Why charities need CAs
CAs are well-placed to tackle the challenges facing charities today. Eleanor O'Neill speaks to Graeme Bissett CA about the skills CAs can offer and what they can gain in return.
"Almost all charities these days are run in a business-like manner," said Graeme Bissett CA, previous ICAS Council member and Chairman of Children 1st.
"Even if their objectives aren't to do with sales and profit, they're to do with producing positive outcomes, and the organisations that deliver those outcomes need to be run along business lines."
Voluntary and honorary roles within charities can be a great opportunity for CAs to utilise their qualification and experience to make a positive difference. Recent research from CAN and Populus identified business support and financial management as two of the major issues facing the sector.
Graeme said: "CAs can bring their business management skills to charities and will find that those skills are very relevant.
"Specifically in making sure the governance is in good shape, especially with the larger bodies, and appropriate to the size of the charity. That's very important and CAs are well-placed to advise on it.
"Charities do require financial management and accounting skills," he added. "Organisations like Children 1st have millions of pounds in revenue and we have a duty to look after that carefully and to spend it wisely.
"The CA skills are very relevant and can mean anything from providing accounting services to charities on a pro bono basis to holding a role such as Treasurer."
Given the impact of recent media attention on poor governance and fund-raising practices in a small number of high profile charities, there is a growing worry that a lack of proper practice is negatively affecting the willingness of volunteers.
Graeme commented: "There has been poor PR with respect to one or two very large international charities; high profile cases where, for example, fundraising practices were found to be extremely high pressure and entirely inappropriate.
"My experience is that these are isolated examples and the vast majority of charities are very well run and regulated. That bad publicity is unfortunate because it applies to a very few in number but it is a major concern for the sector."
The benefits of volunteering
The benefits of using your CA qualification to aid others goes beyond financial gain, according to Graeme.
As CAs can offer knowledge of both wider business management and sector-specific issues like charity accounting rules and VAT exemptions, getting involved at a board level is a great way to support a cause they are passionate about.
He said: "A person working with a charity gets a sense of fulfillment and being able to give something back, whatever your skillset.
"From a CA point of view, people generally work in a reasonably intense professional environment. Whether you're in practice or business or any other role, we set high standards in relation to ethics, skills and commitment.
"That approach can bring great value to charities. The personal reward you get isn’t about pound notes it’s about delivering value and helping organisations to achieve something that is different from making profit or generating sales.
"That different outcome is, I think, quite fulfilling for someone who spends most of their time worrying about financial outcomes. The sense of fulfilment or the personal RoI, if you like, can be tremendous."
Finding a charity vacancy
ICAS advertises volunteering opportunities for CAs and is currently accepting applications for a Trustee on the board of Children 1st.
Graeme will be leaving the charity in September after nine years on the board and the current Treasurer is expected to step down next year.
Children 1st is therefore looking for a new Trustee with financial qualifications to join with a view to becoming the Treasurer in 2017.
Graeme said: "We are one of Scotland's larger charities and we help children, young people and families in difficulty and very often where the children suffer the worst forms of abuse and neglect.
"I think working with a charity like Children 1st which sees literally thousands of children and young people every year in different difficult circumstances gives you a very clear view of serious societal problems that might not otherwise be particularly visible in your day-to-day life.
"Better understanding those problems is what I feel I have personally gained and you get to know and work with and admire the astonishing people who are on the front line, trying to alleviate those issues.
"It's inspiring, frankly and I would always advise CAs to seriously consider taking on roles with charities."
In terms of volunteering, there are some restrictions on how CAs can utilise their qualification without a practising certificate. These do not apply to those who have an official role like in the vacancies detailed here.