Subscribe to our Youtube Channel here
Listen to Podcast
Like podcasts? Find our full archive here or anywhere you listen to podcasts: search Community IT Innovators Nonprofit Technology Topics on Apple, Spotify, Google, Stitcher, Pandora, and more. Or ask your smart speaker.
Community IT Voices: Bill Evans, Retiring CFO
Join us for our series featuring interviews with Community IT employees. In this series, we talk about nonprofit technology career paths, career resources, skills, and certifications. We will also touch on mentoring opportunities as you start out on your career and ways to give back if you are further along. If you are wondering what it is like to work at a place like Community IT, you can learn about it here.
In today’s interview, Carolyn talks with Bill Evans, who is retiring as CFO after 14 years.
After a long career at Verizon where he held both operations and finance roles, Bill realized he was ready for a new challenge, and started looking around for a nonprofit where he could assist with his finance expertise as a CFO. Community IT is a 100% employee-owned business, an ESOP, and the job opening that turned up at the moment when he was looking for a challenge required him to learn about ESOP administration and serve as the ESOP Trustee, which was a new skill set. He has also served as Community IT’s board secretary and will remain as an external board member in 2024.
“When you use the term “culture,” … in fact, ESOP becomes part of the culture, but there are cultures which facilitate an ESOP arrangement. There are many companies that may become ESOPs for reasons that are not necessarily a culture fit. In Community IT’s case, David Deal, the founder and longtime CEO, …his vision was for a participatory egalitarian type of business that had employee involvement from A-Z. When he introduced the ESOP concept, it really was an extension of what was already there… It’s important to recognize that ESOP doesn’t create culture. The culture has to start from a different point and ESOP becomes something that enhances that and moves it forward [as it has at Community IT].”Bill Evans, Retiring CFO, Community IT Innovators
As Chief Financial Officer, Bill was responsible for Community IT’s financial management, human resources, and other administrative functions. He was the secretary and treasurer of the corporation and served as a board member and as a trustee of the ESOP Trust. Bill joined Community IT in 2009. His prior experience includes six years as Vice President for Finance and Administration at Lutheran Services in America and 30 years in a variety of finance and operations management positions with Verizon Communications.
Bill has a B.A. degree in applied mathematics from The Johns Hopkins University and an M.B.A. from Loyola University in Maryland. He and his wife, Faith, enjoy visiting their three daughters and families around the country and the globe. Bill is a member of the governing board of Grace Lutheran Church in La Plata, Maryland and is on the board of directors and treasurer of International Social Services – USA, headquartered in Baltimore, which provides assistance to individuals and families, particularly children, who find themselves in challenging situations across international borders. Bill remains a board member of Community IT.
Carolyn Woodard has served many roles at Community IT Innovators, from client to project manager to marketing. With over twenty years of experience in the nonprofit world and marketing, including as a nonprofit technology project manager and Director of IT, Carolyn knows the frustrations and delights of working with technology professionals, accidental techies, executives, and staff to deliver your organization’s mission and keep your IT infrastructure operating.
Carolyn is excited to help manage Marketing at Community IT Innovators and is always looking for new ways to tell stories and reach people. She has a master’s degree in Nonprofit Management from Johns Hopkins University and received her undergraduate degree in English Literature from Williams College. She thinks the best thing about being with Community IT Innovators is the people.
Carolyn Woodard: Welcome, everyone to the Community IT Innovators’ Voices interview series. My name is Carolyn Woodard, and I’m the Outreach Director for Community IT. I’m very pleased to be here today with Bill, who is retiring as our CFO. Bill, would you like to introduce yourself and tell us how many years you were with Community IT?
Bill Evans: Hi, thanks Carolyn. Well, I’ve been with Community IT for just over 14 years. It was the middle of November in 2009 when I officially joined. And it’s been a great 14 years. I am looking forward to retirement but I’m also looking forward to maintaining a relationship with Community IT in different ways. It’s a great organization and it’s been a real pleasure for me to have spent these 14 years working with a great bunch of folks.
Background and Applying to Community IT
Carolyn Woodard: Do you remember, did you apply or were you headhunted? How did it happen that you came to work at Community IT?
Bill Evans: So, my career background was first 30 years with Verizon and predecessor companies on the landline side of the telephone business, in those days. And I had an opportunity to raise my hand for an early out when I was in my 30th year. And that was great because I was ready for a change.
