Caitlin and Jade work at Fox Tax, a boutique tax firm specializing in artists that also doubles as an art gallery in northeast Minneapolis. Both also volunteer as tax preparers at Prepare + Prosper. Art and taxes may not seem to be the likeliest pair at first take, but for Caitlin and Jade they make perfect sense. Tax preparation is equal parts skill in navigating the tax code and telling one’s story by way of an accurately completed tax form.

There is an art to tax preparation, especially when you are trying to draw out of someone information to from their year to reconstruct it and make it fit into boxes. The tax forms tell the story of what happened to someone that year. Through asking questions, you wind up having intimate conversations about money with strangers that you would not ordinarily get to have.

Caitlin, a tax preparer and artist herself, fell into tax preparation when doing her own taxes for the first time as a recent college graduate. With forms she picked up at her local library, she filled out her first return on paper, proudly mailing it in only to get it back because she forgot to sign it.

Growing up, my family didn’t have much money and didn’t talk about money much. I was clueless about taxes. With my first tax forms, I tried really hard to follow directions and fill it out correctly, but it was a harrowing experience. With what I know now, I’m quite sure some items ended up on the wrong lines.

The experience motivated Caitlin to take a tax class at a local chain preparer where she ended up accepting a job come tax season. A fine arts grad who intended to pursue profession in it, she needed a job and quickly saw the overlap of some of her passions:  art, financial empowerment, and community.

I was working for a preparer in lower-income community. After getting comfortable with tax preparation, I began reaching out to the local community, especially the artists, wanting to be a resource for their tax needs. After a couple of seasons, I found Fox Tax and made the commitment to become a full-fledged tax person, getting my certification as an enrolled agent. Taxes are a funny profession where you can take the traditional route of a degree in accounting or you can be someone with a desire to learn the tax rules and code to get there.

Volunteering to giving back, gaining skills

Caitlin volunteers as a tax preparer at Prepare + Prosper along with her colleague, Jade. Economic justice is important to Caitlin and she’s feels like she’s doing something good and useful putting her skills to use in an area that often gets neglected when you think of volunteering to help people in difficult situations.

It’s important to give people the tools and knowledge needed to take control of their money.  We’re helping people increase their sense of understanding over their own money and tax situation.

Education, for both the people she’s working with and herself, is important to Jade, the office manager at Fox Tax who’s studying to become a tax preparer. Jade worked as a receptionist at Fox Tax during tax season during college while pursuing a degree in business.

My path to taxes is different. After spending a handful of years in the corporate world, I needed something different. I’m now studying to become an enrolled agent and putting my learning to practice volunteering.

Upon telling her bosses she was ready to become a tax preparer, they directed her to volunteer at as a tax preparer Prepare + Prosper because of the additional training she’ll get and hands-on experience she’ll gain in preparing taxes and interviewing taxpayers as she completes returns.

When you’re a tax preparer, you’re not only entering data into a form but you’re having conversations, listening to people’s stories, and sharing information yourself so that people walk away better understanding our tax system and their tax situation. Volunteering at Prepare + Prosper has given me invaluable experience and added to my confidence in what I’m doing and my skill set.

Skills-based volunteering

Caitlin and Jade are two different examples of the benefits of skills-based volunteering. The definition of skills-based volunteering is leveraging a specialized skill set and talent to support a nonprofit or the public good. For Prepare + Prosper, founded by a group of accountants wanting to offer free tax and financial services, the concept is our foundation and our livelihood.

According to Meg Rauth VanWagner with HandsOn Twin Cities, skills-based volunteering, sometimes called probono, has become much more popular across the country since the recession and in recent years has taken off in the Twin Cities, both by way of individuals and organizations. Meg and HandsOn Twin Cities are working to serve as a bridge –matching volunteers, corporations, and nonprofits interested in this work.

Skills-based volunteering is extremely powerful. There is huge benefit to the individual and an even greater benefit to nonprofits. Volunteers are broadening a skill set, building leadership skills, and making a difference in their community. Nonprofits are getting something they’d otherwise have to pay for to advance their mission, scale, and reach success.

Meg says corporations are seeing a benefit, too. 88% of employees feel their job is more fulfilling when they are provided an opportunity to make an impact on social or environmental issues, and strong cultures affect the bottom line.

Prepare + Prosper leverages the skill and talent of more than 550 volunteers each year to serve nearly 13,000 people with free tax prep and financial services and coaching. Volunteers contribute more than 25,000 hours and return nearly $24 million in tax refunds into people’s pockets.

To volunteer with Prepare + Prosper, visit our website to register for an info session.

Stacy Opitz

Marketing + Communications Director

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