How volunteering can benefit society, grow skills

How volunteering can benefit society, grow skills

Governance, strategy, and objective decision-making are just some of the areas in which finance professionals can support charitable organisations. Doubtless there is a cause in your local community that could make great use of your skills, whether as a treasurer, fundraiser, or trustee, or on a more informal basis.

As December 5th is International Volunteer Day 2017, we spoke to CGMA designation holders about the benefits of volunteering, which can be energising and rewarding. Volunteering broadens your perspective on work and life in general and provides development opportunities that may not be available in your workplace. Volunteering experience also can set candidates apart from other applicants who have a similar range of technical skills. Many of the executives we feature below are serial volunteers who contribute time and skills for a variety of causes.

How finance professionals contribute their skills

Away from his role as group financial controller at UK building supply firm All Needs, Graham Ashton, ACMA, CGMA, is a keen volunteer for Young Enterprise. The organisation runs projects that enable school pupils between 16 and 18 years old to create and run a business, from idea all the way through to selling their product.

As treasurer for the North London Volunteers’ board, he manages the accounts, ensures that records are accurate, and works with other board members to decide how best to allocate available funds. He also works directly with participants to help them understand how their project might operate in the real world.

This opportunity is a great fit for Ashton, who enjoys technical accounting and finance. He also likes seeing participants learn how business works and what they get out of the programme. “Hopefully, we are inspiring them to become great businesspeople and the accountants of the future,” he said. “The thought that I might contribute in a small way to that is very rewarding.”

Bringing governance and oversight to a charitable organisation is another valuable contribution finance professionals can make. That’s one of the things that Angela Wilson, ACMA, CGMA, and a senior financial business partner at the Home Office, does in her role volunteering as treasurer of the Civil Service lifeboat fund. The fund raises money for the Royal National Lifeboat Institution, which saves lives at sea and on some of the UK’s inland waterways.

The group is about to fund its 53rd lifeboat, which will be stationed at Wells-next-the-Sea in Norfolk. In addition to helping with fundraising, Wilson ensures that all the standards set by the UK’s Charity Commission are met. “There is a lot of scrutiny of charity funds and the transparency of fundraising, making sure that we get the accounts audited,” Wilson said.

Guidance on strategy and supporting objective decision-making is another service finance professionals can provide. Lindsay Stevenson, CPA, CGMA, is vice-president of finance–tax at 1st Financial Bank USA in Dakota Dunes, South Dakota. In her spare time, she is VP of finance on the board of directors at Mary J. Treglia Community House in nearby Sioux City, Iowa. Her responsibilities include guiding the organisation’s financial directives, identifying opportunities to better serve the community, and developing sound investment and spending policies.

“I find that my background in finance helps me to see business challenges and opportunities in a world where compassion can cloud decision-making,” she said. “I find myself asking how we can provide the maximum benefit to our community with the limited resources we have available even when my heart wants to provide like we have unlimited resources. It has made me a more productive member of the board.”

How volunteering benefits professionals

For Stevenson, an indirect benefit of volunteering has been the opportunity to network, which has led to both speaking engagements and consulting opportunities. In return for instilling financial discipline, volunteers often get a chance to hone soft skills that are valuable to career development. 

“I think it is important for people in senior finance roles to be competent in these nontechnical areas so they are more adept at delivering messages to nonfinance colleagues, so that they can foster trust with their colleagues and clients and create an environment where people feel comfortable talking about finance,” said Lucy Heffer, ACMA, CGMA, head of finance at Interserve in London. Heffer’s communication skills are invaluable in her work with a number of causes, including Contact the Elderly, which provides companionship for older people, and homelessness charity Crisis.

Volunteering can also help less-experienced professionals gain experience in a different sector or get board-level exposure.

“In most of the charities I have worked with, I believe I receive as much as I give,” said Bratton Fennell, CPA, CGMA. He is CFO of Burroughs & Chapin Company in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. “I believe it has helped me gain a stronger leadership skill set and has given me other interests to be a more complete person.

“If all my world was my job, I would miss how educators, musicians, and those with other points of view see the world,” said Fennell, who serves as treasurer of the Long Bay Symphony, as well as Freedom Readers, an organisation that seeks to help at-risk children improve their literacy.

“You meet such inspirational people, and it puts your working life into perspective,” said Wilson. She works compressed hours at the Home Office to enable her to spend Fridays at Epsom Riding for the Disabled Association. While Wilson has worked on recordkeeping and the organisation’s governance statement, she also engages in hands-on activities including grooming, feeding, and leading the horses out for a session.

Wilson chose the charity because she loves horses. She also says that connecting with autistic children, or encouraging those who are re-learning to speak after a brain injury, is immensely rewarding.

How to get involved

Many workplaces have volunteering opportunities. Local authorities also can provide information about opportunities. For instance, the UK’s Citizens Advice Bureau recruits financial capability trainers to help members of the public understand and manage their finances.

“Find a cause that’s important or of interest to you personally, and contact the organisation directly,” Ashton said. He had participated in Young Enterprise while he was at secondary school, and it set him on a path towards his profession. Knowing the impact of its work firsthand, he got in touch to see how he could help. “If you are volunteering your finance and accounting skills, there are not many organisations who would turn that offer down,” he said.


6 tips to make the most of your volunteer role

1. Define your current and desired roles. Do you want to lead a team, develop strategic plans, help others, or give something back to the community? How might a volunteer role help you do this?

2. Assess development needs. Do you have knowledge or skill gaps that volunteering might help to fill?

3/4. Design and act. What kind of role or activity will help you meet your development needs? Charities need all kinds of support, from leadership and governance to fundraising, advising, or just being an extra pair of hands. How much time can you realistically commit to the role?

5. Reflect upon and document the outcome of your volunteering. What have you learned? How might you bring this learning into your day job?

6. Evaluate progress. How have you helped the charity meet its objectives? What impact have you had?


Rebecca McCaffry, FCMA, CGMA, associate technical director – Management Accounting at the Association of International Certified Professional Accountants, contributed to this article.

Samantha White (Samantha.White@aicpa-cima.com) and Neil Amato (Neil.Amato@aicpa-cima.com) are CGMA Magazine senior editors.