Cathy Taylor, managing director of Ansvar, the business division of Ecclesiastical Insurance, is leading a year-long strategic review of the company's work in the voluntary sector, exploring how it can improve its products for charities. So in July, when a colleague in Ansvar's human resources team mentioned that she was a trustee of Cotswold Care Hospice, Taylor's ears pricked up.
"It was one of those strange unplanned conversations," says Taylor. "She mentioned that the charity's chief executive was leaving and asked whether I would consider providing temporary cover for the role. She thought I would have the leadership and people skills to support the senior management team.
"So I suggested to Ecclesiastical that, rather than assume that we on the business side understand the sector from the outside, we should get in there and see it for ourselves."
Taylor has since been working two days a week as interim chief executive of Cotswold Care Hospice, managing about 80 staff - a similar sized workforce to her team at Ansvar. She sees her role as "to support the senior management and help the charity to continue to provide services". She is also helping with the recruitment of a new chief executive and hopes to have someone in place by Christmas.
Looking after people
She says the job has a lot in common with her role at Ecclesiastical. "I oversee finance, marketing, claims and other things," she says. "The key to all that is managing people, supporting people and looking after people."
But she says the experience has been "quite an eye-opener" and admits that she previously knew very little about how hospices were funded. "I thought they got more money given to them," she says. "I realise now that I had been living in a bubble. I have learned how reliant charities are on so many factors."
The charity has struggled to attract people to its fundraising events, so Taylor has encouraged it to consider alternatives to financial donations. At the beginning of September, she arranged for it to be one of three local charities to benefit from Ecclesiastical does Good for Nothing, a two-day event where the company's employees provided free services in areas such as web design, marketing and strategic planning. "That is a better way of giving something back than just handing over cash," she says.
Taylor has been impressed by the commitment of the hospice staff. "They have their particular jobs, but that's never all they do," she says. "They always do more, yet their salaries are not as high as in the private sector - the salaries are never on a level."
But she also sees many similarities between the two organisations. "The challenges of how people work together are similar to the private sector. In both organisations, it is important to have the right leadership in place, to make sure people are doing jobs that suit their skills and to build on people's strengths rather than focusing on their weaknesses."
Taylor says the arrangement has worked well and both charities and companies should be open to trying new approaches to management. "British organisations tend to be very linear and think about planning forward, but serendipity can also play an important role," she says. "So it's important to be prepared for that."