Finance News: Outlook - Flexible role of the finance director

Fiona Young, director of finance and resources at Crisis

Finance directors can be a valuable asset in a variety of departments.

"Gosh, you have a busy job" is usually the second thing people say to me when they hear what I do at Crisis. The first question most often concerns my job being a full-time post because aren't we "just about Christmas"?

(In case you're wondering, we do run projects throughout the year.)

The role of the finance director, particularly in a small or medium-sized charity such as Crisis, is rarely a purely financial one. For example, my role involves looking after the IT, human resources and facilities departments and acting as the company secretary. In many smaller organisations, finance and fundraising are also rolled together.

Working across departments

The conversation often moves on to how finance directors cope with so many different areas. People are often concerned that we are looking after areas for which we don't have specific training. There is a lot of debate in the sector, for example, about whether finance directors are the best people to look after IT, or if technical expertise is essential.

But charities are working with finite resources and are always seeking to make the best use of them. Having one director to oversee these different areas is just one way of doing this. Because everything has a financial effect, the finance director will know what is happening across all areas of the organisation, so is in a good position to support a range of areas and supply the organisation's infrastructure needs.

To juggle all these balls successfully, it is very important to make sure you have the best possible people in management roles, particularly looking after the areas in which you have the least technical expertise.

Information source

Alongside the experienced staff, external suppliers and contacts can also be an invaluable source of information. Good management means the finance director should need to be involved only in decision-making and planning, rather than the details.

The finance director needs to be able to listen to the concerns of the staff and to ideas for future development, then balance them against the needs, long-term development and resources of the organisation. This model, in which finance directors oversee a number of departments, works extremely well not only in small and medium-sized organisations, but also in some larger bodies.

In my experience, difficulties tend to arise only when the finance director does not know the right questions to ask when trying to make changes and improvements. This is when the advice of external consultants and contacts is invaluable.

KEY POINTS

- In small or medium-sized charities, finance directors often look after a range of departments

- They will know what is happening across all areas of the organisation because everything has a financial effect

- This model can work well in some larger organisations.

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