Is Lancaster Ready for a CPA?

Goals: My goal is two-fold–first, by January 31, 2020, I want to have 15-20 faith and/or nonprofit leaders on board with the CPA concept and second, by December 31, 2019, I want to have further refined our timeline and business plan for a CPA model.

Obstacles: The greatest obstacle to this plan is time. I (and by extension PRC, the organization I run) have the relationships necessary for these conversations. And many of these individuals know understand the need. They may even relate to us through the back office services we provide (bookkeeping, CPA-reviewed financial services, payroll, QuickBooks set-up, website design, and administrative services). But they’re all really busy and so am I.

Additionally, we have a timeline and business plan well underway. We have funders who are interested in helping to fund a pilot project. We have proof of concept because of the back office services we already offer. And we have community partners who are interested in participating. But we’re a small organization that does more than 100 events a year, runs a two-year training program, works with more than 85 churches in Pennsylvania and Maryland. Time goes quickly and balancing all of this work, and the opportunities that routinely come our way, is challenging.

Skills and Knowledge: We’re a pretty nimble and flexible organization with a great team. Breaking down big projects into manageable steps is what we do a lot. And we are an organization that relies on relationships for everything we do so we’re well versed in bringing people together. I am also very grateful for the excellent resources CPA offers as well and we will use those as we continue to work at this project as well.

People: As I’ve mentioned above, we work with over 85 member churches and connect to about 150 churches regularly. Lancaster is a small city so I also know most of the nonprofit leaders in the community and we have a good working relationship.

Next Steps:

  • Identify 60 local nonprofits to research as potential founding members;
  • Perform 20 feasibility/relational interviews to determine the most impactful focus of a Lancaster co-op similar to CPA;
  • Recruit 6 leaders from Lancaster nonprofits to establish a co-op Steering Team;
  • Select and enroll 20 Lancaster County nonprofits as founding members of the co-op;
  • Continue to refine our pitch to funders; and
  • Continue to refine our business plan and rollout timeline.

RS: Thanks everyone your comments and thoughts. Apologies for the delay in responding. I had a sinus headache much of the weekend and looking at a screen was a bit overwhelming. After reading through your comments, I am wondering if I should have titled this post: “Is Kate Ready for a CPA?”

I am, but I also realize that I’m navigating an abundance of riches right now and it can be harder to navigate that than when, five years ago, I couldn’t get anyone to return my phone calls.

While I think we’re well on our way, I appreciate, Felipe, your comments about defining what sets our bookkeeping services apart. It’s a good question and one that we can articulate, but it’s helpful to remember that we should.

Paul, your comments were generous and kind and right on target. I shared them with the important people in my life and they were in full agreement. Thank you! I think a personal goal for me, after reading through your comments is to continue to build in time for Sabbath, to regroup and have the space to consider this all.

7 thoughts on “Is Lancaster Ready for a CPA?”

  1. Wow Kate this is amazing. You have pieces in place and haven’t even started yet! I’m curious to know how a CPA-like model would shine through the web of stuff you do already to become a priority for faith leaders. What’s preventing them from doing something like this right now, when there is already so much coordination and so many strong social ties? So far they have not used all these connections to create CPA – Lancaster. Why? Is it simply lack of knowledge of the CPA business model, or is it something deeper? What apple cart might get tipped over if you were to launch a CPA – Lancaster?

    How do you respond to adrienne maree brown’s take that ‘there is always time for the truly important work.’? How does that shape your view of how busy-ness will come into play for you and other leaders in the area?

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    1. Thanks, Jonathan. These are good questions. There’s just a lot of truly important work :). That, for PRC, includes running a bookkeeping and financial services business, a school, the events I mentioned before, retaining relationships with the 100 or so churches we work with while connecting to many more, relating to detainees held at one of the largest detention center in the U.S. (and working with ICE to revise their bond process–fingers crossed!), and building a network called CNCT that pairs local volunteers with nonprofits working in specific areas of social justice. PRC has three full-time staff and a few very part-time contract employees doing all of this work. It may seem like a random conglomeration of projects and programs but it’s led to the administrative infrastructure that we need to offer a CPA-like option and build the trust from other organizations, while also putting together the pieces that funders/donors/my board need to get a CPA-like project moving. We find that if we have a concept people can respond to, we’re more successful in moving it forward.We’re at a good tipping point for all of this to move forward. I think most people are excited about the idea–I met with the local Presbyter who oversees 56 Presbyterian congregations today and she think it’s great. But we relate primarily to volunteers and they’re overwhelmed, aren’t experts or (often) organizationally minded and so it takes a long time for them to move ahead on something.

