Interview with Otwan Lowery

Monday November 1, 2021 comments

Any accounting business and tax advice contained in this podcast is not intended as a thorough in depth analysis of specific issues. Nor is it a substitute for format information. Nor is it sufficient to avoid tax related penalties. If you have specific questions that you need advice for, be sure to schedule a strategy session and not solely rely on information in this podcast. All right, back to the episode. 

Hey, so excited. This is Chyla Graham, CNRG Accounting Advisory, this is the nonprofit Ace Podcast. I am excited for you to listen to my conversation with Otwan Lowery of PreciseGrants. If you have questions about anything that comes up in this episode, be sure to send either of us a message where you have our contact information in the show notes. All right, listen up. 

Chyla Graham

So super excited to have Otwan Lowery of PreciseGrants with us here on The Nonprofit Ace Podcast and what I've decided I wanted to start off with more of is, what are you celebrating? So tell me a win something that you're like, I'm proud and no one gets to know this thing is happening. 

Otwan Lowery

What am I celebrating? Well, first and foremost health, right? And during these times that's something to celebrate, and out of me, my family, and close loved ones. And just just being happy to wake up and continue to do what I'm doing. Right. I think I'm fortunate to find a space that's impactful that's helping others and kind of getting paid a little bit to do it. So when I wake up, it's not a pain. I found something I love and I'm passionate about. 

Chyla Graham

Well, tell us a little bit more about like, what is it? I know but what is it that people need to know about the thing that you love? Aso, how can they connect with you? What’s your social media handle? Where should they follow you? 

Otwan Lowery

Sure, sure. Not as heavy as on social media, as I should be considering I'm in business and that's how we connect. But I am on LinkedIn, Otwan Lowery, you could definitely find me there. My company PreciseGrants, I have an Instagram account that I probably hadn't posted on in about a year or two years. But yeah, Instagram and LinkedIn. 

I manage a software company named PreciseGrants. And it's basically a budget reporting and grant compliance tool. I've been working in the nonprofit sector, I'd say probably about 12 years now. But prior to that, I was working in tax and accounting at Deloitte and PwC coming fresh out of college shortly thereafter, you know, leaving Deloitte, I wanted to venture out and start my own CPA firm. 

And you know, when you're just starting, you're picking up business from everywhere, I'll have a mechanic shop, and then I'll have an artist over here. So it was like, I just want to get the business. It had no real structure, no real direction in terms of focus. But throughout that, you can probably relate a little bit, especially starting out, but throughout that noise, you know, I started picking up nonprofit clients, right? And it was, like, slowly but surely, they started coming to me, and I'm a firm believer of, you put yourself out there and you will attract the people that see what you do best, that need you, that like you, that want to connect with you. And you have to listen to that, right, so I saw more and more nonprofits coming to me and asking for us to assist them with their tax accounting work or audit, and to be honest working with them was just beautiful. 

And what I mean by that is, each one of the clients didn't even feel like clients, they felt like family, right? You know how you go to a client site and you're just like, Alright, I want to get this done. I want to get out of here. When I walk into one of the nonprofits like a school or their office or a building, and you see people working passionately together. You felt like you were a part of that family. I always felt at home. I love their passion. I love the fact that all they wanted to do was just make this world a better place. 

So that passion kind of rubbed off on me. So fast forward a little bit, I said, You know what, listen, I’ve got to figure out how I can do more in this space and there is but so much that I can do by myself. So I said, What can I do to make myself an extension of myself? And technology is one of those things.

So I wanted to identify one of, or some of the pain points and some of the big issues circling like the fiscal management space in the nonprofit sector or industry and see if I can maybe make that a little bit easier, or make those systems and processes a little bit simpler. So that's where the idea of PreciseGrants came about and it didn't start with PreciseGrants, it was like, a tool that evolved to another tool that was kind of corny, and then evolved to something else. And then PreciseGrants was born.

Chyla Graham

Yeah, I think there's always these iterations and people, I think we sometimes forget that it takes like seven versions, eight versions to get to the thing that we like, like you were mentioning. So you know, you start your business, you're like, Hey, would you like to pay me? Yes, thank you. And then you refine that and it's just part of growth, if you're in a nonprofit, or for profit you're like, so we started off here, and it's gonna grow and evolve again. 

So when you look at PreciseGrants now and you think about how you're connecting, what is the thing that you're like, hey, people you want to accomplish your mission? This is how PreciseGrants is going to help you. And this is why it should be considered as something that's important to do. 

