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Denver Asset Building Coalition

The original mission in 2004 remains the exact same today, says John Russell, Treasurer and VITA Program Director: “to provide free tax preparation, financial education, and financial services through accessible sites in Denver to help the underserved build for the future and become economically stable.”
Denver Asset Building Coalition

A DABC volunteer helps a tax site client

The Denver Asset Building Coalition (DABC) may be a relatively young organization, but they’ve wasted no time having a big impact. Starting as a loose coalition of tax sites in 2003, DABC became a standalone non-profit the very next year.

A VITA grantee in 2009 and 2011, DABC expanded their services quickly. Today, they provide services year round, including taxpayer education for individuals and the self-employed, asset building services and advocacy on behalf of low-income taxpayers in addition to free tax preparation.

Due mostly to a media and word-of-mouth campaign by former clients, DABC had its most successful year in 2011 preparing 3,000 tax returns at two tax sites. With two full-time staff and one season sites operations manager, DABC relies on its more than 175 volunteers even more than the typical VITA program.

Despite their success in tax preparation, DABC remains focused on “helping the underserved build for the future and become economically stable,” according to Russell. Earlier this year, DABC introduced D2D Fund’s Refund Rush, a financial education game that educates individuals about saving at tax time. “We realized how relevant the simulation could be for taxpayers. We found that it was also beneficial for volunteers to think through effective ways to allocate tax refunds.”

Russell said DABC set up a kiosk at one of their sites in the client waiting area. For a week, DABC volunteers started each tax session with the Refund Rush on the screen. After the implementation of this program, Russell said savings bond sales increased substantially.

DABC also participated in the IRS SPEC/Field Assistance partnership, which places an IRS staffer from their walk-in office at the participating organization’s largest tax site with remote access to IRS computer systems. “This was a significant benefit to our clients and helped us decrease our reject rate by checking simple information like names of dependents against prior years’ returns. They were also able to validate social security numbers and provide valuable tax law advice to volunteers,” said Russell. DABC was host to the third busiest site of the 30 sites that participated in this program, and Russell expects that ranking to increase in the future.

As DABC continues to expand, they face challenges. The Colorado state EITC was recently suspended and is unlikely to be reinstated in the near future. As with almost all organizations, securing consistent funding is a challenge, even with DABC receiving the VITA grant and several multi-year grants from local foundations.

With DABC’s demand skyrocketing, they also face the challenge of adequately staffing tax sites, particularly during the day. “Many of our volunteers are employed during the day,” said Russell, “so we are interested in tapping into groups who have the capability of consistently volunteering during weekday hours.”

As for the future, Russell is particularly excited about the NCTC National Conference in June. “I like the network of like-minded organizations and the ability to share experiences. I like the effort NCTC puts into building coalition-wide capacity for advocacy and asset building.”

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