Caron Bradshaw: It’s time for a revolution

I recently had the pleasure of listening to Naziar Hashemi of Crowe Clark Whitehill and my own Andrew O’Brien deliver a round-up of legislative, regulatory and practical changes in 2017 for Charity Finance Group members.

It struck me that so much of the content covered areas that others might stake claim to; GDPR, digital, governance, Brexit – topics that may not be seen as the territory of finance professionals, but topics on which Charity Finance Group is active.

The reality for today’s finance professional is that everything now has a financial angle. Take GDPR, for example. It isn’t a topic simply for the fundraisers amongst you. There are a number of different elements that affect everybody.

There’s the practical risk management questions relating to data security, processing and control of data to consider; do you need to invest in new systems and staff resources? There is also the knock-on impact to the cash flow and scenario planning/budgeting that might come from narrowing your fundraising activities and management of present and future donors.

Then there are also the reputational risks if you get it wrong with all the potential negative impacts on your funder relationships and brand. There are questions as to the adequacy of your training budgets and there are considerations regarding whether, and if so to what extent, GDPR effects your reserves calculations. So it’s not just questions for fundraisers, after all.

Similarly, when we talk about digital and technology, we are often not thinking in terms of the finance professional. But we should be. I recently attended an event hosted by Eduserv on digital leadership. It was clear throughout the contributions that the challenge is less about the technical demands and more about the leadership skills of the people we employ.

IT and digital are both increasingly under the management of charities’ finance professionals. Whilst the driver for putting it there may have been the technological appreciation and the shared reputation for introversion in both the IT and finance professions, it’s actually a very good place for it to be.

Finance has gone through a transformation over the last 30 years. No longer is the dominant narrative about compliance; we have seen a shift towards talking about business partnering, leadership and impact.

Technology needs a similar kind of revolution. We need to be thinking about investment, not to just maintain compliance and minimise risk, but rather to rise to the demands of future beneficiaries, staff, donors and volunteers.Rather than seeking to reduce what we spend on these core costs, we should be thinking longer term about where it is smart to invest.

Whatever the topic, there is always a consideration that is financial or which draws on the skills of our finance professionals.

It may have been the case that anything with a compliance or regulatory angle was given to the finance person because that dry and terribly important stuff ought to reside with the dry and terribly important finance person.

Now, I think we are increasingly seeing that the inclusion of the finance professional isn’t because of such clichés, but because nearly every single change a charity faces will have an impact on their risk profile, the business model and the sustainability.

By including the finance person in consideration of wide-ranging changes charities can raise their financial confidence, build resilience and their ability to dynamically adapt to a changing world and continue to demand the trust of all the sector’s stakeholders.

CFG is committed to supporting finance and other leaders to get to grips with all relevant topics - not just pure accounting.

Next time you are grappling with a strategic challenge, make sure your finance leader’s perspective is included in the mix – it might not just save you from a crisis, it could help you spot an opportunity too.

Caron Bradshaw is chief executive officer of the Charity Finance Group

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