In very short form: if your location meets our basic requirements, we then seek to find a volunteer willing to be the ‘Local Coordinator’ (LC), who would be your point of contact for coordinating schedules, working with staff, answering any questions you have, etc. Some LCs are responsible for more than one location. The LC then arranges for and coordinates the other volunteers, and works with you every year to keep things running smoothly and adapt to any changes you or we experience. We supply IRS-certified volunteers (we handle all the training and testing), and supply them with the appropriate documentation and computer hardware if needed.
Who we are:
The AARP Foundation Tax-Aide program is a nationwide program that provides free tax preparation to the general public - people of all ages, marital status, and income (well, within reason - Bill Gates and Warren Buffet are on their own). Nationwide, we have a network of over 30,000 volunteers at over 6,000 locations. In the state of New Hampshire, we help people at over 50 locations with the support of about 275 volunteers; in 2015 we prepared over 12,000 returns, and have been volunteering in New Hampshire since the '70s.
What we do:
With rare exceptions, all our tax returns are prepared and filed electronically, and we can arrange for direct deposit. In addition to federal returns, we will also prepare NH state income tax returns, and in most cases MA, ME, and VT in communities close to their respective borders. We typically prepare taxes from Feb 1st to Apr 15th, and try to establish a weekly schedule (excluding appropriate holidays that you may be closed for). We prefer to have our site locations determined by the end of November, though on occasion we can do so closer to the opening of tax season.
All our volunteers must complete a series of IRS tax law exams each year, and experience 20-80 hours of training every year. All returns prepared by our volunteers are actually looked at twice - once to be prepared, and a second time for a quality review, which minimizes the chance for errors. Every site MUST have a minimum of two volunteers at all times. Successful sites usually have more.
The greatest challenge to our program is having enough volunteers; every year we receive offers from wonderful facilities and locations like yours to host a site, but our volunteer base is simply not large enough to accommodate all requests. If a host has volunteers who are willing to participate in the program, this makes a HUGE difference. In some cases, we may also decline to establish a site because it doesn’t make logistical sense (e.g. there is an existing free tax site half a mile down the road). Though if your site is better suited than existing nearby one, it may make more sense to move to yours.
Contrary to what most people expect, we are typically busiest in February, with client traffic slowing in March and becoming very slow in April. Some of our sites offer longer hours in February, with reduced hours in March and April to accommodate this pattern.
A common point of confusion stems from the 'AARP' portion of our title. In the Tax-Aide program, we serve people and families of ALL ages. Trivia for your next dinner party: there are actually three AARPs. One is the membership organization - they collect dues and advocate for policies for their membership; one is the corporation that sells insurance products - usually developed for seniors; and the third one is the AARP Foundation - a charitable non-profit organization dedicated to good works. While they share some common roots, each has a distinct mission to serve its respective constituencies. As our title implies, Tax-Aide is part of the Foundation.
We do have some requirements and policies we must conform to, derived both from our mission and the IRS (shocking as it may be that the IRS would have a bunch of rules about something!). Most are pretty common sense. Any location (usually called a 'site') must have the following features:
Handicapped accessibility: this is pretty self-explanatory
Availability to the general public: this means that clients cannot be turned away due to race, religion, age, marital status, gender, sexual orientation - all the usual stuff; this also includes their town of residency.
Adequate parking: there needs to be enough parking to accommodate the additional volume presented by by clients and the tax preparers themselves. As described in ‘managing client foot traffic’ below, there are effective ways to manage this if parking is tight.
Broadband internet access: In most cases, wi-fi is preferable, though if the site has only wired ethernet we can generally work with you to craft a solution that meets our needs and yours. With your permission, this can include us setting up our own wi-fi network.
A reasonable working space that affords clients some sense of privacy: this can take the form of a single large working room with multiple tables reasonably spaced, or multiple rooms with clients meeting in each.
Restroom facilities: because everyone’s got to go sometime.
Tables and chairs: because paperwork and people need places to be while working.
Bonus features, or features which make a one potential site more appealing than others, but are NOT required:
Staff or volunteers who will take appointments: see the discussion about managing client foot traffic below. This is usually a huge boon for everyone involved.
A place to securely store laptop computers and a printer: As a program, we often supply many of our volunteers with laptops for return preparation. In some cases, those laptops are used exclusively at a single site. In such cases, the ability to store our neatly bagged laptops in a locked closet, filing cabinet drawer, or other lock-and-key location can be a big help. Many of our volunteers are seniors; as you can imagine, it is a big deal to an senior citizen to have to lug equipment across icy parking lots in New Hampshire winters every time they come to volunteer. We do not need a key unless you wish to share it; we certainly respect your need to manage your own security.
Computers with an internet connection that we may use: Some locations have computer laboratories or training classrooms that can be easy used for tax preparation. Individual computer cubbies, such as those commonly found in libraries, tend not to be suitable because there is not adequate working space to meet with the client(s), handle their papers, and provide a sense of privacy. At this time and based on our current resources, this is of less value than the two features above.
Managing Client Foot Traffic:
We recognize that expanding services at your location is a double-edged sword: offering more services increases your value to your community, enhances your reputation, and improves the quality of life for nearby residents; all of which help you reach the potential you envision for your facility. But it does increase foot traffic into your facility, and that can require managing your limited resources. We are very happy to work with you to strike the right balance.
Tax preparation sites are generally managed one of three ways: appointment-only, walk-in, or a combination of both.
-Walk-in sites have the advantage of low overhead to manage; typically clients are handled on a first-come first-serve basis. This requires no involvement on the part of your staff. This also allows the maximum number of clients to be served on a given day. Since some returns take fifteen minutes, and others take ninety, the ability to say ‘next!’ as soon as a return is completed can really let us ‘pack them in’. If the site becomes popular, this may mean a waiting area needs to be available, with seating. It may also mean that some clients are unhappy if they are turned away because the line is already too long, or if they have a long wait to get served. We work hard to manage expectations for clients and minimize this.
-Appointment-only sites have the advantage that client traffic is well managed - there is little to no need for a waiting area, and any burden on parking or other resources is predictable for you. Many host sites are willing to take appointments for this reason, and is a greatly valued by our volunteers. At this time we simply don’t have the resources to manage taking appointments ourselves. The LC can coordinate with you or your staff what appointments might look like, but typically appointments are arranged hourly, with the number of concurrent appointments based on the number of volunteers available. For example, a site that is open from 9:00-Noon, and has four volunteers each day. The LC might plan on three appointments per hour, helping nine people each day. Because of the nature of tax preparation, the ratio of volunteers to concurrent returns is almost never 1:1.
-Combination sites can have the best of both worlds - allowing some clients to plan their tax preparation in a way that best uses their time, but also lets our volunteers maximize their productivity. Appointment clients are always given priority over walk-ins if things get congested. In the above example, the LC might plan only two appointments per hour, and use the other two volunteers to perform quality reviews and handle walk-in clients as well. The volunteers will always be working, and if an appointment runs long or short, the walk-in clients may make up the balance.