What is the current focus of the Intuit Financial Freedom Foundation (IFFF)?
The purpose of the Foundation is to make a meaningful impact on the financial lives of lower-income and underserved taxpayers, individuals, small businesses and the nonprofits that serve them. The Foundation, founded in 2002, executes its mission through public-private partnerships between Intuit and community-based organizations, government agencies, nonprofits, and public officials. The cornerstone of its work is helping millions of lower-income individuals benefit from Intuit’s donation of TurboTax® through the IRS and state Free File programs. The foundation also runs the QuickBooks Product Donation Program for nonprofits and small business training partners. For more information about IFFF, see the Foundation’s website: www.IntuitEmpowers.com.
Why does the Intuit Financial Freedom Foundation support free tax preparation and EITC-related work?
As a corporation, we are interested in ensuring that taxpayers are able to prepare and file their taxes easily and get back what they are entitled to. This goal is mirrored in the Foundation, with a focus on promoting financial literacy and independence. We donate our products to the low-income and underserved in order to help simplify their lives and help solve their financial challenges.
Our CEO, Brad Smith, said it best about our donation of TurboTax through Free File: it’s easy to do – and it’s the right thing to do. It’s easy to do because we aren’t creating anything new; we are simply donating the exact same product that we sell to millions of people. And it’s the right thing to do. It makes a lot of sense that the government wants to reduce the burden of tax prep on the public and to make it easy and free for them to file electronically, especially lower-income taxpayers. Industry can help the government fulfill this goal and it is right for us to give back. It’s a fair deal – a fair exchange.
For Intuit, donating TurboTax through Free File is much more than fulfilling a commitment to the government or maintaining a competitive landscape. For the last 19 years – four years longer than Free File has existed – donating TurboTax has been our largest philanthropic initiative. Since 1998 we have donated more than 35 million returns to millions of people. And, each year, employees in California, Arizona and in Fredericksburg (Virginia) volunteer at special events and tax sites to help people use our donation of TurboTax through Free File. They love giving back this way and it also helps us make our product better. As one employee participating in the companywide program said, “You both get to help someone who can really benefit from the help and get more experience with the product.”
Tell us more about the Delayed Refund Campaign and Intuit’s role in the project. Why was investing in the Campaign essential to achieving the Foundation’s mission?
When Congress passed the PATH Act of 2015, taxpayer assistance programs across the country began expressing deep concerns about preparing EITC-eligible taxpayers for the refund processing delays that could impact the most financially vulnerable individuals and families in 2017. These leaders reached out to the IRS, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), CFED, IFFF and others for help alerting taxpayers about the changes in the law and empowering people to save money by accessing free tax assistance resources. IFFF wanted to help, so last summer the Foundation partnered with the key stakeholder organizations – CFED, CFPB, Center for Financial Services Innovation (CFSI), Center for Budget and Policy Priorities, Urban Institute, United Way Worldwide, Pew and several of the most successful VITA programs in the country – and funded a collaborative effort to develop key messages and an outreach strategy to prepare taxpayers.
The collaboration resulted in a five-month education campaign to raise awareness among taxpayers about the new law impacting EITC/ACTC recipients and to promote no cost in-person and online IRS tax preparation resources. The campaign created an online tool kit to help VITAs and other community organizations communicate with the public (vitatoolkit.org). It also included a partnership with the National Consumers League to serve as national spokespeople.
What were some lessons learned that may be useful for next year’s Campaign?
In a recent debrief with our core team members, we both identified successes and came up with recommendations for what we might do next tax season. For instance, collaborations with the core and extended partners were tremendously helpful in guiding the campaign work. We were able to keep an ear to the ground through partners representing VITAs as well as through online forums. In addition, the message testing we did through focus groups allowed us to find the best possible strategy to educate consumers.
Recommendations for next year include an earlier toolkit release date. To help maximize the number of people able to make use of the toolkit’s resources, to integrate our overarching messaging into their own individual campaigns, and to maximize the toolkit’s reach, we would aim to roll out next year’s toolkit by September. Our partners will continue to deepen their knowledge of consumer needs in order to more closely tailor the messaging, and we are aiming to broaden our partnerships to be able to reach more consumers, especially non-native English speakers.
What topic or issue would you be interested to talk with your funder-colleagues about?
As funders, we would like to talk with other funders about the following questions:
- What are the true consumer-focused success metrics for how well we – funders — help communities help eligible taxpayers learn about, access and use the no cost in-person and online taxpayer assistance programs offered by the IRS and other public and nonprofit organizations?
- What are the opportunities for us to help taxpayers maximize the tax time moment, i.e. to take stock of their financial lives, to understand the credits and deductions for which they are eligible and to anticipate/plan for what credits and deductions they may – or may not – be eligible for in the future; to save at least a portion of their refund.
- What is the future of taxpayer assistance? What do we want it to look like five, ten years from now? How can we help communities and organizations that serve those with lower income prepare for the future while continuing to meet current needs?