Otwan Lowery

Absolutely, I think one thing is to understand the industry that you're in, Nonprofits is a very high compliance driven industry. That means that everything needs to be buttoned up, you're spending government funds. People want to make sure money is being spent accordingly. What I find is that one of our core values is simplicity. You know, people are venturing out and trying to change the world and make this world a better place. That's a hard task and anybody that decides to wake up one day and take that challenge, I want to make the other little things and other little trips easier to get to because that's a long road that you're traveling. 

So what I realized working with different nonprofits is that we were complicating processes. Everything was manual intensive, and excel spreadsheets, and no level of organization and with that, things kind of fall by the wayside or things get done inaccurately, so you run the risk of not being compliant, which means you run the risk of losing your funding. So all kinds of things can kind of happen there. 

With me when I think about Precisegrants and what we're doing to assist nonprofits is we want to make their lives easier. The more mundane tasks that are very important, which is managing your funds and managing your budgets accordingly, according to the grants. We want to make that as simple as possible and make it so that you do things accurately and within requirements of your contracts with these various funders, so that you can continue to be impactful and go out there and change the world. So that's really like our small part in helping them create a better world. 

Chyla Graham

I love that because I think people underestimate how detailed the compliance pieces are. People are like we want to apply for the funding and I'm like, that sounds great, I want you to get it but what are the other pieces that you need to consider; someone is going to have to track? Have you thought through those things, Have you prioritized them? As you consider sites, grants and other things, what are some areas or tools, Precisegrants or otherwise, that you think organizations could be using better should be using more?

Otwan Lowery

Yeah, absolutely. One, it depends on the level of your organization. Every organization doesn't need these robust tools or you know, these enterprise systems and platforms out there. I'm a firm believer of when you first start out, obviously something like Excel is a very, very good tool to use, right because it's it's simple, you know, it's free, well kind of free, and you can create little mini internal hacks, if you will, to make a process a lot easier. 

Then you have to graduate from that as you start to grow, obviously you want to use an easier bookkeeping system, whether you're utilizing QuickBooks which a lot of small nonprofits may use. Then as you continue to grow, you do want to also employ or deploy CRM systems as well and that can run a range of different ones. You can use Bloomerang, you can use a Grant Wise, there's a lot of CRM systems, you have to find the right fit for you and price is always going to be a factor but also the ease of use and that's what we tried to do with PreciseGrants was, we wanted to make it so simple and easy to use that, that you don't necessarily have to be an accountant or anything like that, to use it. 

Because if you think about it, most people that work in nonprofits are not going to be your typical, whatever that job position is. So when they first started, they didn't go to school for accounting or they didn't go to school, maybe for grant writing, or business development and things like that. They're kind of figuring it out as they go and I think it's important that whatever tool you use, not only factoring in from a price perspective, but then from a, Hey, can I adopt this very quickly, and, and implement it into our current system and process, you know, with very little learning curve, if you will. 

So there are a gambit of different tools and a lot of different software. SAS is a very hot industry. But I do think the two main factors are, getting that benefit and doing what it needs to do. Then also, ease of use. You don't need to be asking 1001 questions and trying to do rocket science, so to speak, just to utilize software. So that's what we think about as we're building out.

Chyla Graham

Yeah, I think that's always the thing... Who's gonna use this? I think that's always my first question when people are wanting to look at accounting software and I'm like, are you going to be the one to use it? And what is the thing I need? Something that I can use on my phone, or I will get my computer, I will give myself an hour a day to do the thing? Let's be realistic, so that you can take the software that's going to match up with that need. 

Otwan Lowery

Exactly, and that's the beauty of consultants, like yourself and myself, you can present different things. So they don't have to worry about going and searching. Because even that's a long task, just trying to find something because there's so many different options out there.

Chyla Graham

There's always a question that I'm like, Oh, I really want them to ask that. So I figured because I have my podcast, I will let the guest answer this question for me. What is one question that you wish people would ask you a lot more?

Otwan Lowery

I wish they would ask me more about how to for the future, or how to build for sustainability. I think a lot of times, we're focusing on surviving today, which I get that when you're in survival mode is hard to plan but at some point, the vision has to go beyond the current vision. 

So I think if we were more forward thinking and then back into it on what are the things that I need to do today to make sure that I get here in five years, because when you think about a nonprofit, most nonprofits are not in it for a quick buck they know that if they want change, this is something that they have to be a part of for years and years to come. But I don't think we often talk about what years and years to come looks like because it's always a matter of, I need to make payroll, I need to raise these funds really quickly to keep this program going. 

