RISCPA Provides Nonprofits a Forum for Sharing Ideas and Challenges

A proud member of RISCPA for two decades, Christine Cannata is Chief Financial Officer at Rhode Island Community Food Bank.

“I spent most of my public accounting career working on audits of nonprofit organizations,” said Cannata. “So when I decided to leave public accounting, it was a natural transition to end up working for a nonprofit.  The Rhode Island Community Food Bank had advertised for a newly created accounting position, and I knew it was a perfect fit.”

Working in the nonprofit sector has also allowed Cannata to become even more involved with RISCPA and her colleagues who have experienced the unique issues nonprofits face.

“Over the past year, we have discussed a range of topics including accounting for endowment funds and recognition of various types of contributions,” she said. “The committee helps me stay current with changes in the industry.”

RISCPA’s commitment to the nonprofit community is a worthy investment of time and resources. Cannata points to a Rhode Island Foundation report that recognizes 8,000 nonprofits in the state, which employ 18 percent of the state’s workforce.

“It’s so important that RISCPA stays abreast of the significant issues these organizations may run into and maintains a presence within the nonprofit community,” she said.

Like many other nonprofit organizations, the Food Bank is operating under the increased pressure that comes with poor economic conditions.

“Rhode Island is climbing out of the recession, but many people have been left behind in the recovery,” said Cannata. “Those are the people we serve - the poorest of the poor.”

The Food Bank’s network of 169 agencies serves 63,000 people each month.  According to Cannata, in 2007, that number was 33,000.  However, the number of agencies distributing food has not changed, and so today those agencies are serving twice as many people as they did less than a decade ago.  To combat those numbers, the Food Bank must always be proactive and innovative.

“We have found it necessary to supplement donated food with an increased amount of purchased food in order to keep up with the near record-high demand,” said Cannata.  “Purchased products now represent about one-third of our inventory.”

It is an approach that produces a silver lining.

“We are able to strategically acquire the healthiest food at the lowest possible cost,” she said, applauding the business community’s support of the Food Bank.  “Even the smaller businesses with one or two employees routinely make significant contributions by getting their clients or customer base involved with food or fund drives.”

The Food Bank is also fostering a farm-to-table initiative by encouraging clients to use fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as offering a nutrition education program to food pantry clients.  The program teaches people how to create healthy low-cost meals with a focus on plant-based cooking. In turn, the program has steadily increased the amount of fresh produce it provides to member agencies. In fact, fresh produce accounts for more than 2 million of the 10 million pounds of food distributed each year.  Cannata points out that Dave’s Marketplace partners with FirstFruits Marketing to donate 20,000 pounds of apples every year and in recent years, the creation of the volunteer-operated “community farms” has helped to grow food exclusively for the Food Bank.

“This season we have seven farms that are actively growing and harvesting food for our network,” said Cannata.

It is a challenging economic environment in which to operate, particularly for a nonprofit. Cannata’s involvement in RISCPA is an investment that provides a great return for the Food Bank.

“The vast expertise of RISCPA’s membership is an invaluable resource to all of us,” she said.