It was a great career, great company, lots of great folks. A really important mission of maintaining people’s communications capabilities. And it was time for me to seek new ventures.
I decided that I wanted to take my knowledge, my experience, my skills, and apply them in the nonprofit world; not-for-profit world is sometimes a better way to say that. And so, I did a search and I was able to connect with an organization called Lutheran Services in America, which coincidentally happens to be a long-time Community IT client.
I worked there in a CFO role for seven-plus years. And then, I decided it was time to look for something else again. And so I began a search on what I might want to do. And interestingly enough, I wanted to stay in the not-for-profit world, or at least I thought I did, and I came across a job search website called Idealist, which focused on the nonprofit community and had an ad for a position with Community IT.
Well, as you may know, Community IT’s business is focused on the nonprofit community. We are a for-profit company, but our mission has been from its very founding to serve the nonprofit community and help them in their use of technology. So that ad was there. I made contact with the company, went through a series of interviews and they decided that I might be a good fit for the role that they were looking for. And so I joined on in November, 2009.
Carolyn Woodard: Do you remember who you interviewed with? Did you interview with everybody?
Bill Evans: I interviewed with Dave Deal, who was the owner at the time. Johan Hammerstrom, who was currently the CEO, was in that group. There were several others. They really liked to do the team interview approach. So there were others that were in that room, but I’m going to be careful not to try to name them after 14 years; the memory slides a bit.
Carolyn Woodard: But it was a good experience, clearly, because you remained interested and took the position.
Bill Evans: Yeah. It clearly seemed to fit my skillset, my experience having grown up in the technology world that now we consider outdated, but in fact was moving towards lots of things and using computers there. I clearly had sufficient technical background to understand and operational background to understand what it meant for Community IT to deliver its services and what it was doing.
Community IT is an ESOP
And then the mission fit for me was great. The culture, I can’t say enough about the culture at Community IT. One of the key aspects of Community IT, for those who don’t know us very well, is that we are what is known as an employee stock ownership company (ESOP). I could go on for a long-time about the nuances of that because I have become an expert, if you will, in that arena, because I’ve run that side of the business for us for many years now.
And it is a relatively complicated arrangement. But fact is, it is a means by which companies may be owned by their employees through a very structured arrangement that was established by federal legislation back in the 1970s.
Carolyn Woodard: You said employee stock ownership plan, so an ESOP if people want to look that up.
Bill Evans: ESOP, yes.
Carolyn Woodard: We have some articles on our website of what an ESOP is and how it works.
I agree, a lot of how we interact with you in staff meetings is around the ins and outs of the ESOP, which are pretty complex and good to know.
But I wondered, had you been in an ESOP before coming to Community IT? Was that part of your background, or did you have to learn once you were at Community IT as the CFO?
Bill Evans: No exposure at all prior to coming to Community IT. So I learned from scratch. Dave Deal, as the owner at that time, led the company to create the ESOP. And eventually, in 2012, decided it was time for him to turn it into a 100% ESOP company. So the ESOP bought his remaining shares.
I had been involved in the ESOP administration prior to that but because of a need for Dave to shed his conflict of interest, he couldn’t be both the owner and the buyer, or the buyer and the seller at the same time.
I was moved into the role of being the buyer, so to speak, as trustee for the ESOP. And it was a pretty steep learning curve. I had great support in the ESOP world. You don’t work independently, you have lots of helpers to make sure you understand things properly. And we went through that, and it’s been a great learning experience since that point.
Carolyn Woodard: I think one of the wonderful things about being an employee owned company is that it really does help all of the staff understand a lot more about our business and what we’re doing, how we’re doing it, why we’re doing it. Are we doing well, and are we succeeding in our mission of serving nonprofits? I think that’s all because of that culture and because of having the ESOP. We constantly have to be updated on how things are going.
Community IT Values Our Culture
Bill Evans: In addition, when you use the term culture, I’m going to expand beyond ESOP, because in fact, ESOP becomes part of the culture, but there are cultures which facilitate an ESOP arrangement.
There are many companies that may become ESOPs for reasons that are not necessarily a culture fit. In Community IT’s case – once again, referencing David Deal, the founder and long-time CEO – his vision was for a participatory, egalitarian-type of business that had employee involvement from agency. And so when he introduced the ESOP concept, it really was an extension of what was already there.
