Selecting a national accrediting body to work with is a significant undertaking. The commitment goes beyond the initial accreditation cycle and, in most cases, it continues for many more years, sometimes even decades. Because of the investment in time, money and effort involved, the selection process should not be taken lightly. Watch our video for tips on determining which accrediting body is the right fit for your organization.
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 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.
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.
In celebration of 10 years in business, we put together this video to explain who we are and what we do. We are fortunate to work with dedicated people who help those in need and to have a great team of experts by our side.
Individuals, agencies and associations in the child welfare space have been preparing for the initial implementation date of the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA) even before it was signed into law in February of last year.
This act, which aims to change the face of child welfare in the United States, required implementation by October 1, 2019, unless a particular state opted to delay enforcing its provisions for up to two years. At last count, only nine states, plus the District of Columbia, are planning for early (2019) implementation of FFPSA.
For more than a year, Jennifer Flowers, CEO of Accreditation Guru, has delivered numerous presentations around the country about FFPSA’s accreditation mandate for a new category of congregate care providers: Qualified Residential Treatment Providers (QRTPs).
It’s fitting that on October 1, the birthday of FFPSA’s implementation, Jennifer moderated a panel at the Texas Child Care Administrators Conference, which included panelists representing the three approved accrediting bodies as well as Kristene Blackstone, Associate Commissioner for Child Protective Services in Texas – one of the largest CPS programs in the nation. Following Jennifer’s summary of FFPSA and what it means to become a QRTP, the panel launched into a lively discussion about accreditation and the rollout of FFPSA in the State of Texas.
For more information about FFPSA, visit AG’s webpage devoted to this topic. And, for inquiries about assistance with preparing for national accreditation or for information about Jennifer Flowers speaking at your event, please contact Rocio@AccreditationGuru.com.
Individuals reach out to relatives, friends and other trusted advisors for relationship, financial or career help all the time. So why are many businesses reluctant to hire a consultant?
Some reasons for this resistance include institutional inertia, fear of seeming weak or ineffective and a lack of awareness that a different perspective can provide big dividends.
Companies that consider – or are required – to seek accreditation may think that the process is just a rubber stamp and underestimate the task ahead.
Though many boards and executives only contemplate hiring a consultant when things go south, there are many good reasons to get advice from an experienced consultant when the situation warrants.
Here’s a familiar scenario in the non-profit world: the board is raising money, staff is hired and the vision is being executed. However, growing demand for services outstrips the capacity of the organization to scale up.
In other cases, the mission expands into new, related opportunities that pull non-profits into unforeseen directions.
These seem like good problems to have, but when you’re faced with an unexpected crisis or an overload of decisions to be made, having a consultant who can see through the fog and help vet options is invaluable.
Few non-profits possess the capacity to undertake their own competitive and/or market research to support decision-making, help your team develop an action plan and set goals and priorities.
It happens all the time: two powerful individuals or factions within an organization clash over direction or policy. Is providing human services to the vulnerable enough or should the non-profit lobby for new laws to deal with the underlying issues causing the problems?
There is a reason why arbitrators, mediators and the court system exist: to serve as neutral, unbiased third-party judges to either make a decision or help develop an agreement for moving forward.
When different opinions hinder the ability of board and staff leaders to settle on priorities, paid consultants can help organizations move beyond the debate, try to develop a consensus and get back on track to fulfill the organization’s original mission. And they cost a lot less than lawyers.
Navigating the Unknown
Leadership transitions or succession issues can tear non-profits apart. This is one reason why sports teams have coaches: when the top players move on or retire, the deck has to be reshuffled. Professional facilitators can help develop a strategic plan and prepare your board and staff leadership for seamless change and determine the best path to ensure future stability.
Through the Viewfinder
When competing priorities or sudden crises emerge, consultants can help focus on the most important ways to deal with adversity. They can be tasked with developing a ranked, detailed action plan throughout the collaboration so that there’s buy-in from every level of your organization.
For help getting everyone to share goals, implement effective tactics, develop timelines and achieve measurable outcomes, consultants are in a unique position to rally the forces and foster lasting growth and sustainability.
