Get into… charity accounting

Sian Broughton MAAT, chief executive of East Riding Voluntary Action, takes us through her journey of charity accounting, and how she supports the sector.  

My job

We’re what’s called an infrastructural organisation for charities. So we help them with funding, accounts, payroll, development work – a wide range of activities.

My specific role is a bit of a split role. I still maintain the financial management of the organisation, and I also do charity independent examinations and year-end accounts for some of the external clients, as well managing the organisation strategically.

I also have overall responsibility for HR, staff management. I’m the company secretary. It’s a wide-ranging role.

How I got here

When I left school, I had no idea what I wanted to do, but I went on to do an HND in business studies. I then got a job in a Scunthorpe-based poverty charity called The Forge Project, doing admin. I also was given the responsibility for their accounts, so I decided to do AAT. From there, after about two years another job came up within a similar organisation, as a finance manager.

I then moved to my current company, I did the CIMA qualifications, and during the last year of that I also took the diploma and charity accounting exam through the ICAEW. In 2014, I was promoted to chief executive.

My challenges

Charity accounting is quite a specialist thing, because there are different types of charities. So you have general charitable associations and CIOs. They’re both types of organisations that are registered with the Charity Commission, so with regard to accounts, they have to follow the charity-specific legislation.

When they’re small charities they can do receipts and payments accounting, which is a simplified form of accounts, but as they get much larger or if they’re a limited company as well – previous to the CIO structure, that was the only way to be incorporated – those charities have to follow company law as well as charity law regarding the finances. And there’s been some considerable changes that came in with the change to FRS102.

So as I said, those large charities, those limited companies, they have to ensure that they comply with FRS102, and the Charity Statements of Recommended Practice (SORP). There’s much more structure around the way that the accounts are prepared. And then obviously there’s the Independent Examination Regime, and what actually is required from the charity independent examiner.

A lot of organisations rely on grant funding or contracts with the local authority. With austerity measures, unfortunately that income is reducing significantly, and that has a huge impact on charitable organisations being able to deliver their services at a level that is required. The flip side of that is that actually, more people require the services of charities, so it’s balancing that workload with the income pressures, they haven’t been able to deliver the level of services required.

Where the time goes

I work with a lot of people who fall into charity accounting. In a lot of the management committees and trustees of charities, the top people are volunteers. So I often deal with people who have been elected as the treasurer, and they’re not finance professionals. In that case, it’s about working with them, upscaling them, supporting them. They’re often doing it for their love of something, it depends on what that charity does. It could be it supports disabled children and that person has a disabled child, which is why they’ve got involved. It’s about looking at people’s reasons and meeting a wide range of people who are doing something good for their community. It’s very inspirational.

You have got to be confident but personable, because we deal with a wide range of individuals. They need to be able to communicate effectively. Being able to articulate your skills, and explain accounting information in a way that is easily understandable for people who are not accountancy trained professionals.

One of the things that we do here is a community accountancy service. We do accounts and payroll for groups, but we also give them training and support so that they can do their own accounts. We work with the treasurers to train them and support them so that they build up the skills and empower them so that they can do it themselves.

We also offer volunteering opportunities as well. We have some people who’ve completed their AAT who haven’t been able to find employment straight away, because although they’ve got the qualification, a lot of employers also want that experience. We offer them a chance to come in and work with us to develop that experience, and then we offer them a reference for a new employer. Within a lot of charities, you may only have one finance professional if any, so if you come across something that’s out of the ordinary and you need a bit of support, the support is generally not always there. So we allow people to contact us and we’ll support them with whatever those issues are.

My goals

When we had one of our groups that we were working with, they’d had issues with their finances, and their funding was a bit confused. We worked with them to get their funding system up and running again. We got a thank you letter from them which said that without our help, that organisation would have closed. They supported over 7,000 young people with holiday activities, and a lot of those had additional needs or disabilities. So it’s that sort of thing. Although you’re not on the front lines, the work that we do is valued and it supports a lot of organisations to continue to achieve their mission.

How to land the job

Essentials:

  • Full AAT qualifications
  • Excellent communication skills
  • Willingness to learn

Good to have:

  • Voluntary work at a charity
  • Further accounting qualifications, such as CIMA
  • ICAEW diploma in charity accounting, or similar

Average starting salary:  £16,800 – £22,300* (*Robert Half data)

Where you can go:

  • Fund accountant
  • Finance officer
  • Charity specialist in practice
  • Finance manager
  • Charity CFO
  • Charity CEO

Mark Rowland is the Editor of Accounting Technician and 20 magazine.

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