Here are some common questions… and answers
Do I need to be a qualified/practicing accountant to volunteer?
No! Charterpath co-founder Alice started volunteering as a trainee accountant and was amazed at how much value she could add at this early stage in her career. Don’t forget that diversity of age is another important dimension for boards and non-profit management teams. Just make sure you are clear about your level of experience when applying for roles.
Equally, if your accounting skills are… shall we say… rusty… you can still add value to a non-profit. You are likely to still know the best places to refresh your memory and have a network of other accountants for advice if you get stuck. For many small charities resources are so tight that employees often double-hat, performing multiple different roles. As a result, any volunteers with some accounting knowledge and enthusiasm tend to be a value-add.
Do I need to have experience of charity accounting or in the non-profit sector?
The joy of accounting is that it is a very transferable skill. Whilst there are some differences in accounting treatments between companies and charities, there are many resources and guides which provide a simple overview (@NCVO Know How is a particular treasure trove of information).
Furthermore, the training accountants undertake is so broad that there are many areas where you can contribute beyond book-keeping and financial statements — whether strategy and budgets, policy and processes, risks and controls. In the same way that your accountancy training allows you to support companies of all different types, the same principles apply to charities. As the accounting training expands to include other areas such as climate change reporting, the value for charities of having an accountant on their team continues to increase.
Of course, the most important thing is to be honest about the extent of your knowledge and what extra time you are willing to put in to learn more. Check out our Resources page for a variety of training opportunities... and consider asking your employer whether they might be willing to support you with a contribution to your costs/time as part of your professional development.
How much time do I need to commit?
Volunteering need not be a big time commitment. Volunteer roles can range from being a Trustee, Governor, and Committee member with fixed time commitments and meeting schedules, to ad-hoc project work. The time needed will vary by role as well as the size of the charity and nature of its activities. Reach Volunteering and Do-It Org are both great sites where you can search for a role to match your available time.
We frequently hear from small charities that any single day volunteered can make a difference. Following a Charterpath connection, Jamie Wilson a volunteer accountant used one of his corporate charity days to prepare draft accounts for the charity Ella’s, saving them vital costs. Does your firm offer charity days which you could put towards volunteering without using your holiday allowance?
Of course the most important thing is to be transparent up-front about how much time you expect to be able to commit to the non-profit so that expectations are aligned. From our experience, volunteering is such a humbling experience that once you get started you often find more hours for it than you originally anticipated!
Can I do it remotely?
The short answer is Yes! With the joys of zoom we now know we can technically work from anywhere and we are increasingly seeing virtual teams tackling global causes. That said, at Charterpath we think seeing the non-profit in action is helpful to understand how it operates and improves your effectiveness in an oversight role. It is also important to get to know the management team at the non-profit so you can act as a good sounding board and nothing beats doing that face-to-face (even if once a year).
Will I have any risk/liability as a volunteer?
Becoming a volunteer can be a daunting prospect. Your level of accountability will vary depending on the role you are undertaking. As a trustee you are ultimately responsible for the non-profit which does carry with it some extra considerations. It is worth asking the non-profit whether they have trustees indemnity insurance. However rest assured, it is very rare for direct action to be taken against trustees who have acted in good faith.
Do I need to volunteer through Charterpath to be a Charterpath volunteer?
No — all accountants are welcome to become Charterpath volunteers — whether they already volunteer or just want to! Our only ask is that you sign the Charterpath pledge to volunteer your skills twice a year, to spread the word about Charterpath and volunteering and to uphold the professional values and ethics of all accountants.
How do I find the right opportunity for me?
1. Find a cause that moves you
Volunteers give their time for free. Whilst every non-profit has a worthy cause, if it is something you feel passionate about, you will find it much easier to commit the time and energy all year round. Non-profits also want volunteers who are 100% bought into their mission and will act as ambassadors for their work. Consider things you want to change in the world — there will likely already be a non-profit out there working to fix it.
2. Be clear on how much time you have to give
Supporting a non-profit doesn’t need to be all consuming. The time commitment will vary depending on the size of the charity and the role you are doing. If you don’t want the responsibility of a Trustee role (essentially a non-executive Board member) you may want to find a role on a governance committee (eg Finance & Fundraising / Risk & Audit), or providing support for specific projects. Most important is to be clear about your time commitment. Volunteers typically end up spending more time than they expect to… but better to underpromise then over deliver!
3. Start the search
Check out our Featured Opportunities and Resources page for a whole host of websites where you can find opportunities. Get in touch with us at Charterpath if you need any guidance. If there is a charity you particularly admire, don’t be afraid to get in touch with them directly offering your services with background to the skills you think you can provide for them.
4. Understand what you are getting yourself into
Before you commit to a role, take a look at the non-profit’s website, check-out the experience of the senior management and trustees, and review the financials via the Charities Commission. Don’t be afraid to ask questions as part of the interview process and make sure you have a clear job description. Remember — whilst your expertise is absolutely transferable, there are different priorities in the non-profit sector so make sure you invest time upfront to listen, ask questions and listen some more. You will be able to add a huge amount of value… but don’t expect to do so from day 1!
5. Know where you can go to for help
Ask the non-profit if they provide any ongoing training and consider which of the other trustees you might be able to seek support from. In terms of independent learning, check out our Resources page for a list of training opportunities. At Charterpath we are looking to establish a members network to provide support to each other, share best practice, host networking events and technical talks. In the meantime don’t be afraid to get in touch with us directly and we can point you in the right direction.
6. Enjoy it!
Being a volunteer is a rewarding experience in so many ways. Let us know how you get on!