A few weeks ago I wrapped up my fifth tax season with Prepare + Prosper (P+P), so I was ready for the inevitable question:

So what do you do after tax season?

I have my response down; a little laugh and,

You might be surprised, but I still do taxes!

At P+P we do continue preparing taxes throughout the summer and fall, and last year between May and December we helped over a thousand people. In addition to a sizable crowd that didn’t meet the tax deadline, the customers we see in in the off-season are generally filing:

  • Minnesota renter’s credit or homestead credit refund forms (due in August)
  • Prior year returns, going back as far as 2001
  • Amended returns

While “taxes” is my standard response, it’s an incomplete one. I also need to explain that the end of one season heralds the beginning of another season:

planning season.

The accomplishments of our four busiest months—training 500+ volunteers and 48 seasonal staff, running 438 tax clinics, serving over 12,000 customers who received $12 million in federal refunds and saved $1.4 million —require extensive forethought and strategic planning. In April, we do a quick pivot toward evaluating the tax season, developing improved procedures, and revamping volunteer training.

Planning season gives time to lay groundwork for the rest of the year. I have space to think creatively about the challenges we may face next season and explore the data and feedback we collected from customers, volunteers and staff throughout the year. This is my time to dream big about how we’ll provide stronger customer service.

Another amazing part of planning season is time dedicated to collaboration and building relationships with our peers that do similar work in Minnesota and nationwide.

At the end of May, P+P and partners from our local Internal Revenue Service (IRS) office and Minnesota Department of Revenue hosted a conversation with free tax preparation providers from across the state. We discussed in great detail volunteer recruitment and training and the transition to TaxSlayer software. The new tax preparation software most free tax preparation organizations used in 2017 caused significant challenges for volunteers with a different data entry style and frequent outages. The changeover amplified the overlap of volunteer management and tax prep software, and we devoted several hours to troubleshooting problems and sharing best practices.

We’re so often focused on forms, rules, and individual problem-solving, it’s refreshing to come together with others rooted in this work to share and learn from one another.

As a member of the Taxpayer Opportunity Network Steering Committee, I traveled to Atlanta a few weeks after the tax season ended to meet with staff at the IRS Wage and Investment Income Headquarters, other Volunteer Income Tax Assistance (VITA) organizations, and leaders from the AARP Tax Aide program. The conversation included TaxSlayer executives, and the group was firm in demanding a more transparent process for updates, improvements to state software, and system infrastructure upgrades to minimize outages.

I left the meeting with cautious optimism; the software will be better next year, but it will not fulfill all of the dreams of VITA volunteers.

As I finish this article, I’m transitioning to tie up loose ends from our first off-season tax clinics. Then I shift my focus to a day-long staff retreat next week where we’ll start planning for the upcoming fiscal year that begins July 1. There is never a dull moment when your business is tax preparation for 12,000+ people in 12 weeks, and for me taxes are always at the core—even after tax season ends.