When it comes to navigating the accreditation process, hiring the right consultant can save time (and money).
At Accreditation Guru, our team experts have gained valuable and actionable experience in the field. They know exactly what the accrediting bodies are looking for and how best to compile organization data and information.
But achieving accreditation is an involved process that will require your employees to spend less time on their day-to-day responsibilities. To ensure efficient time management, our consultants go beyond providing training functions and serve as sounding boards to answer questions from staff so no one is spinning their wheels or getting lost in a rabbit hole trying to figure out what the accreditation standards mean.
Rather than serve as a sign of weakness, hiring consultants marks a bold, brave move that can provide lasting benefits far beyond the immediate cost. And achieving accreditation will help increase credibility and stability. Don’t leave your destiny to chance!
When beginning on the road to national accreditation, many organizations struggle with the extra workload involved and a general unfamiliarity with the accreditation process. As a result, they may decide to work with an accreditation consultant to help with the heavy lifting involved. Our video outlines what to look for when considering hiring a consultant, including success rates, reputation and the amount of customization available for your organization.
If you have questions about how Accreditation Guru can help your agency proactively prepare for accreditation, please contact us at 212.209.0240 or Info@AccreditationGuru.com.
Bobbie has been a peer surveyor and team leader at the Council on Accreditation for more than ten years. She has reviewed a variety of agencies, including nonprofit, religious and military organizations.
Her areas of concentration include, but are not limited to, Performance and Quality Improvement (PQI) programs and Financial Education and Counseling Services (FEC).
Since 2000, she has served as operations manager, program manager and PQI chair for Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where she led the agency through two successful re-accreditations. She also sits on several local boards and committees.
Bobbie believes that earning and maintaining accreditation allows agencies to affirm what they are doing well and offers organizations the opportunity to strengthen their services through nationally accepted best practices.
Outside of her work, Bobbie enjoys being with family, running marathons and embarking on new adventures. Her family consists of her daughter, Tina, two sons, Colin and McKenzie. She has an amazing son-in-law, Kevin, and a granddaughter, Annika, who has stolen her heart.
Bobbie is fortunate to enjoy travel through work and when doing so, she makes it a point to challenge herself by trying things outside of her comfort zone. She has surfed, paddle boarded, climbed mountains, zip-lined, flown in an gyro-copter and participated in disaster responses.
Bobbie shares this quote: “To live is the rarest thing in the world. Most people exist, that is all.” – Oscar Wilde
We are fortunate to have Bobbie as an AG team member.
On May 15, it was announced that EAGLE Accreditation Program is recognized by the Department of Health and Human Services as an approved accreditor for Qualified Residential Treatment Programs (QRTPs) under the Family First Prevention Services Act (FFPSA). As we have discussed here, FFPSA, which passed in February 2018, allows federal funds to be spent on preventative services to help keep families together and also restricts funding on congregate care or group homes for children and youth who require removal from their families. In part, FFPSA mandates that all residential treatment providers convert to QRTPs, a new licensing category, in order to be eligible for reimbursement through Title IV-E foster care funds after the first two weeks of child placement.
EAGLE, which stands for Educational Assessment Guidelines Leading toward Excellence, is the only faith-based accrediting body in the country. It focuses on ministries serving older adults, children, youth and families, and those with developmental disabilities with emphasis on excellence, quality and how applicant organizations incorporate their Christian mission, religious heritage and values throughout the organization and its daily operations. EAGLE accreditation has provided an option for faith-based organizations since 1984.
The EAGLE Accreditation Program is operated by the United Methodist Association of Health and Welfare Ministries (UMA).
“We are proud of this recognition for EAGLE,” said Mary Kemper, president and CEO of UMA. “As an accreditor of faith-based organizations for more than 40 years, EAGLE has a solid history of promoting excellence with the added focus on organizations’ faith-based mission, vision and values.”
For questions about EAGLE or other accrediting bodies and for assistance preparing your organization to become a Qualified Residential Treatment Program, please contact Accreditation Guru at Info@AccreditationGuru.com.