We're not grey - it's time we displayed our true colours

We need to go beyond society's traditional perception of finance professionals and gain some appreciation for the creative contributions we make, writes Caron Bradshaw, chief executive of the Charity Finance Group

Caron Bradshaw
Caron Bradshaw

Shut your eyes and picture a finance professional. What adjectives would you use to describe the person you see? Dependable, capable, dull, serious?

If you buy into stereotypes, you'll most likely think of someone who is a bit grey. And while that grey might come in 50 shades, it's probably closer to a character from a Monty Python sketch than to one from EL James's raunchy novel.

In the comedy group's famous lion-tamer sketch (which you can watch on YouTube), careers officer John Cleese describes an accountant as "lacking in initiative, spineless, easily dominated and irrepressibly drab and awful". We know, too, that those with responsibility for finance have long been associated with negative terms such as 'bean counter'.

Yet the nature, impact and image of charity finance professionals has changed immensely since the Charity Finance Group was founded in 1987. Today things are very different. I work with fantastic people who are passionate about their causes. Every one of them wants to make charities function better and to make significant differences to the world - which makes it a pity that finance professionals remain stereotyped as being more at home with spreadsheets than with strategic development plans.

Traditional perception

Clearly, it's tough to change an image overnight, and we wouldn't want to jettison our association with analytical and investigative skills.

Yet it would be good to go beyond society's traditional perception of us and gain some appreciation for the creative and innovative contributions we make to our organisations.

The technical abilities of our finance professionals are an absolute must, but the challenge of operating in the current economic and political climate changes what we need. The modern finance professional must have a diverse range of tools at his or her fingertips to be able to lead finance teams at the heart of thriving charities that deliver social impact.

Repaint the picture

The strategic role of finance embodies efficiency, innovation, investment and enterprise, focusing on the profitability, cost and value of funding streams, managing risk, avoiding mission creep and contributing to the delivery of objectives.

It's about so much more than just reporting on the figures and policing the budget. Leading highly efficient finance teams requires emotional intelligence and skills in personnel and line management. These are collaborative and people skills, which are relationship-based as well as transactional.

It's my mission to get you to start sharing a more accurate picture of finance professionals as the key strategic players they are, rather than the process-driven, grey-suited types of popular conception. Let's banish terms such as 'back office' and 'support function' and describe a group of people who inspire confidence in charities, challenge the norm and illuminate the cause - in a full and radiant spectrum.

Caron Bradshaw is chief executive of the Charity Finance Group

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