Connect with non-profits seeking volunteer financial skills
Stan Chan — put your hand up and Just Do It!
Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales, 1992
Freelance consulting; most recent executive role — Head of Finance Change, Close Brothers Bank
Trustee Director and member of the Audit Committee, CBF Church of England Funds. Member of the Church of England Ethical Investment Advisory Group. Trustee Director and Chair of Audit & Risk Committee, Power to Change Trust. Trustee Director and Chair of Finance & Risk Committee, Raleigh International. Council Member, Treasurer and Chair of Finance Committee, Royal Parish Church of St Martin-in-the-Fields (6 years). Volunteer, Social Care Unit of St Martin-in-the-Fields (4 years).
“Use your technical skills as an accountant to open doors initially but do not be limited by it. Once you are in an organisation, put your hand up for other roles and responsibilities. I recognise it is not always possible, especially with a demanding executive career and perhaps a family, but it is true that the more you put in, the more you get out.”
How did you get involved in volunteering?
Because it’s enjoyable, it’s satisfying and it’s interesting! I first got involved in volunteering not long after I started my ACA training in London after university. I was with a cohort who were all at the same stage of life and it would have been easy to default to working and playing hard in a bubble. I wanted to find out more about other sides to life in London so I started to volunteer at the Social Care Unit of St Martin-in-the-Fields, helping out at the soup kitchen and drop-in centre one evening a week. As a result of enjoying the experience and the sense of balance that it gave me, I started investigating other volunteering opportunities where I may add more value using my developing accountancy skills and, over time, that led to my current trustee board roles.
What do you most enjoy about volunteering?
Meeting beneficiaries of the organisations I volunteer for and seeing the positive impact the organisation has made. I suppose, at a purely selfish level, it is the sense of satisfaction at having given back and knowing the time you put into an organisation mattered. I also very much enjoy learning from experts in different fields and find it incredibly interesting. I have sat round the same board table and debated issues with community activists, a hedge fund manager and a professor of ethics, amongst others.
What has been your proudest moment as a volunteer?
Perhaps proud is not the best term to describe it but certainly amongst the most satisfying is when, as treasurer, I had to explain the annual accounts of St Martin-in-the-Fields, a somewhat complicated organisation, at an open meeting. Afterwards, a member of the congregation, who was running an internationally renowned cultural institution at the time, came up to say that was the best financial presentation he has heard and to thank me for helping him understand the organisation’s finances for the first time!
What has been the toughest time volunteering?
The current upheaval and uncertainties brought about by Covid-19 has been and continues to be very tough. I guess this applies to any other organisation, whether NFP or commercial.
I have spent my professional life working in big organisations with financial resilience but not all my volunteer organisations are necessarily so fortunate. When you can’t run your programmes and do not have the associated income, suddenly you are faced with a very difficult situation without the financial reserves of a big and well-resourced organisation to fall back on. The involvement is intense — supporting and mentoring the executive team, cash planning, grappling with difficult decisions involving people’s livelihood… it is hard work but there is starting to be a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. At the same time, there is also a huge amount of camaraderie as people pull together and are so invested in the survival of the organisation.
How have your accountancy skills come into play?
Accountants are in demand by NFPs as members and, sometimes, chairs of audit committees; our technical expertise can be a very useful way into an organisation. We are used to dealing with financial systems, auditors and financial statements and not fazed by accounting standards which, if we are honest, can be rather esoteric at times. Accountants also tend to have a good understanding of cash flows which, much more so for smaller organisations, is very important for financial planning. Finally, being able to communicate clearly financial issues to a non-financial audience has been a valuable skill to bring along.
What have you learnt from volunteering?
NFPs are sometimes seen as less sophisticated relations compared to commercial organisations but, in certain areas, they are a lot more advanced in their thinking. For example, the place of values in an organisation and integrating the needs of different stakeholder groups. What does it mean to be a responsible business and how do you meet responsibilities for People, Planet and Profit? A number of NFPs are leading the conversations in these areas and my eyes have certainly been opened as a result of my volunteering. Driven by its values, the Church of England has been practising ESG/responsible investing long before the current vogue for it and I have learnt a lot being involved in overseeing the management of the Church’s investments.
What would be your one piece of advice for accountants looking to volunteer?
To borrow a phrase — Just Do It!
Use your technical skills as an accountant to open doors initially but do not be limited by it. Once you are in an organisation, put your hand up for other roles and responsibilities. I recognise it is not always possible, especially with a demanding executive career and perhaps a family, but it is true that the more you put in, the more you get out.
How can get more accountants volunteering?
Firstly, publicising the benefits of volunteering to accountants; what Charterpath is doing in this regard is brilliant. Secondly, encourage employers to be flexible in supporting their employees with volunteering. Volunteering can be a tremendous learning and development experience and volunteers can and do operate at comparatively more senior levels within volunteer organisations. These help volunteers to develop soft skills — e.g. communication, stakeholder management and other interpersonal skills — alongside their technical capabilities. Developing these transferrable skills become increasingly important with more senior roles in the volunteer’s professional life and benefits both the volunteer and the employer.