And so I think it’s important to recognize that ESOP doesn’t create culture. I guess in some cases it can, but the culture has to start, in most cases, from a different point. And the ESOP becomes a way that enhances that and moves it forward.
An ESOP can fundamentally be a simple ownership financial transaction in terms of how it appears to the participants. It gets fostered in cases where it just is part of the fabric of a culture that is participatory and really integrated top to bottom.
How to Become a CFO
Carolyn Woodard: I’m going to switch gears a little bit. People probably know what a chief financial officer (CFO) does. I’m guessing that in different industries and different companies, the duties might be different.
Were you always interested and what was your background to become a CFO? Do you have advice for other people who are thinking about that as a career path?
Bill Evans: Well, it was an accident. When I came out of college and started my business career, my focus was on operations. And I really wasn’t focused on any particular type of business. I just knew that I wanted to be involved in whatever that company was building, or delivering if it was a service industry, and kind of be in that direct role leading people in that type of work.
In my early years with the telephone company, after a couple positions of that nature, one of my mentors thought that I needed to see a different side of the business. And he connected me with the job opening in what in those days we would’ve called the “budget department.” I’m not fond of that word. I can talk about that more later if you like, but be that as it may, that was my first entrance into working with the finances of a business.
At the same time, I was also working on an MBA and I ended up concentrating in finance, not because I was doing that work, but because math was always my best subject. And that was kind of a natural concentration there.
So I spent a couple years getting involved in budgeting related work, understanding the accounting system that we had in at the time and those types of things. And then it was time to go back to the field. Yay.
Well, it wasn’t too long after that that there was another opportunity, this time a career up-move. And guess what, I came back. And so my history in 30 years was to go back and forth between field assignments, operations-type assignments and staff assignments, often related to financial matters, but also over time getting involved in other aspects of the business.
So it gave me a very broad experience when I decided it was time to go find other things to do. It turns out that what was saleable for me as a person was financial and related experiences in the outside world, human resource types of things, other staff work.
Carolyn Woodard: That is so interesting because I think a lot of our primary contacts at the nonprofits that we work with often are operations. They’re in charge of keeping the lights on, keeping the building working, the space that they’re working in. And so, IT falls under that. But being able to manage these different aspects of what operations are, is such a skill.
IT Management and Business Skills
I had an interesting conversation with our CEO Johan Hammerstrom, about our IT Business Managers and how often, when you are at a company and going through professional development, as soon as you exhibit a tendency toward or an interest in something, you often get put into that professional development.
If you’re good at IT, you start getting a lot of certifications and becoming the IT person. Or if you’re good at management, you start getting different types of professional development, like you said, maybe getting an MBA or going on into management roles.
And what we really need are people who can do both. So try to find a way that you can identify people who have multiple skills and help them grow all of that.
It seems like you were just saying in your career, you would get one side and then the other side, and eventually it was just good that you had both those experiences, or multiple experiences.
Bill Evans: Yes. It’s interesting you referenced the IT Business Manager role which was developed over a long period of time and took different titles and different foci, but has now settled into a relationship role that really helps to bridge that gap for our clients between having the technical knowledge necessary to really advise, but also the operational side. This is how it’s going to end up working, because sometimes you can have that technical knowledge, but the actual application is different. And then to be able to attempt to relate with organizations about what the costs are going to be and how to think about doing projects and upgrading, and so on. It’s been interesting for me to watch it. I’m not on the inside but I see it develop and it seems like it’s become a really valuable part of our service delivery.
Carolyn Woodard: For sure, for sure. Being able to help with that change management as you’re implementing different kinds of large systems.
How Does One Start an ESOP?
I want to go back a little bit and talk again about ESOPs.
Would you have advice for someone hearing this who is interested, maybe a business owner who wanted to do what David Deal did and sell the company to the employees? I know it was about five years of that transition.
Maybe advice for a company that’s interested in becoming an ESOP. Where do you go for those types of resources?
Bill Evans: Fundamentally, I think you’re going to find yourself going in a couple different directions. If you know somebody who’s already in the community, that of course becomes a great place to start because it’s not a huge community. There’s maybe 6,000 ESOPs in the United States today, at least as that term is narrowly defined with that federal legislation.
There are other forms of employee ownership. So it is not the only means to that end, but knowing someone who’s in that group at least provides an entree to where you go for help.
