The Nonprofit Guru of Westchester

Jennifer Flowers has survived multiple recessions and other roadblocks en route to founding her breakthrough niche business, Accreditation Guru, Inc.

Photos by Stefan Radtke

In 2009, Jennifer Flowers was working in Lower Manhattan, at the Council on Accreditation, which evaluates and accredits for-profits, nonprofits, and government entities. When she found herself abruptly laid off from her job one fall morning, she made a large placard about her plight and headed over to nearby Federal Hall, where President Obama was due to give a speech about the economy.

Fortunately, she was positioned directly across from a bored press corps, which had been shut out of any Obama interaction that day. Without a president to interview, why not check out the lady with the big sign?

Sure enough, Flowers, who was among one-fifth of the staff who were laid off that mid-recession morning at the council, landed in the pages of the New York Post a couple of days later, with a Reuters photo of her and an upraised sign, which read: “LAID OFF TODAY 9:30 A.M. HIRE ME.” Other outlets ran the photo, as well, and MSNBC did a short video of her as part of a “Faces of the Recession” segment.

“The fact is, I needed to do something,” Flowers told the Post. “I didn’t want to just go home. I stayed out there and did something that made me feel productive.”

It’s a good story. It’s also a window into who Flowers is and how she operates — dynamic, take-charge, no-nonsense, yet good-natured, with a sense of humor.

Within months, Flowers was firmly back on her feet and working for herself as the founder and CEO of Accreditation Guru, Inc. She has created an entirely new business model and niche service in the nonprofit world that helps human-service groups navigate the rigorous and time-consuming accreditation process. Ten years later, Accreditation Guru has worked with more than 200 clients across the U.S., Canada, Puerto Rico, and Saudi Arabia.

In the process, Flowers has emerged as a trusted and nationally recognized expert in the complicated, mandate-heavy field of accreditation, which offers
human-service organizations professional recognition for meeting specific quality standards in how they deliver services. “I’m the go-to accreditation person for a number of national organizations,” Flowers says. “I work with terrific people, and this is doing what I love, making a real impact. It’s very rewarding work.”

To earn accreditation, an organization must go through an objective review by an independent accrediting body. Once they earn accreditation, it means they have gone beyond minimum licensing standards into a higher realm. For example, if a group home or foster-care agency were striving to earn national accreditation from CARF, COA, or The Joint Commission, it would need to not only write/revise hundreds of policies, procedures, and plans, but also have the processes behind these documents to fully be in compliance with the accreditation standards. Flowers and her team are skilled at navigating that typically arcane and painstaking process of procedural and documentary compliance while providing long-term strategic planning and training, including techniques for developing an effective board of directors and leadership team. To these ends, Accreditation Guru runs boot camps and workshops, creates mock surveys, and performs on-site facilities reviews.

“I’ve been able to grow my business at a rate of 20 percent a year, and I want to keep doing that. I love what I do.”

—Jennifer Flowers, Founder & CEO, Accreditation Guru

In addition to deriving great satisfaction from working for herself, Flowers — who grew up in the San Francisco Bay area and earned a bachelor’s in sociology from UC Berkley — says she is also proud that most of her clients are nonprofits that “do a lot of good in the world,” in fields like education, residential treatment, foster care and adoption, and behavioral healthcare. In Westchester, her clients include Valhalla-based Cardinal McCloskey Community Services and The Arc Westchester, a Hawthorne-based nonprofit that supports people with developmental disabilities.

“These nonprofits perform vital services for families in need,” Flowers says. “They are a fabulously dedicated group [who are] not in it for the money. Our role is to help these organizations become more effective,” she says. “What we do really is transformative.”

In addition to her daily responsibilities, Flowers serves on the board of directors of the Northeast STEM Starter Academy in Mount Vernon and is co-chair of Westchester Companies for Kids, which is affiliated with the Westchester Children’s Association. She’s also active in the Business Council of Westchester, as both a volunteer ambassador and as creator-moderator of the popular BCW panel discussion titled “Corporate Social Responsibility Done Right.” In 2015, Flowers won Ambassador of the Year honors from the BCW.

“Jennifer has used her business acumen and connections to help new members maximize their memberships and is the go-to person when there are questions about nonprofit governance and corporate responsibility,” says BCW president/CEO Dr. Marsha Gordon, who adds that Flowers “is widely respected within the Westchester business community.”

Since her company’s inception, Flowers has expanded her team to include one full-time employee, one part-time employee, and 12 accreditation consultants who are scattered across the country “from Florida to Alaska,” she says. “Each one works as an independent contractor, specializing in one or two types of accreditation. We keep adding them on as the company grows.”

Though Flowers asserts that the company culture is “collaborative and all about excellence,” she is quick to point out that she and her crew have a lot of fun, too.

