A firm specializing in not-for-profits

Dozens of links and online articles for not-for-profits.

The All-Purpose Web Site

By   Richard J. Koreto

R affa & Associates, in Washington, D.C., only started its Web page in August 1996. However, the site, a brainchild of founding partner Tom Raffa, is already serving a multitude of purposes—as a marketing tool, a library of links useful for its many not-for-profit (NPO) clients and a forum for original articles on a variety of accounting subjects. The firm even uses its site to recruit new employees, and there are plans for expansion.

Its almost easier to ask what Raffa has not put on its site than what is on. The home page links to sections describing the firm, including its partners and services; a quick "whats new on the site" index; news of interest to NPOs; accounting careers; and a tax legislation summary. These sections fulfill different, and sometimes multiple, purposes.

Marketing. Raffa devotes about five pages to descriptions of the firm and its services, history, philosophy, awards and accomplishments as well as biographies of the four partners. Visitors learn that although the firm, founded in 1984, has more than 250 NPO clients, its client list ranges from auto dealerships to telecommunications. The site explains in lay terms the American Institute of CPAs peer review program and the significance of the firms history of unqualified opinions.

The partner biographies list educational and professional backgrounds, awards and volunteer commitments. Not included are photos, hobbies or any personal information, not even the fact that two of the partners are married to each other.

Client services. The firm is taking advantage of the Internet as an inexpensive publishing medium. It doesnt have a firm newsletter, but it does offer monthly articles of interest to current and potential clients as well as other CPAs. (Hard copies are available on request.) According to Abbie Bradfield, who runs the site as the firms director of information resources, each manager and senior takes a turn writing an article, such as "Criteria for Nonprofits Operating Reserves," "The New OMB Circular A-133: Ready or Not, Here It Is!" and "Nonprofit Investments & FASB #124." The December article, "Why Hire the Professionals?" describes the advantages to the NPO client of using a CPA firm for a variety of services. It mentions AICPA professional standards as an important reason for hiring a CPA. "Theres team involvement in preparing these articles," said Bradfield. "Everyone in the firm has Internet access and is interested in reading colleagues articles."

One of the sites newest sections summarizes major 1996 tax legislation. In the future, Bradfield said the firm hopes to encourage its NPO clients to submit articles to the site, too.

Nontraditional uses. Included in the pro bono work Raffa does for NPOs that cant afford accounting services is helping NPOs develop their own Web sites. In fact, Web site development may soon become a billable service for a variety of clients. The firm has compiled a list of online NPO resources, with phone numbers (basically a hard-copy list of all its NPO links) in a pocket directory that it distributes free to any NPO.

The firm also provides a careers page useful for CPAs around the country. In December, senior accountant Chris Arthur posted an article comparing his experience at Raffa with previous experience at a Big Six firm, which should help recent accounting graduates weigh the pros and cons of working for firms of both sizes. The careers section also has a biography page featuring different staff members. This shows—to both prospective clients and prospective employees—what type of people Raffa hires.

The firms human resources staff also uses the site, seeking candidates for open positions: "Weve been getting a lot of rsums," said Bradfield. Raffa uses the HR section to discuss its diversity: staff members—65% of whom are women—come from China, Jamaica, Korea and Puerto Rico.

"Our library of links is one of our sites best features," said Bradfield. With more than 60 links and still growing, the site is a resource for the firms NPO clients. The connections represent the whole range of NPO needs: salary surveys for NPOs, lists of companies that donate computers, charitable foundations, a law firm with considerable NPO experience, NPO publications and a guide to mailing lists. Each link has a brief description; recently added links are starred. Any NPO with a Web site can request that Bradfield add its address to the list.

Bradfield first used a low-cost shareware program to create the site. Although she found it adequate in the beginning because it was similar to her word processing program, it had limitations. She now uses WebAuthor, which she says is especially useful for converting the articles to hypertext markup language (HTML). The program costs about $50. The firm rents space from its Internet service provider (ISP) at $80 a month. The few graphics used were free clip art loaded from the Internet. "I did a lot of online searching for the free art," said Bradfield.

Her advice to other CPAs considering a Web site is to learn HTML. "Even if you have a program that does all the translating for you, your knowledge will give you more control." Bradfield is a self-taught HTML programmer. "I searched online for resources and bought some books." Books on HTML can be found in general bookstores and at specialized computer outlets.

Raffa & Associates will continue to expand its presence on the Web. Bradfield said that eventually the firm may get its own server rather than using an ISPs server. "Then we could offer a new service: providing Web hosting services to our own clients," she said.

Name: Raffa & Associates
Personnel: 40+ professionals and administrative staff.
Location: Washington, D.C.
Type of client: Mostly not-for-profit organizations, but a variety of other businesses, too.
Services: Full-service accounting, audit, tax and consulting.
Site: http://www.raffa.com/

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