by SueAnn Rybak for FunTimes Magazine
FunTimes Magazine spoke to Dr. Nikia Owens, the new president and CEO of Campaign for Working Families (CWF), about successfully completing a tax season under her tenure and her plans for the future of the organization.
Campaign for Working Families is a Philadelphia nonprofit that works to provide working families with access to finances through asset development, free tax preparation and resource development.
Priorities and Projects
Owens, who assumed her role on Oct. 1, 2022, said she had several initiatives she wanted to work on.
“I bucketed those into three categories: administration, operations and programming,” she noted.
She said her top priority was making sure all CWF’s “systems and processes were designed, developed and built in a way that made the operations more efficient.”
Owens hired a communications/marketing company to help develop a strategic plan to expand the nonprofit’s services.
She also hired new staff when she took over; CWF only had six full-time staff.
Owens, who has a Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work Planning, Administration and Social Science from Clark Atlanta University, said another priority was making sure the nonprofit’s “finances were controlled, monitored and processed in the most effective and efficient way.”
Finding a new home for CWF
One of the challenges Owens faced was finding a new permanent home for the nonprofit. CWF’s lease was originally due to end on January 29, 2023.
Owens said, that the nonprofit needed a new permanent headquarters. Thankfully, she was able to identify a property in December. “Then I hired a commercial attorney to help with that process,” she said. CWF was able to secure the building and settle at the end of April 2023.
Tax Season Begins
“Of course,” she added. “While this was happening the tax season was well underway. The tax season began on January 26.”
Owens, who served as deputy executive director of Family Supports and Basic Needs with the City of Philadelphia’s Community Empowerment and Opportunity (CEO) Office before coming to CWF, said pre-pandemic the organization filed over 35,000 federal tax returns and over 23,000 state tax returns. In addition, the nonprofit trained over 1,200 volunteers and hired about 150 seasonal staff.
However, she said once the pandemic hit, CWF could only do drop-offs. That resulted in the nonprofit doing only about half that amount.
Owens estimated that this year CWF did over 23,000 federal tax returns and over 20,000 state tax returns, but she won’t know the exact numbers until after the fiscal year.
Walk-ins, Drop offs and Virtual
Before the pandemic, people didn’t have to make an appointment to get their taxes done by CWF.
To increase the number of clients it served, the nonprofit implemented a new call center platform to answer individuals’ questions, set-up appointments and improve customer service.
This past tax season, CWF received over 20,000 calls between January and April; Owens said the nonprofit answered over 85 percent of those calls; in addition, CWF was able to schedule over 1,300 appointments.
She said all the call center volunteers and seasonal employees were certified by the IRS, so they could answer any questions people had about taxes.
Owens said the call center was an “important component” in successfully reopening walk-ins, drop-offs, appointments and virtual [online] tax preparation.
By shifting their model, CWF was able surpass last year’s numbers significantly.
She added that while most of their tax sites closed after April 18, their Center City and Northeast sites will close on June 30. However, CWF’s new headquarters site located at 935 N. 29th Street in Brewerytown will remain open until the October 15 extended tax date.
IRS Training Program
This past tax season CWF helped 420 volunteers obtain IRS certification to prepare taxes.
“The IRS certification is an industry recognized credential by the U.S. Department of Education,” said Owens. “So, we are registering our IRS-training program as an apprentice program within the State of Pennsylvania.”
CWF also has a youth high school program. This year, 87 high school students served over one thousand individuals and dedicated over 630 hours of volunteer service time.
“Every one of those students received an IRS certification that they can use somewhere else and met a mandatory graduation requirement at the same time.”
She said CWF wants to expand their youth program.
Looking towards the Future
“For my one-year anniversary on October 1, I would like to be moved into our new building” Owens stated that. “One of my goals is to diversify Campaign for Working Families’ funding portfolio.
She is currently applying for several federal and philanthropic grants. In addition, Owens is also working on a 3-to-5-year strategic plan for CWF. She hopes to present it at CWF’s last board meeting in November.
“I really look forward to taking our organization to the next level and continuing to expand what we do for more individuals across different program areas from workforce and employment opportunities to free tax preparation to connecting people with critical resources such as financial banking services and products.”