"I have just received the generous grant from the Benevolent Fund and would like to express my gratitude for your generosity. This past year has been a trying time for my family and me as we wait on federal assistance. I never expected my membership in the AICPA to provide such a benefit beyond the business needs. The AICPA has proven again to be an invaluable asset."
— One-time grant recipient
Those are the words of a CPA who received a grant from the AICPA Benevolent Fund. The fund was set up to help CPAs who have suffered a financial setback due to a natural disaster, medical problems, unemployment, or other causes. It is ready to assist, but its greatest challenge can be simply getting the word out that help is available and, in some cases, convincing CPAs that they deserve assistance.
86 years of outreach
The fund was created in 1933 — during the Great Depression — to offer temporary assistance to CPAs. "The traditional recipient has been someone with a significant financial hardship," said Robert Taylor, CPA, president of the fund's board of trustees and partner at Potter & Company in Mooresville, N.C.
The fund distributed aid totaling nearly $650,000 in 2018. Awards are given as one-time grants, not loans. In the case of ongoing needs, they may be disbursed over a six-month cycle (recipients may reapply at the end of the cycle if necessary).
Recent recipients have included:
- The disabled widow of an AICPA member who cares for an adult son with diabetes and was struggling with credit card debt. The fund helped her cover recurring expenses following the loss of the family's primary income.
- A sole practitioner who had 4 feet of water in her home and garage, who also was facing child-care issues when flooding closed local schools and day care centers. A grant from the fund helped her replace her cars and manage costs related to sending her children to alternate schools farther from home.
- A young, unemployed CPA dealing with depression in the wake of a divorce. A grant from the fund helped him secure an apartment while he sought a new job.
- A CPA nearing retirement who had 6 feet of water in his home and no flood insurance after a nearby dam failed. He was able to pay for repairs with a grant from the fund.
Some CPAs have also used fund grants to seize new opportunities that might have otherwise been beyond their reach. Trustee Rachel McCollister, CPA, director of accounting at NJOY Electronic Cigarettes in Phoenix, recalls a young CPA in California who received a great job offer in Chicago and couldn't afford the move. "He just needed $1,000 to relocate," she said.
Making the fund more visible
Despite all the good it does, "the fund is one of the best-kept secrets in the AICPA," Taylor said. That's something the trustees are working to change. In recent years, they have shifted to a more proactive approach to giving, traveling to disasters when they occur and meeting in person with CPAs who are trying to get their lives back on course.
When he has traveled to affected areas, "the CPAs we met showed so much gratitude that someone cared in their time of need," said Lonnie Stockwell, immediate past president of the board and a CPA who is retired from public practice but still remains active in the profession. He even recalls a time that a conference speaker pointed him out as a fund trustee. A CPA in the audience immediately got up from his seat and approached Stockwell, eager to show him pictures of the home repairs a fund grant had enabled him to make after a natural disaster.
To remain alert to local needs, the fund has built strong relationships with state CPA societies, said Ron Gitz, CPA, CGMA, a trustee who is executive director and CEO of the Society of Louisiana CPAs. These contacts have enabled the fund to identify CPAs hit by everything from weather-related disasters in the South and Midwest to wildfires in California. After floods devastated Baton Rouge in 2016, for example, "we visited people whose worldly possessions were all stacked up in the street," Gitz said. Because the area wasn't prone to flooding, few people had the necessary insurance to cover their expenses. "We were there and able to help," he said.
In a further effort to spread the word, trustees have also been actively involved with the CPA Society Executives Association, attending its annual conference to meet and educate members about the fund. "They are our first line of communication and our outreach has been very well received," Taylor said. In addition, the fund has a presence at the AICPA ENGAGE conference.
Helping CPAs ask for help
CPAs' reluctance to ask for help is another concern for the fund. "CPAs serve the public," Gitz said. "It's in our name and in our DNA. It's difficult for us to wear the other hat."
After Hurricane Harvey, Gitz met a Houston CPA there who had been displaced from her home once before, when Hurricane Katrina caused destruction in New Orleans. When Harvey hit, her husband was battling cancer and had lost his job. "She told me I should be helping someone who needed it more than she did," he said. "I told her that nobody deserved the help more than she did." He urges potential recipients to allow the fund to help them so that they can go back to helping others.
"CPAs are proud people," McCollister said, "but everybody needs something some time. This is one of the benefits of being an AICPA member: We want to help each other out."
To be eligible for aid, potential recipients must:
- Be current AICPA members, a surviving spouse of someone who was a member at the time of their death, or the dependent child (under age 21) of a member.
- Submit an application with documented evidence of financial need.
Spread the word!
AICPA members who want to support the fund should be aware that they can make donations through their annual dues statement — and that their help will make a difference. The trustees also encourage AICPA members to promote awareness of the fund. While information about applicants and recipients is held in strict confidence, AICPA members can get involved by talking about the fund and encouraging friends and colleagues in need to reach out to it so that they can overcome their current challenges. When CPAs are experiencing a hardship, Stockwell said, "we can get them to the next step."
Anita Dennis is a freelance writer based in New Jersey. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.