowing where to look.
How does your volunteer/consulting work impact your overall professional experience? With NPO’s I have to research a lot, so I learn so much. I also have to dig for answers within their systems, which gives me an opportunity to learn different systems and how they work.
MARY BURNS | RED CROSS
Mary Burns is retired, with 35 years of accounting experience in the oil and gas industry. She now serves as Assistant Director Finance for the Red Cross.
How did you first get involved with the Red Cross? Oklahoma has been affected by several large devastating tornadoes and I wanted a way to help those impacted. At a Volunteer Fair at work, I met representatives from the Red Cross who gave me the opportunity to get involved.
How do you use your accounting skills as a volunteer? Initially as a Red Crosser, I trained for disaster response. After Superstorm Sandy, the Red Cross was criticized for not managing donor dollars wisely and in response to that, they created the Assistant Director Finance role. I volunteered for the role and with my accounting background, was immediately accepted.
In this role, I report to the Director in charge of the relief operations and to the Red Cross Disaster Finance staff. I assist the leadership team in developing their budget, monitoring expenses, tracking inventories and developing fiscal controls. I am there to manage the brand risk.
In large scale disasters, there are hundreds of people, primarily volunteers, arriving from all over the country to assist. They have a wide range of backgrounds, training and experience. There can be lots of donations of relief supplies pouring in to many different locations. We can operate out of many facilities, setting up service locations and warehouses quickly only to move them later. It is a constantly changing environment so having good fiscal controls and reporting is very important.
Did your volunteer work impact your professional experience? Working on disaster relief operations requires good communication skills to be able to explain fiscal controls to a wide range of people and flexibility to adjust to changing situations. With people who don’t know each other being thrown into situations of working together for 12 hour days, conflict resolution can be needed. I frequently supervise one or two people and train volunteers. All of these skills apply to professional situations.
The Red Cross is constantly looking for more finance volunteers. If you’re interested in learning more, contact Mary Burns.
JESSICA VEAL, CPA | MENTOR
Jessica Veal is a Senior at, Novinger, Ball & Zivi, PC. In her spare time, she serves as a mentor for college students pursuing accounting degrees and volunteers for various non-profits.
Why did you first get involved as a mentor? I first became a mentor to pay it forward. I appreciate each person who has given me advice and has supported me along my career path. I just wanted to provide that same guidance to someone else.
How do you use your experience as an accounting/finance professional as a volunteer? In one instance a college student wanted someone with career experience to advise them on their initial career path. I was able to share my experiences. My accounting skills have also been valuable in volunteering for non-profit organizations and assisting with cash management.
Does your volunteer work impact your own professional experience or growth? Volunteer experiences are instrumental in developing leadership and soft skills. I have become a more positive person with a greater understanding on how to be an advocate for those I will meet along my career path.
MAGGIE SHEA, CPA | TEAM VOLUNTEER
Maggie Shea, CPA is the owner of StaffBuffalo, LLC which specializes in executive, permanent, and temporary placements, primarily focused on placing Finance and Accounting professionals. Maggie recognizes community involvement is key to her and her business success. An avid volunteer herself, she encourages her team to do the same and is known to occasionally shut down the office for her team to participate together in volunteer events.
Maggie and her team at StaffBuffalo take pride in volunteering on various Boards and for events throughout the year! StaffBuffalo is built around the motto that their work is done “to make people happy”, which translates from work to volunteering and vice versa. The team works with companies and people to make career matches, and in turn, they make the managers and employees happy. The team is further solidified by their extensive involvement in the community.
The StaffBuffalo team participates in “Cooks for Kids” and ran the 5k at the Ronald McDonald House Charities. They volunteer for NextGen (aka YCPAs of the NYSSCPAs) at the annual NextGen Golf Outing, the annual Taste of Buffalo, and volunteered at Evergreen Health Services in preparation for Pride Week, which included running in the Gay 5k. The StaffBuffalo team also volunteers for the Finance Team at the Promise Shop for the Susan G. Komen Race for a Cure WNY, plants trees in the community through Re-Tree WNY, and donates blood and platelets for Roswell Park. They volunteer for and help coordinate the Annual Parkside Tour of Homes and help fundraise, plan, and attend events for Child & Family Services, Accounting & Financial Women’s Alliance (AFWA), and WNY Human Resources Young Professionals (WNY HR YPs). The team also works closely with B Team Buffalo, where they volunteer for the groups largest event, City of Light, participated in a Buffalo park clean up, and volunteered for one of their other signature events, Send Hunger Packing.