What can a banker teach a charity?

When it comes to the world of banking, the words ‘charitable’ and ‘giving’ don’t immediately spring to mind, so what – if anything – can the not-for-profit sector learn from the financial sector?

At the CFG Annual Conference in London last week, Steve Harris, who spent 15 years working in the financial services industry, explained why he turned to the not-for-profit sector to seek a more worthy career. After having a baby daughter and realising he would one day have to explain how his job working with hedge funds allowed him to help people with a lot of money have slightly more money, he decided to turn to a career that would make her proud.

He is now head of financial planning and analysis at Scope, a charity that exists to make the UK a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else, and he hasn’t looked back – “So far I haven’t actually been shouted at and no one’s thrown any computer equipment!”. He shared with the audience the top pieces of advice he has taken away from working in some of the country’s major banks and how they can help in the not-for-profit sector:

1. Data is really important
Steve said that the banking and trading world is all about the data you have, and banks spend millions of pounds making sure their data is better than the next organisation. It’s not to say that charities should spend all of their money on data, but it is important to properly use, track and analyse the data you have.

2. Nurture the talent in your organisation
Steve explained that working in the banking industry showed him that banks are never afraid of throwing money at good people – but more than that, they are great at realising where talent lies. Charities should identify the key individuals they have, who will drive the organisation forward, and realise that these are the people that need attention. After being asked by a member of the audience how to retain talent when often resources are low and there is no extra money to offer, Steve suggested to ask people what they want. It’s not always about the pay packet, and charities may be able to offer different opportunities and experiences to their most talented employees.

3. Don’t be a commercial enterprise, but adopt commercial principles
Steve disagreed with the concept that charities should think more like commercial enterprises to succeed, but thinking in a more strategic way and having commercial focus could help. Charities can consider their donors as investors, and it’s essential to be sure they are taking the money from the investors and using it in the right way.

Scope is a charity that exists to make the UK a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. To read more about the work they do, click here.

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