Working in the charity sector: no matter how aspirational they are, management accountants face a series of roadblocks in the course of building careers in organisations. Experts reveal the four key obstacles that need to be addressed in the course of becoming global leaders.

AuthorMcCue, Sharon
PositionTechnical notes

The only certainty in the world today is that it is uncertain. With recession, redundancies and shifts in the global power base, organisations want employees who can demonstrate that they are adaptable enough to apply their skills in a range of different settings and make the best use of scarce resources. This article proposes that your involvement with the "third sector" is another way in which you can demonstrate that you are capable of applying these skills, and at the same time help to improve your community and give something back.

It's difficult to identify just how big this third sector is and just what it includes. The National Council for Voluntary Organisations defines it as "people acting together, independently of the state or the market, to make a positive difference to their lives and/or the lives of others". Its most recent publication shows that for England and Wales alone the sector amounts to some 900,000 organisations, with a combined income of [pounds sterling]157 bn and employing 1.6 million paid staff. Government has been actively encouraging local private/public/third sector partnerships in the design and implementation of services for the community.

CIMA recognises the role that its students and members can play in all sectors. Its mission--"helping people and businesses to succeed"--can also be applied to the third sector. CIMA supports a range of courses and conferences tailored to this area, helping students and members keep up to date with topics such as VAT and tax relief, while a charities checklist for the recession provides practical advice for those thinking of acting as trustees.

Today we are witnessing a radical shake-up of this sector. With the push for transparency, increasing public confidence/regulation through the review of the Charities Act, and debates looming about the role and remuneration of trustees, the management accountant has an important skillset to offer. Charities aiming to make good use of scarce resources need to clearly understand the environment in which they operate, keep a close eye on fundraising activities and build partnerships in both the private and public sector. A management accountant could be directly involved in providing information to support such decisions.

There is no doubt that to operate in this sector you will need to be an excellent communicator. You will be working with many who are non-financially trained so it's important to be able to express yourself in non-financial terms. People are likely to look to you for advice and support on how to best manage small, and often reducing, budgets. Your knowledge of budgetary control and value-for-money initiatives may be put to the test.

There have been many very public examples of charities that have got it wrong. Preserving the reputation of a charity is one of its most important goals in this context. Damage to public confidence can threaten its very survival so the skills that...

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