Light bulb moment: Peter Hepburn on the volunteer foster carer who was an inspiration

A key insight from the working life of the chief executive of Cats Protection

Peter Hepburn
Peter Hepburn

A cat gave birth to six kittens on a roundabout and then, very sadly, was killed. Our people rushed to the scene and rescued the six tiny kittens, which were hiding in a stone wall. They were taken to a volunteer foster carer who then kept them alive by feeding them one after the other for 20 minutes every two hours throughout the night.

I did the maths while talking to the foster carer and had the sudden realisation that she would not have managed to get any sleep that night, after which she had to go and do her office job.

I moved over to the charity world from business – I had been the finance director of an international construction group – and I had believed, naively, that the two sectors were identical. Similarities do exist – such as doing what you do well, satisfying your customers, managing your finances in every way. But there are massive differences - the stunning commitment of charity staff and volunteers to the cause being one of them. This single case is an example of the immense value that volunteers bring to a third sector organisation – not only through the time that they donate, but also through the care they devote to the cause.

Talking to that volunteer made me realise that charity work has a qualitative dimension that, had I worked only in commerce, I would never have encountered. That, I believe, is the real difference between companies and charities. I wouldn't give up the voluntary sector for anything.

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