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  2. Kate, so glad you’re here. Kudos on your first post! The focus and timelines on your two goals feel bold yet achievable.

    A few questions:
    How do people get enrolled in your book keeping and other financial services? how much do you charge for those?
    How much do you value your (or your team’s) time? If you had to give it a $ per hour charge, what would folks be willing to pay for it? What distinguishes how you do the book keeping? Do you provide more value because you’re more knowledgeable? Are you more convenient? Or do you just help them get the job done?

    I ask these questions because I’m curious if you’ve taken the time to reflect on and really name your core value propostion? Or what’s the value proposition you deliver for the largest number of clients? Or what’s the one that brings in the most revenue?
    Here’s a list of some categories to get you thinking: https://strategyzer.uservoice.com/knowledgebase/articles/1194370-how-do-i-use-the-value-propositions-building-block

    The reason I’m curious about this, is that given that PRC has a track-record, and is a known entity — you’re probably known for something already — and reflecting on that and getting clearer on that might help you think about what edge you’ll bring to building a CPA Co-op in Lancaster… Or how you can expand the set of services you’re offering.

    What do you think? How would you describe PRC’s core value proposition — or the most important one to your most important clients / members? (if you had to say no to everything else and do just one.)

    Another line of questioning:
    If you were pushed to distill or re-organize your time so that you could only focus on two or three activities every day, what would they be?
    If you had to choose the one activity that the organization most needs you for and that you as an individual most enjoy doing — what would it be?
    Might that intersection be your “truly important work” ?

    What do you think?
    Thanks so much for being here. I’m excited to get to work together this weeks.

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  3. Katie, I admire your bold goals!

    If you achieve these goals, how do you benefit? In other words, what’s in it for you?

    It’s great that you have access to 85 churches. What do you think is the self-interest of these leaders to join CPA?

    Regarding leadership, do any of the faith leaders have the potential to become partners in this endeavor? Other members of the congregations? What skillset or expertise should the members of the steering committee have? Can you think of others who can be partners or thought-leaders?

    Have you considered breaking down the plan of action a little more so that it accounts for all the tasks required to do every step? Perhaps this can help allocate time to ensure that tasks get done.

    I look forward to hearing how it goes!

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  4. Kate, Impressive and ambitious timeline, although it sounds like you already have a good start on things – a funder lined up and ready to roll, for instance! I think we are all feeling that our biggest obstacle is time. With that refrain being the key obstacle that everyone is feeling (or at least is a factor in everyone’s post I’ve read), I wonder if there is any possibility of seeing if your funder could be persuaded that funding is needed in order to get to launch-ready mode.
    It sounds like you and your organization are well-suited to build a CPA organization in Lancaster.
    You ask, “Is Lancaster ready for a CPA?” What uncertainty is driving that question?

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  5. Really enjoyed reading your post, Kate. Most particularly since I miss being part of the Mennonite world and know the Lancaster context decently from visiting EMU friends there.

    It sounds to me like your time constraint could be addressed in large measure through the funding for your pilot being use to hire a part or full time CPA organizer whose sole responsibility is having those 1 on 1s, convening, and building out that plan. Is that the intention? Or are you hoping to be able to tack it onto other existing positions? One of my first thoughts was how if as a young organizer I’d been given a terrain as dense in relationships as Lancaster and such a clear mission it would have been a really fun first organizing challenge to sink my teeth into, particularly with your mentorship. (As a side note, do you happen to know Heike Martin? I feel like she would be all over this concept/work.)

    You didn’t mention a personal goal. What’s your self-interest in getting this off the ground right now? How do you hope it will help you in your inner work and personal development? What are you reading/listening to that’s inspiring you these days?

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  6. I’m so impressed with your work, Kate. There is so much I want to lear about what you are already doing.

    The one thing it feels to me that is left out is you. By that I mean how will you take care of yourself? How will you find that sabbath time amidst all this new work, that allows you to flourish, and grow, and be renewed? There is much doing to do. How will you stop? What will you let go of to allow space for this new work?

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