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Providence Financial


By Pamela Smith, President, “etc.”

When was the last time your lawyer sat in one of your classrooms? Today, more than ever, having service providers that understand your charter school’s “business” is critical. You want help in growing your schools, you want comfort in your vendor relationships, and you want to feel that your service providers really care about your success. As a professional accounting services firm, we are seeing that our clients are demanding more service, not just more relationships, and demanding that we know more about their business than ever before. Our clients want more imaginative applications and a more meticulous understanding by their professional service firm of their needs and wants and how to best meet them. Here are a few strategies we’ve used to build successful partnerships that you can use as a model to develop partnerships with your own service providers and help them more effectively fulfill your charter school’s unique needs.

1. Be sure that vendors understand your charter school’s day-to-day operations as well as your long-term mission and goals

As a “back office” service provider, we consider our services to be an extension of our clients’ offices. Therefore, it is equally important for us to have a fiduciary relationship with our clients as it is to understand their educational objectives. We take the time to fully understand the school’s philosophy, understand the expectations of the students, and understand the culture of the school. What are the school’s technical needs? What are their demographics? What are their goals?

The accountants and grant writers assigned to our clients are available 24/7. They routinely go to the client schools and proactively interface with teachers, students, administrative and support staff. They regularly attend board and parent-teacher meetings. They sit in the classrooms and work closely with the school’s directors and principals. They take the time to fully understand the school. By doing so, these key team members understand the educational operations of the school, therefore, allowing them to provide financial and accounting support that accommodates the client’s needs. Clients can expect budgets that reflect their educational operations, cash flows that support their growth and aspirations, and targeted grant research and writing that model the programs administered at the school.

2. Use your service provider’s expertise to develop your school staff

In addition to the services our clients expect of us, we also recognize the importance of developing the client’s director’s, principal’s, staff and school board’s knowledge base and understanding of accounting, finance, and grants. We educate our clients on our core expertise – accounting and grant services. We are more than an outsource option – we are a partner in the success of our clients. We provide in-service training and external training to our own etc. staff to ensure they are always up-to-date and technically competent in the services we provide our clients. These trained etc. experts work closely with our client’s staff to ensure that they have a working knowledge of their school’s financial and grant management processes and projects.

We are more than an outsource option—we are a partner in the success of our clients.

3. Expect all levels of management to be committed to your success

In addition to regular visits with their assigned accountants and grant writers, our clients receive year-round visits from the Director of Accounting, Director of Personnel and Organizational Development, and the President of etc. This assures our clients that the entire staff is committed to their success. In fact, we routinely invite our clients into our etc. offices so they can see the operations and build relationships with the staff that supports their success. etc’s personalized approach to charter schools has allowed etc. to “tailor” its accounting processes to directly meet the unique needs of each client school. The concept of “one size fits all’ accounting model is no longer a viable model for profitable and effective accounting service providers. The result: TRUST. Clients know we are professionally committed to their success.

Why don’t you invite your primary vendors to your school? Give them a tour of your campus, introduce them to your staff and students. Show them classrooms, cafeterias, and grounds. Let them talk to your staff and students. Invite them to board meetings. Share your mission and vision statements openly. By partnering with your vendors and educating them on your school, you may find that the level of service you as the client receives is enhanced.

Pamela Smith is President of etc.—provider of accounting, payroll, and grant services to charter schools.
Pamela can be reached at psmith@etc-ms.com