The best ways to use your CPA skills as a volunteer

CPAs have an extensive skillset to offer as volunteers, from financial expertise to helping an organization with strategy and risk assessment (Getty Images/Klaus Vedfelt)

CPAs are well-known for their financial savvy. But, given their broad skillset that goes beyond money management, they can be a valuable asset as a volunteer—especially on boards as a treasurer or on an audit committee—with not-for-profit organizations, which often have limited resources. 

RECOGNIZE YOUR ADDED VALUE

Technical competencies such as auditing, taxation, strategy, financial reporting and management accounting are the heart of a CPA’s work, says CPA Marie-Ève Quenneville, a full-time lecturer at HEC Montréal’s Department of Accounting.

“But the enabling competencies [professional and ethical behaviours, teamwork, leadership, problem solving, decision-making, communication…] is what we wish to develop,” she says. “These skills are extremely important for students who may go on to become directors for non-profits. As with all boards of directors, teamwork, communication and the ability to explain complex concepts in layman’s terms are qualities that are sought after in directors.”

CPA Andrea Nicholls, CFO at Dentons Canada and volunteer board member of Centraide of Greater Montreal agrees. “A lot of the not-for-profit sector is about networking, meeting the right people—meaning organizations that can help a cause,” she says. “As CPAs, networking and communication are things that we learn in our career.”

Another area where professional accountants can play a key role is risk management, according to CPA Leonidas Assogba, also a volunteer member of the board of directors of Centraide of Greater Montreal Foundation and senior advisor, ongoing operational risk monitoring and risk management at Desjardins.

“Technological changes affect not-for-profits as much as for-profit companies,” he says. “Through their training and professional experience, CPAs can help assess the impact these changes will have on financial statements of not-for-profit organizations.”

And don’t forget strategic vision, adds Quenneville, where CPAs can take the affected stakeholders into account when assessing the potential consequences of a problem. “Rather than being decision-makers, they support decision-making by bringing an ethical dimension to the work, thanks to the values of the profession,” she says.

START SIMPLE

Many CPAs may not be aware of the full power of their professional network and skills, especially if they are still at the beginning of their career, notes Nicholls.

“Every person you’ve spoken to, every client, boss, co-worker and department you’ve interacted with matters,” she says. “We can turn around and use that work-life experience to help our respective communities.”

Not sure where to begin? “There are obviously the boards of directors, but a condominium association, student cooperative, daycare, sports association or tax clinic are all good opportunities,” says Quenneville.

“The most important thing is to ask yourself what you can contribute,” says Assogba, who began volunteering as a teenager growing up in Benin, in western Africa. Today, he volunteers as a mentor for Academos, advising young people on their careers and explaining what the CPA designation could do for them. 

“So many exciting discussions and encounters that, beyond the numbers, bring a lot on a human level,” he says.

LEAD BY EXAMPLE

Nicholls suggests choosing an area that you feel strongly about. “It’s much easier to give your time to something you are passionate about. And that’s where you can have the most impact and where your skills will be most useful.”

Employers also have a role to play, says Nicholls. “If the leaders of organizations think volunteering is important, then it should be a priority in the workplace. The key is to have the right tone at the top, and to clearly state time and financial guidelines: we’re aiming for goal X, you can spend Y amount of time and resources on it. This makes everything clearer for the employees.”

“Why not ask all our colleagues to start getting more involved right now?” suggests Assogba. “We accomplished our professional objectives, so we should think about giving back to society. The more CPAs get involved in volunteering, the better the image of the profession will be.”

GET INVOLVED WITH THE PROFESSION

CPA Canada is always in need of volunteers for its tax, financial literacy, governance, research and guidance, standard setting and professional development programs. Feedback from past and present volunteers tells us that being able to serve the public interest of Canadians, making a personal contribution to our initiatives, feeling influential in decisions and the ability to grow and sustain a professional network are just a few of the benefits to volunteering with CPA Canada.

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