Ahead of the 2016 Cooperative Professionals Conference (CPC) in Miami, Florida, from September 19 – 21, NCBA CLUSA spoke with key presenters to find out what drew them to the cooperative business model and how the growing CPC network is filling a critical gap in providing accounting and legal resources on which the burgeoning field of cooperatives can rely.
This week we sat down with Nancy McClelland, CPA. She and her staff at The Dancing Accountant are based in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood, where they are dedicated to supporting the unique needs of small businesses that place community, sustainability and partnership on the same level as profit. Her work with co-ops began years ago with NCBA CLUSA member Dill Pickle Food Co-op.
Passionate about food that is healthy for both people and the environment, McClelland provides extensive pro bono services to the Good Food Project, Logan Square Chamber of Commerce Farmers’ Market and Slow Food Chicago. She is a Certified Sake Professional and a member of The Janes, a professional Sixties Go-Go dance troupe in Chicago. Once, at a neighborhood picnic, McClelland ran into a client who told her kids, “Look, it’s the dancing accountant!” The name stuck. McClelland writes a blog with tips on accounting and related topics, at www.thedancingaccountant.com.
NCBA CLUSA: Tell us how you first began serving co-op businesses and what drew you to this business model.
Nancy McClelland: I’ve been helping small businesses with their accounting needs for over 22 years, and have run my own accounting firm since 2001. My staff and I specialize in assisting small businesses in every facet of operations, from forecasting to choice of entity, to software selection and set-up, as well as training, bookkeeping, tax planning and preparation. Our mission is to provide affordable, quality accounting services to small, local businesses and to empower business owners to become effective managers by using real-time accounting data to their competitive advantage.
My experience with cooperatives began years ago with my Chicago neighborhood’s Dill Pickle Food Co-op, and has since expanded to include not only other grocery cooperatives, but also housing and worker cooperatives. I believe the cooperative model is an ideal choice for sustainable economic development, since it replaces a short-term goal of increasing shareholder wealth with a long-term goal of serving its community.
People tend to go into business because they’re good at what they do, or in the case of the co-op world, they see an unfulfilled need. Very few folks start a business because they’re good at accounting and finance. So finding a trusted partner who is knowledgeable in these areas and cares about the health and future of your business is essential, and for that partner to also be a neighbor invested in the same community is invaluable. We try to be that for our clients.
One of my favorite quotes (from a favorite client) is “no margin; no mission.” One of the things that sets co-ops apart is the importance of having collateral goals—a mission beyond simply increasing wealth. However, in order to achieve that mission, you have to make sure you meet your bottom line; otherwise there’s not going to be any organization left to carry out the mission. Cooperatives have a unique calling to follow this guidance on a daily basis that many other organizations do not, and I find that challenge compelling.
NCBA CLUSA: What are your goals for this year’s Co-op Professionals Conference?
McClelland: One, to introduce accountants and attorneys interested in expanding the scope of their practices to working with cooperatives: especially grocery, housing and worker co-ops. Secondly, to provide intermediate and advanced education to existing co-op accountants and attorneys on the topics of compensation, taxation, finance, choice of entity, conversions, regulations & compliance, ethics, specific types of co-ops, and state co-op statutes. And finally, to bring together co-op accountants, attorneys and developers, as well as others involved in the day-to-day of working with cooperatives, to network and to discuss how we can better assist each other with our clients and in the field.
NCBA CLUSA: How do you see the Co-op Professionals Conference expanding in the future?
McClelland: I feel the scope and focus of CPC, as well as the participation of such world-class experts as our plenary committee members and speakers, is spot-on. I wouldn’t change a thing, except to continue broadening our network of knowledgeable practitioners. But I would very much like to reach more accountants and attorneys as attendees—the field of co-ops is exploding, and there simply aren’t enough resources out there on which cooperatives can rely. The resources that do exist tend to focus on larger-format co-ops such as agriculture, rural electric and federated groups, but many of these already have their own in-house resources. For co-ops without those resources, this conference is really the only in-person, unified source of education for the practitioners they will need to hire. There are some excellent websites out there, as well as some wonderful conferences for co-op managers and producers, but for co-op professionals running their own firms or working within law and CPA firms, this is it. I want to point more people our way.
NCBA CLUSA: What is needed to attract more attorneys to serve the unique needs of cooperative businesses?
McClelland: I wish I knew! Whenever I speak to other accountants on the topic of co-ops, I ask them, “Why am I here? It’s because I have too much work, and I need you to take some of it.”
It’s a rapidly-growing field, and CPA firms and sole practitioners hoping to expand their businesses would be wise to explore cooperative accounting as a way to further develop their own client base and provide niche expertise in an area where they’ll find a) appreciative and respectful clients, b) an unending supply of referrals, and c) work that they can feel good about, since they’re supporting an economic structure that places community, sustainability and partnership on the same level as profit. All they need is the education, and CPC can provide that.