Job Hunting

Financial Donations

CFOs have a lot to offer the nonprofit world.
Jason SumnerNovember 9, 2006

Curling up in bed with your laptop is surely one sign that you need a long holiday. But in Graham Howe’s case, he had an excuse. He was on a ten-day trek to the North Pole, and needed to keep the laptop screen from freezing so he could post morning progress reports via satellite phone to his website.

Howe, co-founder and former CFO of mobile phone service provider Orange, reached the pole in April, raising £80,000 (€118,000) for a nonprofit body that supports comprehensive schools in disadvantaged areas. Howe’s no stranger to fundraising for charities. Since leaving Orange in 2003, he’s raised thousands of pounds for charities by taking part in all kinds of gruelling endurance events, including marathons and a coast-to-coast cycle ride across England. “Fundraising for something that you know will make a difference to people is very satisfying,” he says.

There probably aren’t a lot of CFOs like Howe who are able to give up work to scale glaciers or risk frostbite for a good cause. But with strict time management, CFOs can manage to volunteer their skills to charities alongside their day jobs. In some cases, the results can be career-altering.

In Return

One way for-profit CFOs can enter nonprofits is via non-executive directorships. Mark Freebairn, head of the CFO practice at search firm Odgers Ray & Berndtson in London, says there’s a growing interest in not-forprofit directorships, particularly among CFOs who are reaching the end of their finance careers. For CFOs pondering such directorships, he counsels that there is the same need for due diligence at nonprofits as at for-profits. “You should have a strong finance director, with a solid process in place to guarantee the integrity of the information you’re receiving,” he says. “And you need passion for the cause of the nonprofit.”

However, if money, rather than the cause “is your major motivation, then you’re probably not going to be driven to work in a charity,” says Keith Hickey, CEO of the Charity Finance Directors’ Group (CFDG), a UK nonprofit. He should know, having made the transition himself. He had always spent a lot of his spare time volunteering and as he neared the end of an 18-year tenure with energy firm British Gas, he decided to make the leap. He left British Gas to become finance director of the Help the Aged charity for seven years.

“It’s given me the opportunity to spend my working life doing what I enjoyed doing in my spare time,” Hickey says. “Do I work the hours I worked at British Gas? No, but I work hours many people would consider long.” Like Howe, he cites the commitment to a cause as the big attraction of a nonprofit. “That’s the big bonus,” Hickey says. “I can clearly see how my skills are going to help people in real need. And that makes it good getting out of bed in the morning.”