But if you don’t have that, there are a couple national organizations. If you google an employee stock ownership plan, you’re going to find some organizations. There’s two primary national supporting organizations. They provide a lot of information, educational experiences, and connections.
Then when you start to get further into it, you cannot accomplish creating an ESOP and getting it going without professional help.
There are attorneys who specialize, first of all in employee benefits; think of all your employee benefits, especially 401(k) and retirement plans, and so on.
And a subgroup of that genre will also be ESOP experts. And the law here is pretty dense. And the regulations that have been created by the law through the Department of Labor and the IRS are even more dense. And that’s just the way. I’m not downgrading that. It’s just the way it is and you really need professional guidance from legal to get through that.
The ESOP creates a trust. Now we’re starting to get a little into the weeds, but it creates a trust. All trusts must have trustees or at least one trustee. And so being a trustee of an ESOP trust has a particular level of requirements and expertise. And it goes from there.
Typically, you’re going to have a third party administrator to keep detailed records. I have to catch myself to not just keep going down the trail on this, but those are some things that need to happen.
But get direct experience, whether it’s somebody you know, or you’re able to get connected to somebody. The community is welcoming, they’re enthusiastic, they’re always interested. I’ve always found them interested to talk about it.
And there are a couple national conferences each year. If you just want to go and be a fly on the wall and listen, it costs you a little bit of money, but it’s well worth it if it’s something you’re really interested in.
Carolyn Woodard: It sounds like in your career as well, you said to find someone who can mentor you. And I can confirm that people who are in an ESOP, administrators, owners love, love, love to talk about it. It’s almost like a club that you’re in. That’s just so interesting. And there are all these little quirks and things to talk about. So that’s definitely good advice.
What is Next for Bill Evans?
I know you said you were the trustee, and I know you are no longer the trustee. That’s one of the transitions that we’ve gone through at Community IT, but I believe you’re planning to stay involved on the board, is that correct?
Bill Evans: I’ve been invited to become a member of the board of directors. I was for a number of years in my employee role. We have employees who are on the board, and I was in that role. It’s somewhat logical for the CFO to be on the board.
We came to a time when we were doing some transition and we needed to free up a board seat. And I said, you know what makes sense here is I will go off the board, but as CFO and directly involved in so many governance matters, I have entree to the board. So I actually was a regular attendee.
And I also had been elected the corporate secretary; in most cases the corporate secretary is going to also be the board secretary. So I have now transitioned back onto the board. So the board, this is all pre-planned, has now elected me to be a so-called external affiliated board member effective the day after I resigned.
Carolyn Woodard: And do you have other plans for your retirement? I know we talked about this a little bit.
Bill Evans: Well, there’s the normal of I’d like to travel a little bit more. We have grandkids, of course family’s important. The house projects that have been being put off, I no longer will have an excuse to put off. So I envision being busy.
What Does Community IT Do?
Carolyn Woodard: Well, I’m going to close with a question that I ask people in these interviews. When you are at a cocktail party or in an elevator and someone asks what you do, and in this case what Community IT does, what do you tell them? How do you explain Community IT in that elevator speech?
Bill Evans: I explain that we are what I call a small IT services business, as opposed to the IBMs of the world, right?
In our industry, managed service providers, we actually are on the larger side of the scale. So that’s always interesting. But we are the IT manager resource for nonprofits, and basically we make your computers operate well, help you with everything related to your network and making that an important part of your business.
Carolyn Woodard: Thank you so much for your time today. I have loved getting to know you as our CFO and I wish you well on your journeys and I know I’ll be seeing you around at board meetings, et cetera, but just really thank you for spending this time with me today.
Bill Evans: Well, Carolyn, it’s a pleasure. I love to talk about Community IT. As you can tell, I also easily go into related topics. So it’s just been a pleasure to work with Community IT, work with everyone here. I’m grateful to get to know you over the last few years, and I look forward to maintaining close contact.
We hope you enjoyed this Community IT Voices interview with Bill Evans, Retiring CFO. Community IT is the right place for you if you find fulfillment in helping others succeed and want to work for a company that serves nonprofits.
Our employees stay and grow with us, and over half of our staff have been with us for over a decade. Community IT is an employee-owned company with a positive, sustainable workplace that promotes professional development and a healthy work/life balance. We have been 100% employee-owned since 2012. Check out careers with us here.