Expert view: Don't leave finance to the 'experts'

Don't tell the fundraisers, but I do sometimes feel sorry for them.

Rather like managing the national football team, fundraising is one of those jobs that we all think we know how to do. Come the board meeting or senior management team away-day, the highly experienced, extensively trained fundraiser presents the strategy they have been crafting for months, only for us to pile in with our hunches and our horror stories - the more detailed and irrelevant they are the better.

Shouldn't we have more respect for people who have learned to say the words "professional competence" through gritted teeth?

In finance departments, we have the opposite problem. Too many trustees and executives assume that you cannot properly apply yourself to financial decisions unless you have years of professional experience and letters after your name.

"I'm just here to help animals/children/older people; I'm not an accountant," think the 'non-financial' trustees and staff. But in reality, it's often these trustees and staff who have the most intimate knowledge of how charities work and what they need. And they combine this with more financial skills than they realise.

We all have to make financial decisions in our lives - what sort of mortgage or pension to choose, whether to take a much-needed holiday or save for a new car - and we should be able to bring the same reasoning to our charities.

Meanwhile, the fact that the experience of a trustee who is a financial professional might be as closely related to the charity as obstetrics is to orthopaedics is often overlooked. Anyone with the faintest whiff of the City about them has a decent chance of monopolising the debate when it comes to accounts, banking and investments.

Finance professionals, especially those who have specialist charity training and experience, do have a vital role to play in the effective running of our organisations.

But part of that role is to ensure that all of our colleagues can understand the implications and outcomes of different courses of action, and therefore feel confident about taking part in financial management - which, after all, affects all areas of a charity's work.

We should be breaking down the mystique that surrounds finance, not hiding behind it.

Otherwise, we have only ourselves to blame if important decisions are left by people who underestimate their own competence to people who overestimate theirs.

- Heather Lamont is head of charity business development at HSBC 

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