The CAs who founded Charterpath, Alice Clementi and Alex Marsh, share their aim to make volunteering a fundamental part of what it means to be an accountant
Former colleagues Alice Clementi CA and Alex Marsh CA launched Charterpath to encourage more accountants to volunteer for non-profits. Two years on and their mission is gathering momentum, with global ambitions and an exciting new partnership, hears Anna Melville-James
Passion for positive change is often seeded in first-hand experience. Alice Clementi CA and Alex Marsh CA had long seen the impact of volunteering their skills for organisations trying to deliver big remits on limited resources. Having worked together for 16 years, first at PwC in London, where they both qualified, then at Close Brothers, they had long shared an interest in supporting the non-profit sector – most recently, Clementi as a trustee of a new charity, Marsh as Chair of the board of governors at a local school.
Both also sat on CSR committees for fundraising, and it was back in 2017, during a 100km company charity walk, that they first had the idea to connect volunteer financial expertise with organisations that sorely needed it. “The walk took 24 hours, which meant a lot of time for talking,” laughs Marsh. “We didn’t progress the idea further at the time, but in 2019, when Alice and I left Close Brothers for different organisations, there was a real desire to keep working with each other in some form and keep our friendship going.”
As with many, it was the pandemic that lit the touchpaper, with early 2020 lockdowns biting hard on the non-profit sector. Marsh and Clementi witnessed the immense pressures on their own volunteer organisations. “It was a horrendous time for the sector: one in 10 were looking at the prospect of their non-profit failing and there was a 20% reduction in volunteering levels. That was the trigger point where we said, ‘Right, we really need to do this now,’” says Marsh.
The first iteration of Charterpath focused on encouraging accountants to get involved and promoting opportunities, while also highlighting the challenges facing the non-profit sector. Integral to this was building a strong community via LinkedIn to bring these openings to life and tell stories of volunteering and the value they bring to schools and charities.
They launched the website in early 2021, highlighting available roles and offering resources and case studies – the idea being that it would act as a free bridge linking accountants to non-profits. Only around 10% of accountants volunteer presently in the non-profit sector. Clementi and Marsh’s extremely ambitious goal is to raise that to 50% – and they pinpointed three key problems that had to be overcome if they were to do so.
First, inspire more accountants to volunteer – in part by dispelling the concerns many have around the usefulness of their skills, the time commitment involved and the degree of specialist knowledge required. Second, make it easier to connect accountants with the right roles and provide information in a one-stop shop. Third, to engage the finance sector itself, from the Big Four to institutes such as ICAS, and help them to promote the benefits of volunteering and remove some of the perceptual and structural barriers.
The response has been strong, with Charterpath now an engaged community of more than 1,000 accountants, more than 200 of whom have signed the pledge to donate at least two days a year to volunteering. Bi-monthly newsletters, events and tutorials on the various types of role help to fuel that growth. The programme is impressively diverse, with 40% of volunteers under 30, 40% non-white and 49% female, all of whom have found roles through Marsh and Clementi’s personal steam or on the site’s busy jobs board, where non-profits in need can target roles to accountants and financial professionals with the right expertise.
But growth has not been without its challenges. Both have day jobs, Marsh as Head of Klarna, Clementi as a risk and compliance consultant – and now mother of a six-week-old baby.
“Doing this as a start-up is hard work – and in the beginning we were trying to create the assets and materials to bring value, at the same time as trying to launch the organisation,” says Marsh.
“We would have these crunch calls asking each other whether it was the right thing to be doing,” adds Clementi. “It was feedback – from friends initially, but now from non-profits and accountants – that this could make a difference that was really encouraging. And at times we needed that encouragement because we were full-steam work-wise and living that weird lockdown life at the same time.”
Pump up the volume
In September 2022, Charterpath announced a partnership with financial professional recruitment specialists Marks Sattin to help amplify its work, leveraging the recruiter’s network of more than 100,000 accountants to highlight the benefits of volunteering to those in the finance sector.
And those benefits are manifold. For charities, the impact is huge, as many lack the funds to buy in the crucial financial supervision a CA can bring. And volunteers can help in various ways, from the financial or business plan to securing income or seeing how the charity can manage costs to get the best possible return on available resources.
Non-profits also need critical thinking and problem-solving skills, particularly in challenging times, says Marsh: “One of the hardest things can be to take a step back and objectively think through what your best options are – but that’s embedded in the training you have as a CA.”
Clementi agrees a CA’s worth as a volunteer is not dependent on non-profit experience. “The value is around how to interpret guidance and read rules and apply that in real life,” she says. “Every charity needs somebody with financial acumen to produce their accounts, but also to bring strategic oversight. Finance is at the heart of every organisation and its survival, and that’s particularly pertinent in charities where they’re often having to do a lot with very little. When things hit them from leftfield, they need people who can deal with cashflow and think ahead.”
Equally, for accountants there are huge benefits, from wider professional networks to developing new skills. Some 68% of volunteers report greater motivation at work, a feeling of “making a difference” that can often transfer from their volunteer role to the regular workplace.
Volunteering also offers powerful career experience. “There have been times where the opportunities I’ve had through volunteering in non-profits – such as from chairing a board – are things I wasn’t necessarily getting in my professional work life,” notes Clementi. “An important message for younger accountants is that it’s never too early to volunteer – you can build up the equivalent of a professional CV and boost confidence in your skills.”
For those concerned about the time pressures of volunteering, post-pandemic working patterns make contributing even easier. The transition to remote volunteer opportunities has lifted another barrier to entry, while more charities are now looking for ad hoc support – half a day of volunteering can be great for someone who wants a taste without the long-term commitment. Charterpath is also encouraging charities to look to recruit two people rather than one for roles, so they can tag team if someone has a busy period at work and take the pressure off succession.
Managing expectation is important. “Be open about the time you can commit because a lot of charities will still bite your arm off even for two hours a month,” says Clementi. First and foremost, though, she recommends checking with your employer to see if they offer charity days – many offer days off for volunteering, but take-up is only about 20%.
While there is work to do to get the word out, the duo have big ambitions – growing Charterpath globally, for one. “If people were more aware of the benefits volunteering brings to them, they would invest time in it, in the same way they do for learning and development,” says Marsh. “In five years’ time we want volunteering to be a fundamental part of what it means to be an accountant. The comparison here is with lawyers who often do pro bono work as part of their training – and it’s a gamechanger.
“Volunteering is an amazing endorsement of the profession. If every CA volunteered as part of their training or CPD, whether via ICAS or their firms, it would have a huge impact both professionally for them – and for the non-profit sector as a whole.”
Read more about volunteering opportunities