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Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc.

"It's real peace of mind...."


When the 10-acre imposing fortress of Eastern State Penitentiary opened in 1829, its radical architecture and controversial approach to reforming criminals through penitence, solitude and labor were the world’s most revolutionary and expensive concepts in penal reform. Over the decades, its design was copied by over 300 prisons worldwide as thousands of inmates, including such notorious criminals as Al Capone and bank robber Willie Sutton, did time behind the foreboding stone walls.

After 142 years, Eastern State was abandoned in 1971. The hulking walls endured years of disrepair and vandalism and faced possible demolition that would have erased the National Historic Landmark from the city’s cultural heritage.

Beginning in the 1990s, an energetic civic campaign saved the lost world of crumbling cellblocks and empty guard towers of what had been the world’s most ambitious penitentiary. The Eastern State Penitentiary Historic Site, Inc., originally housed under the aegis of the Pennsylvania Prison Society, evolved out of an ad hoc committee formed to preserve the historic penitentiary. While the financial accounts of the two organizations were intermingled, Eastern State’s accounting systems were relatively simple and required only a part-time bookkeeper. The group eventually became its own independent 501(c)3.

Growth came quickly, and today the prison museum receives over 400,000 visitors annually, between the daytime historic tours and Terror Behind the Walls, the nighttime haunted attraction. The organization outgrew its capacity for handling its accounting. After getting a recommendation from another nonprofit that was using Your Part-Time Controller, Eastern State interviewed President and Founder Eric Fraint and they have been with YPTC ever since. YPTC’s support has continued to grow as Eastern State’s needs have expanded, and today YPTC’s services include payroll, HR and retirement plan issues.

Sally Elk, President & CEO, notes that as Eastern State grew, funders and board members alike were coming to demand increasingly more sophisticated information about its finances. “The advantage of Your Part-Time Controller’s working for us was that after one year we were able to create a complete chart of accounts and an evaluation to clarify all our expenditures, budgeting and financial reporting,” says Elk.

“Every step of the way, YPTC’s people have been moving us along to becoming a more financially responsible organization. It’s real peace of mind,” she adds.

When new 990 reporting requirements occur, or IRS regulations are on the horizon, YPTC invites staff to seminars to understand the impact to non-profit financial reporting. “They told us what we were expected to do and the actions we had to take to meet the scrutiny of the IRS. I don’t feel like I have to worry when YPTC has the answers.”

As Eastern State has grown, its systems have continued to become more complex. “One thing that is particularly cumbersome is the accounting around our Halloween event. We have a huge volume of credit card and merchandise sales at a time when our staff is taxed with running a successful event plus keeping the daytime visitors and our neighbors happy. Knowing Eric’s team is on top of things is beyond reassuring.”

But perhaps what impresses Elk most about Your Part-Time Controller is the concern it shows for ensuring the prison museum’s continued success. “They’re interested in our growth as an organization and the best way to handle our finances,” she says. “I think it bodes well for Eastern State that our consultant’s team has demonstrated their interest in our future.”

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