“I know what [Jennifer] wants from me, but how I get the job done is really up to me,” says accreditation consultant Carol Smith, who joined the company in 2016. “She definitely understands that she is working with long-term professionals,” adding that even though Flowers is “really enthusiastic, really smart, and very outgoing,” she is also “very serious and thoughtful about things. There is a lot of respect there.”

Like many businesspeople with a national and international roster of clients, travel eats up a large chunk of Flowers’ schedule. She flies regularly to attend about two dozen state and national conferences a year, and occasionally to meet with clients and her team. The good news about all that travel is that she doesn’t need a corner office — or really much of an office at all in the traditional sense. Instead, she has opted for a stripped-down office at Carr Workplaces on Mamaroneck Avenue in Harrison that she shares with a colleague to complement her home office.

Along with travel, public speaking in front of large groups has become a big part of her job, which is fine with her. “I was good at public speaking even in grade school,” Flowers says. That comfort level likely came in quite handy in 2018, when she was invited to speak at the the National Children’s Alliance in Washington, DC and to the Child Welfare Strategy Group of the Annie E. Casey Foundation in Baltimore, MD on the topic of accreditation under the Family First Prevention Services Act. Last year, Flowers had some 20 speaking engagements, all over the U.S., on her calendar.

Jennifer Flowers has parlayed her knowledge of nonprofit accreditation into a thriving business helping human-service groups navigate the accreditation process.

Supplementing her A-game communications skills, Flowers also speaks Spanish, having spent her junior year of college at the University of Salamanca in Spain. That linguistic skillset was enhanced during her stint in the Peace Corps in Costa Rica, from 1993 to 1995. At the time, she was part of the Small-Business Development Program, stationed in Ciudad Quesada, a few hours north of San Jose. “I worked with a local tourism board and a women’s collective artisan group, among others,” Flowers says.

Just one year before she headed off to Costa Rica and the Peace Corps, she’d earned her MBA in international management from Thunderbird School of Global Management, in Glendale, AZ — smack in the middle of another recession. “It was a bit of ‘Which comes first… a good job or the Peace Corps?’” she recalls. “The Peace Corps won.”

Flowers arrived in New York from San Francisco in the fall of 2001, right after the 9/11 terrorist attacks. Despite it being an awful time to be in the city, she fell in love with New York and knew she was here to stay. She made her way to Westchester in 2007 and now resides in a three-bedroom Tudor in Mamaroneck that’s exactly eight minutes from her office.

To stay in shape and get her mind off work, Flowers is a regular at the Life Time fitness club in Harrison. When it snows, you’ll find her on cross-country skis or snowshoes at Saxon Woods Golf Course in Scarsdale or a local park with groomed trails. When the big flakes come, however, she heads to Fahnestock Winter Park in Putnam County.

By the way, if Jennifer’s name sounds familiar, you can thank Chappaqua’s Bill Clinton for that. The other Flowers, Gennifer, gained notoriety by alleging a longtime affair with the president and nearly bringing down Clinton’s 1992 presidential campaign. This Jennifer Flowers laughs it off easily, enjoying the puzzled looks on people’s faces when they are first introduced. “The silver lining is that no one forgets my name,” she says.

Bill Cary is a freelance writer who splits his time between an apartment in Hell’s Kitchen and an old chicken farm in the Ulster County hamlet of Stone Ridge.

Accreditation Guru Hires Director of Behavioral Health Marketing

Accreditation Guru proudly welcomes Peggy Lavin, LCSW as the new Director of Behavioral Health Marketing. In this position, Peggy will work with founder and CEO, Jennifer Flowers, on the fulfillment of strategic marketing goals within the behavioral health and addiction recovery arenas.

Peggy brings to the Accreditation Guru team more than 45 years of administrative, business development and clinical experience in a variety of for-profit and nonprofit behavioral health and human service organizations.

Peggy began her professional career as a correctional counselor in a residential facility run by the Illinois Department of Corrections, Juvenile Division. She then worked as an intake coordinator for the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services.

After obtaining her MSW she became the director of social work at Camelot Care Centers, a private agency based in Illinois that provides residential treatment to children and adolescents. For almost twenty years at Camelot, Peggy held a variety of clinical and administrative positions including clinical director, operations director, and chief accreditation and compliance officer.

In addition to performing clinical work, she helped Camelot conform to state licensing requirements, achieving and maintaining accreditation for behavioral health care with The Joint Commission along with the expansion and successful implementation of business development initiatives and strategic plannings.

After supervising the achievement and maintenance of accreditation requirements for programs in all states for Camelot, she then moved to The Joint Commission as Associate Director of the organization’s behavioral health care accreditation surveyor cadre. She then served as Associate Director of Business Development for Behavioral Health Care Accreditation.

