Ok so I am slightly embarrassed to admit this but being an accountant was probably in my genes… both my parents qualified as accountants — my father at Ernst & Whinney and my mother at Arthur Young — a happy coincidence when the firms later merged!
My father followed the well-trodden route of becoming a Finance Director and volunteered as a governor at various schools along the way. He enjoyed the experience and felt it gave him a different perspective from the corporate world.
However, my mother technically retired as an accountant in 1986, after a few years working in the finance team of her family business (supermarkets, wines & spirits), and 3 children later!
In her mind she had signed off on her working career, but little did she know that 35 years later she would still be using her accounting skills to support many voluntary organisations.
From Cancer Macmillan to a local prep school and even a large annual Catholic pilgrimage — it turns out that there are lots of small charities in need of accounting skills… Even if it had been a while since she was a practicing accountant!
I asked her how she coped…
“As an accountant you never forget the basics. Everything needs to add up, reconcile and make sense. That was relatively easy. My main challenge was with the technology… We didn’t have spreadsheets in my day, so excel formulae took me a while to get the hang of. But there is lots of helpful guidance online and I would always run things in parallel for a while to be sure I had cracked it.”
And I guess that was a nice benefit for you too, learning new skills?
“Yes! I love anything that keeps my brain active and it was always rewarding to know I could add some value. As a school governor I started off as Finance lead and became the governor responsible for Early Years safeguarding — a whole new skill set for me which I found very interesting. Plus, I met some fascinating people along the way.”
So did you really feel you could make a difference despite having been out of practice for so long?
“Yes — there are so many people out there who are uncomfortable dealing with figures and are doing the absolute minimum to get by with what is known as “shoe box accounting”. I helped various organisations to start using accounting systems with proper financial processes and controls. This in turn made things more efficient to manage and allowed the directors / trustees better visibility of their financial performance.”
So what is your top tip for any accountants considering volunteering their skills?
“Don’t underestimate how much your skills will be appreciated. When resources are tight, any helping hands are always welcome!”
If the idea of volunteering your skills with a non-profit has caught your imagination - follow these 3 simple steps:
Follow Charterpath on LinkedIn for all the latest news, inspiration, and roles
Have a look around our website at www.charterpath.org.uk for case studies, helpful resources, and live volunteer opportunities
Sign the Charterpath pledge to show your support for our mission and volunteer your skills for at least 2 days each year
Alice Clementi and Alex Marsh co-founded Charterpath as a community interest company in 2020, with a mission to increase the proportion of accountants volunteering from 10% to 50% - inspiring more accountants to volunteer their time and expertise, connecting them with non-profit opportunities, and engaging with a wide range of organisations so volunteering is a core part of an accountant’s career. For more information, visit www.charterpath.org.uk.