Danielle Supkis Cheek couldn’t help but notice problems with basic financial literacy all around her.
“I saw well-educated people with degrees from top universities and licensed professionals struggling with basic financial decisions,” said Supkis Cheek, CPA, president of D. Supkis Cheek PLLC in Houston. “If they’re struggling with financial literacy, then what is happening to the rest of the world?”
Supkis Cheek decided to share her accounting expertise with others, volunteering with The Women’s Resource of Greater Houston, a financial literacy not-for-profit, and several entrepreneurship accelerators. Because of her commitment to the public good and the profession, Supkis Cheek is winner of the 2016 AICPA Outstanding Young CPA Award in Honor of Maximo Mukelabai.
“All of the volunteer work I do continues to reinforce how much I love what I do,” Supkis Cheek wrote in her letter of entry for the award. “It reminds me of how I fell into accounting when I watch someone not be afraid of numbers for the first time. I hope that my exposure to so many people helps positively portray our profession as interesting and exciting.”
People she works with are often surprised at her outsized personality and plainspoken presentation. “The first reaction is usually shock that I’m not a stereotypical accountant, and then after that some people have a lightbulb moment, and hopefully make a more informed decision,” Supkis Cheek said. “If they’re in a bad set of facts and circumstances, you can’t fix all their problems in a couple-hour class. But I try to focus on how you go about solving the problem from a resource standpoint, as well as how to make an informed decision.”
The AICPA gives the award annually to a CPA under 40 for contributions to the accounting profession and the community through outstanding work and volunteer service. The award also recognizes those who provide leadership to young CPAs coming into the profession.
“It feels like I’m making a little bit of a difference,” Supkis Cheek said. “When I teach women and when I teach small business owners, those have the most exponential impact on the people around them.”
Her experience can also provide guidance to fellow CPAs looking to maximize the impact of their volunteer work. Here are some tips:
- Find a not-for-profit you believe in and offer to provide professional services. Chances are they’ll be more than happy to have you, Supkis Cheek said. “As a CPA, you have a great in for every not-for-profit,” she said. “You can pretty much just call anyone up and say, ‘Hey, do you need some help in your accounting?’ If they get wind that you’re a CPA, many times they are looking for a VP of finance position or a treasurer position on their board.”
- Make sure you and your firm are protected while you volunteer. Malpractice issues apply to volunteer work as well as paid work. Check to be sure you’re covered and be aware of the potential risks and how to help mitigate them.
- Make a business case for your volunteer work. Owners and managers are more likely to approve time away from the office to volunteer if they see a potential benefit for the firm, Supkis Cheek said. “As a business owner, in my mind I hear, ‘OK, you’re doing good—great.’ But I also hear that you’re getting practice and making connections, so one day you can turn into a rainmaker,” she said. “I would say the business owner in me would be much more inclined to say, ‘Yeah, take off during the middle of the day, that sounds great,’ when I see the professional and firm benefit.”
The AICPA invites young CPAs who are passionate about serving the public and the profession to apply for next year’s award. The application process includes submitting details on your volunteer history, along with professional reference forms from your peers, AICPA staff, employers, and state CPA societies. The application period for next year’s award will open in early 2017. If you have questions, contact YoungCPANetwork@aicpa.org.
Eddie Huffman is a Greensboro, N.C.-based freelance writer. To comment on this article, contact Chris Baysden, senior manager of newsletters at the AICPA.
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