Peggy earned an MSW at the University of Illinois at Chicago’s Jane Addams School of Social Work, and a BA in sociology and psychology at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a licensed clinical social worker in the state of Illinois as well as a registered practitioner in the National Practitioners Data Bank.

Welcome to the team, Peggy!

You may reach Peggy via email at

Wisdom and Value in Strategic Planning

By Dave Branding, PhD

One of my absolute favorite days of the work year calendar is strategic planning. I look forward to this special opportunity when key leaders come together and focus. We scan the environment, assess our positions, incorporate input, determine goals and set priorities for how we intend to perform the important work together in alignment.

Of course, strategic planning is less a day and more an ongoing, evolving process that often includes an identifiable day when teams actively plan together. From my position as a CEO, the value is having key leaders and governing bodies hear the same information and build consensus regarding the way forward.

Imagine YOUR key stakeholders forecasting, projecting and designing elements of a future together. It’s a joy to have teams listen intently, brainstorm and contribute insights in a safe, positive setting. The goal is to find a collective, coherent way forward despite operating in risk-bearing, fiscally challenging and often ambiguous environments. How empowering!

The strategic plan, when thoughtfully developed, might be the single greatest gift that boards and leadership teams can give each other and ultimately to the community served.

Providing a concise framework for strategic planning, accreditation standards emphasize what should be considered in the ongoing planning process, how the plan itself is to be developed, what it must include and how it is maintained and shared with others.

In my experience as a CARF surveyor, one frequently missed standard is ensuring that the plan reflects financial positioning at the time it’s drafted and at projected points in the future.

Organizations achieve substantial conformance by paying attention to detail in documentation and using the actual standards as an outline for the content generated by the process, which informs the resulting written plan.

The Planning Process

In our organization, planning practices have evolved over many years and are constantly being refined.  Rough outlines guiding the planning process, collected formally and informally, are written on large paper pages displayed around the room for reference by everyone.

For our first step, the leadership team and governing board meet together and we facilitate the meeting ourselves. Other organizations find it helpful to use an external facilitator.

We update everyone on the status of the existing plan, acknowledging those items that are completed , note others that are still in process and jettison the ones that will not be pursued.  We use a large electronic screen to update a simple SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis and spend most of the time brainstorming priority areas for our efforts, which are recorded on large sheets of paper.

Further discussion, reorganization and prioritization helps us solidify the plan’s rough content. In the following days, we draft a brief, concise document that is shared with the leadership team and governance board for input and revisions.

Successful Implementation

Last year, we then shared our draft goals and objectives with all 60 staff members throughout our organization and used a nominal voting process to solicit everyone’s input and document priorities.

We listed strategic opportunities on large post-it sheets around the room and everyone voted by placing stickers next to the issues they thought to be most important.  This input also factored strongly into the development of our final written plan.

Ultimately, the governing board approves the strategic plan’s final draft, which is implemented with at least twice-annual updates that are submitted to the board. This year, we are trying a Gantt chart format to more clearly specify when each element of the plan initiates and concludes.

We also seek input and feedback to strengthen our planning process for the coming year by sharing elements of the plan at key community stakeholders meetings, distributing reports to all staff members and holding regular meetings with the people we serve – tailoring content to each audience, as appropriate. Other organizations use their website to share strategic directions with a broader audience.

There is strong wisdom and incredible value in the alignment of people, ideas, resources and purposeful work that’s specified in a well-developed strategic plan, which helps us implement continuous, organization-wide quality improvement and sustainability more than any other initiative or directive.

Accreditation Guru can help you and your colleagues achieve a strategic planning process that meets your needs while conforming to accreditation standards that help your organization Prepare for Greatness

Dave is CEO at JAMHI Health & Wellness in Juneau, Alaska, a CARF surveyor and a consultant with Accreditation Guru.

For assistance with your strategic planning, please contact us at 212.209.0240 or email


What does it mean to “live” accreditation?

Achieving national accreditation is more than passing a test. Navigating the road to accreditation requires a service provider to commit to quality improvement, focus on the unique needs of each person the provider serves and monitor the results of services. It announces to the world that your organization strives to be the best it can be. That’s hard work, but the process sets you on the course for long-term greatness.

Organizations are best served to approach accreditation as investment in their future. It helps to raise the bar internally and not only creates a more stable entity, but one that can more effectively manage growth in the future. Once achieved, if a human service provider truly “lives” accreditation (embraces and applies enhanced operational and program practices) it will strengthen their ability to improve the lives of the people they serve.

To read more on the advantages of accreditation, click here.

For questions and assistance with your accreditation and/or post accreditation, please contact us at 212.209.0240 or email Jennifer Flowers.