Seeking CPAs: Key Questions to Ask Before Issuing a Request for Proposal

Written by Barry Omahen, CPA, Managing Partner, and Stephanie Kretschmer, Marketing Manager, Lindquist LLP

If your organization is considering having an audit for the first time or changing auditors, it is wise to exercise due diligence when obtaining bids for services. With the continued focus on transparency and accountability by government agencies, donors, parent organizations and the general public, the selection of a qualified certified public accountant (CPA) has become increasingly important.

Quality audit and accounting services help nonprofit organizations safeguard their assets; improve internal controls and efficiency; complete timely and accurate returns to comply with federal and state regulatory filing requirements; and stay on top of regulatory requirements, accounting standards and industry best practices.

Before you request bids, your organization needs to answer a few key questions:

  1. Who is going to be responsible for the selection process? Will it be an individual (Executive Director, Director of Finance or Controller) or a group (Board of Directors or Audit Committee) Does your organization have an Audit Committee and, if not, would it make sense to create one?
  2. What services do we need? Define your organization’s needs and create a list of required services. Getting clarity on exactly which services are needed will help ensure that you are comparing apples to apples at decision time.
  3. When do we need these services? Consider your year-end deadlines, filing deadlines and scheduled meetings of the Board of Directors. How quickly after year-end do you close your books? When do you want the financial statements presented? You will need to communicate any timing expectations to prospective bidders.
  4. Upon which criteria are we going to base this decision? Consider: prior experience with not-for-profits; organization, location, size and structure of the firm/individual; understanding of the work to be performed, including ability/plan to complete services according to the organization’s timeframes; experience of references; price; industry knowledge and approach to communications. Some organizations develop a weighting system to help ensure they are objective when making the decision.
  5. What is our process and time frame for making a decision? Determine whether you are going to allow candidates to come onsite to meet with accounting staff or wait until you have received proposals and identified finalists for the decision-makers to interview—or both. Outline when you are going to issue a request for proposal, how long candidates have to ask questions or request an onsite visit, when candidates need to submit a proposal, when you expect to interview finalists, and when you expect to reach a decision.

Gone are the days of calling a couple of CPAs to say, “Give me a bid,” and reaching an agreement with a handshake. Today’s organizations need to be conscientious about their selection of a CPA. Conducting a diligent and thorough selection process not only satisfies key stakeholders, but ultimately helps protect the organization.

Barry Omahen, CPA, is the Managing Partner of Lindquist LLP, a certified public accounting firm specializing in audits of not-for-profit organizations and their related employee benefit plans. Barry’s chief responsibilities include supervising Lindquist LLP’s day-to-day operations and the firm’s quality control review process. Email Barry at bomahen@lindquistcpa.com.

Stephanie Kretschmer, Marketing Manager, helps the professionals in Lindquist LLP’s four West Coast offices attract and retain clients. She oversees firm communications and has responded to hundreds of requests for proposal in her career. Email Stephanie at skretschmer@lindquistcpa.com.

To learn more from Lindquist’s nonprofit-focused CPAs, watch the recorded webinar: “Beyond the Numbers- How to Review your Organization’s Form 990.”

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08/06/12 7:38 PM

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