FD in Five Minutes: Helen Alexander

Third Sector speaks to the finance director of Over The Wall, a charity founded by the late Hollywood actor Paul Newman that runs residential camps for young people with serious health challenges

Helen Alexander
Helen Alexander

Why did you choose finance as a career? My first degree was in biochemistry and I spent a year in microbial genetics research. It was a valuable lesson because I realised that I wasn't interested enough in science, but was always curious to know where the money came from for the very expensive equipment and materials. So finance seemed an obvious choice, even if it meant another four years of exams, and I qualified as a chartered management accountant.

What made you work in the charity sector? I have volunteered for several different charities over many years, going back to my teens. I have a reputation for getting things done, so when asked to help I tend to jump right in. I have set up youth clubs, run fundraising events, recruited volunteers and been a trustee. Working as an employee in the charity sector was an obvious move, but I also continue to work with private sector businesses as a part-time consultant.

If you were charities minister for the day, what would you do? I would love to be charities minister for the day. There are three things I would like to tackle. There are simply too many charities in the UK. The sector is overdue a dose of consolidation, and I would make it harder to set up new charities.

I would also like to see more scrutiny of the appointment, skills and actions of senior managers and trustees in larger charities. And at the same time we need to educate donors that good governance and management has a cost. Charities fill a huge role that taxpayers do not fund, but over-reliance on unpaid volunteers and poorly paid staff does not encourage good management.

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