Finance News: Outlook - Wanted: money-minded volunteers

A shortage of volunteers in finance roles is due to poor management, says Helen Verney.

This year is is the Year of the Volunteer. Although the numbers of volunteers may be in decline, the hours given are on the increase for the more than 20 million in the UK who do some form of formal volunteering.

Despite this, volunteers are conspicuous by their absence in the finance departments of charities. With the recent drive towards professionalism, is it perceived to be a backward step to use volunteers to develop the finance function?

I do not believe that the calibre of volunteers is the fundamental reason for failure to deploy volunteers in finance. I would argue that inadequate management of volunteers is the main cause. Inappropriate recruiting, inadequate role definition and poor supervision are some of the causes of the failure.

These issues were all touched upon at last month's Treasury Volunteering Conference on general volunteer management. It was interesting to me that although the conference was a 'pre-budget consultation' that included a finance workshop, charity finance directors were thin on the ground.

Paucity of 'good' volunteers is often offered as a reason for not deploying them in finance. But where is the evidence? Is finance so sacrosanct that only remunerated experts can undertake it? There are organisations, Oxfam for one, that through good management have successfully deployed volunteers in finance roles within their internal audit team - charity shop audits in particular. Ironically, many of the volunteers manning those shops are augmented by paid staff, a phenomenon spawned over the past decade.

Very recently, I started a pilot scheme for a new volunteer audit and support programme at the MS Society. The society has some 350 branches and the object of the programme is to provide much-needed support to branch treasurers, most of whom have not had any financial training. The comparable equivalent of a remunerated support team would cost approximately £500,000 a year and would provide an altogether different service.

Treasurers were initially wary, but then welcomed the visits - glad of the quality time, the informality and the opportunity to discuss a range of related issues on a one-to-one basis. The formal feedback from the volunteer provided a firm base from which to address various issues arising in the respective branches, not least that of internal control.

Volunteers have much to offer finance departments of charities in developing opportunities apart from the traditional role of treasurer. The drive towards professionalism should include a close evaluation of how professionally the sector manages its volunteers, not forgetting within finance teams.

Helen Verney is director of finance and IT at the MS Society.

KEY POINTS

Volunteers are conspicuous by their absence in the finance departments of charities

- This is a result of inadequate management

- Some organisations deploy volunteers successfully in this area

- Volunteers have much to offer finance departments.

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