Constantly in survival mode, which a lot of people unfortunately are. But I think if we can take, especially if you have a resource or somebody to lean on outside of the organization that can help you structure that and then help you put the pieces together today, so that you can be there, so that you don't go four, five years and lose that time when you could have been much further if we would have just planned for that. 

So I don't think we talked enough about longevity, sustainability, growth, like real vision. So I wish we talked about that a little bit more versus solving just the problem today and putting out this fire today. So I would love to have a more proactive talk and conversation in that regard

Chyla Graham

Yeah, now, it's a fire everyday. And I think, again, that's why you have to talk. They think, like, we know everyday there's gonna be issues. So let's just plan ahead. 

Otwan Lowery

Exactly. Let's figure this out. And that's the thing, people, especially nonprofits, want to buy into your vision, what I think ends up happening, and I could be wrong, I think we limit ourselves, we limit the idea or thought of being able to really accomplish something so beyond ourselves, because we know we can't do it alone, but you're not going to do it alone, you're going to have a team, you're gonna have an army of people to support you. 

And that's why I love the whole idea of think big. And even when I speak to certain mentors, or advisors, I'll come to them even now. Like even with my business, I'll come to them with an idea. And I'm super excited. I'm like, Okay, next year, I'm gonna do this, and it's gonna look like this. And they look at me like, Otwan, nah, bro think bigger. 

The whole concept of 10x, it's real. We can only accomplish first up here, we have the thing up here, and then we put it to action. So if you're gonna think you might as well think big, right? I think that's one of the sayings. So that's what I would love to have more of those kinds of conversations with the nonprofit's that I speak with. 

Chyla Graham

Yeah, it's considering yourself a push agent to just be like, what are the boundaries? So I can say like, a budget is just a guideline. This is a guardrail but you can push or you can be more cautious. But as you think about growth, you have to start thinking like where do we want to be in 10 years? Are we done? Have we worked ourselves out of business? We just want to serve 10 more people this year.

Otwan Lowery

I hope I'm not going off too much. Like for nonprofits. I remember when I was in school, I went to Babson College in Massachusetts, and I forgot the professor's name but I think he had a book he said, The Profitable Nonprofit or something like that. And I think the misconception of nonprofits is that they're not supposed to be profitable, and they're not supposed to grow or run their business, like a for profit business, and I get it. 

You don't have shares, they have no dividends, there's no equity, and I get that part. But there's something about the mindset of for profit businesses that allows them to break through those glass ceilings and accomplish, to something, out of this world accomplishment. And I'm not saying that nonprofits have to go that far, but have some level of, you know, hey, we can do much more than what we're currently doing, if we just had these things in place. 

So thinking along that kind of mindset, because at the end of the day, your return is your impact, right? Your return is this child that was struggling with reading but now as a result of your organization, they can read and they go off to be something amazing, an attorney, a doctor, an astronaut, what have you. So with that level of return, I will take that any day over dividends. So it's changing the world. So I would love for nonprofits to think a little bit along those lines as well.

Chyla Graham

Are there any other resources you want to share or any upcoming events that we should be looking out for? 

Otwan Lowery

Sure. I do put out blogs and I create white papers just to help nonprofits with things like best practices and fiscal management and just little tidbits and tips that you can use to help you grow your organization. I usually post that either on my website, which is Also on LinkedIn, if you subscribe to our newsletter, you can also access resources and additional information via email. But yeah, right now, that's pretty much it. 

What I am doing now, I put together a nonprofit called Precise Impact, it's in very early stages. So you're not going to find anything online right now is something that I've been doing informally for plenty of years. And I just recently myself wanted to be more impactful with it. So I've been building a team. And basically what Precise Impact does is like, the smaller or in very growth, passion driven nonprofit organizations to be more impactful by providing them the capacity building resources that they need to get to that next level, to have some level of sustainability. 

I find small nonprofits tend to be a little bit more marginalized. Maybe they don't get access to certain funds. So what do they need to do to get over that hump and get to that next level so that they can grow and be more impactful. So you guys can definitely look out for that. It'll be pushed via social media and also through my website PreciseGrants but yeah, I'm here, a resource anyway that I can so feel free to either you know email me which is my first name [email protected] or you can reach out reach out via LinkedIn and any way that I can be of service I'd love to be.

Thank you everyone for listening to another episode. Have a great day. Thanks for listening to another episode of The Nonprofit Ace Podcast. Until next time, bye.



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