NEWS IN FOCUS: Finance staff motivated by more than just money

PATRICK MCCURRY

Money isn't everything but it helps is the message from a survey on the recruitment and retention of finance staff.

Unsurprisingly, many charity finance managers are not motivated primarily by money or career prospects but by a desire to "give something back" or contribute to their charity's success.

Nevertheless, a survey of charity finance managers for the accounting firm Haysmacintyre has highlighted concerns that unless charities reconsider salary levels, particularly for middle or lower level finance staff, it will become harder to attract accountants from the private sector.

The research found that 43 per cent believed a better salary would attract more applicants from the commercial world.

Geoff Miller, chair of the Charity Finance Directors' Group (CFDG) and former finance director at the British Red Cross, says: "Although finance directors are paid less than in industry, we're not badly paid.

"My worry is about finance staff lower down the organisation because, especially in London, they have to take a significant drop in living standards if they choose to work for a charity."

This is backed up by recent research at the Reward Group, which found that middle managers in charities were 13.9 per cent worse off than their private-sector peers nationally and 17.3 per cent worse off in London.

Miller criticises the "penny-pinching" culture at too many charities.

"They would rather recruit two finance staff who are perhaps not going to add that much value to the charity, at £20,000 each, rather than one good accountant for £40,000," he says.

Carol Harrison, director of finance at the City Parochial Foundation, agrees that pressures such as rising housing costs are a challenge to hiring in the South East.

"I don't have an expensive lifestyle and have already bought my own home but I can see how difficult it could be for someone at middle-management level joining a London-based charity."

But like other finance directors, she stresses that the rewards of the job are based on far more than money. "I joined the sector from industry because I was not happy working in an environment that was driven by profits and I wanted to do something worthwhile."

Charles Nall, finance director at the Children's Society and formerly a tax specialist at PricewaterhouseCoopers, agrees.

"When I was doing my MBA, I took part in an assessment of my motivation and values in life, and service came out as among the most important," he says.

Haysmacintyre found that around a third of charity finance managers were motivated by a sense of putting something back, 44 per cent by contributing to the charity's success and 80 per cent by the fact they regarded their work as crucial or important.

Only one in 10 said they were motivated by career advancement.

Furthermore, more than a third of charity accountants appreciated the lack of profit motive in charities and more than a fifth the less cut-throat atmosphere.

"The commercial world has become so pressured and some of the behaviour required of finance staff verges on the unethical, such as an massaging sales figures," says Nall. "Charities, on the other hand, are usually underpinned by an explicit set of values."

Nevertheless, it would be naive to believe that charities are immune from issues like office politics and a third of respondents said that this was a problem in their organisations.

A similar number said that their organisations suffered from unclear goals or lack of direction from trustees.

To fight demoralisation, six out of 10 respondents said the organisation needed to emphasise the importance of finance issues to non-finance staff.

Nevertheless, morale in finance teams appears to be high, with half those polled saying their teams were reasonably motivated and nearly half that they were highly motivated.

Shirley Scott, director of CFDG, says that one of the problems is that many charities operate on a "need-to-know" basis, which means that finance directors are not given the whole view of the organisation.

"Finance can be taken as an 'after the event' function, rather than one which contributes to the ongoing health of the organisation," says Scott.

"Planning is often dependent on raising the funds but the relationship between getting the funds and carrying out activities is not always clearly set out."

She adds that boards and trustees could make more effort to engage finance staff in the activities and in improving internal communications between different departments.

Nall agrees that sometimes finance staff can feel undervalued by the rest of the organisation. "Finance is often still seen as an overhead in charities and as something that does not add value."

Despite these problems, charity finance managers often enjoy a much more stimulating career than their private-sector colleagues, says Miller.

"In industry the focus is on profit, but in charities it's all about choosing how to spend money and finance gets involved in a lot more areas."

Charity finance people also have the opportunity of a lot more varied contact with people, although this can be intimidating to some people.

"You must be able to deal with a wide range of people because in a charity you're a lot more visible as finance director than in a company," says Miller.

In charities, particularly membership organisations, the finance staff will be expected to justify decisions to a range of stakeholders, including trustees, members and service users. "If you're a backroom number cruncher don't join a charity," he says.

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