Accountants in the charities sector will face some of the most testing times in their careers. Ebunola Adenipekun talks to three rising stars about the challenges they face
Kristina Kopic: Head of Charity and Voluntary Sector, ICAEW
Kristina Kopic found her calling almost as soon as she began studying accountancy, specialising in charity finance. She says: “Working in charity is what I believe in. It just feels right to work in a sector that promotes social good. It’s generally a great working environment and often offers more flexible working as well.’”
Charities are currently under pressure because of COVID-19 and the resulting lockdown, so her goal at ICAEW is to inspire finance professionals to support the sector, and to provide them with the resources, network and technical knowledge to support charities through the years ahead.
“Charities have been challenged by COVID because the pandemic has increased the needs of people at a time when charities have reduced budgets,” she says.
One of Kopic’s first finance roles included responsibility for the gift aid claims at London School of Economics, which prompted her to do a charity accounting and taxation course at South Bank University. While studying, she found that the books that interested her the most during her course were by Kate Sayer, one of the founders of charity auditors and advisers Sayer Vincent. She applied for a trainee accountant role at the firm and was accepted.
Before joining ICAEW in June 2020 she put her specialist skills to work at the Royal College of Nursing, Imperial College and Sainsbury Family Charitable Trusts (SFCT). At SFCT, she introduced business partnering, working closely with the fundraising team to improve project costings, reporting to funders and tax-efficient giving.
For the past eight years she has been a trustee for a small grant-making charity, and is also studying for a master’s at the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Cass Business School.
Her focus for now though is on helping charity accountants: “It’s really important for charities to manage their cash flow well, that’s the priority. Longer term, accountants continue to be absolutely necessary to help charities make the right decisions to get through this difficult time.”
Daniel Chan: Senior Manager, PwC UK
Leading PwC’s thought leadership for the charity sector means that Daniel Chan is having to consider the outlook, and possible remedies, for charities in the world after COVID-19.
Chan encourages a shift towards supporter experience: “Understanding the end-to-end journey of the charity’s supporters will really help fundraising for a charity. Supporters that are engaged with the charity’s vision, mission and purpose will enable better support for its activities in the longer term.”
And fundraising is vital at such a critical time for charities. “Everyone is rethinking what the world will look like after COVID-19. This includes being more efficient with resources and looking at different ways to collaborate.”
Chan joined PwC in its government and public sector practice after graduating in 2011. He completed the ACA in 2014, and the Diploma in Charity Accounting in 2017. He is also a member of PwC’s national leadership team for the work with charity clients.
“I believe in making a difference for others,” he says. “There’s a real sense of fulfilment and I feel like I’m helping to drive positive change.” He is now a trustee of UK Youth, a national youth charity.
Financial viability is at the heart of his work: “There’s a greater focus on understanding charities’ financial sustainability in the current environment. We help charities to tell a clear story of their finances and how this links in with what they have achieved. We play an important role in enabling charities to assess their risks, challenges and opportunities – digital, technology and use of data have been particularly hot topics recently.”
Chan’s charity work also includes the nitty gritty of charity accounting and reporting. He’s a member of the SORP Committee, which oversees the framework for accounting and reporting in the charity sector in the UK and Ireland. “Trustees’ annual report and accounts are important for communicating what charities do, why they do it and the impact they are having.”
Irfan Umarji: Head of Finance & Procurement, The Royal Society
Irfan Umarji started his accountancy career in 2008, and has spent the past seven years working for not-for-profit organisations including Save the Children UK and the Royal College of Physicians. Umarji says: “Where I work has to be for an organisation that has real impact. I ask myself before I join: what impact are they making and how can I contribute? I find this brings a very different dynamic and motivation to my role.”
And his role is relatively fast-paced. “There’s a negative stereotype among people who haven’t worked in the sector that it is quite slow and unexciting, which couldn’t be further from the truth,” Umarji explains. Among the everyday tasks of monthly accounting, budgeting, audits and committees are the commercial aspects, such as contract management and legal matters. “You definitely get to see the end-to-end impact the organisation has and it keeps the role exciting and challenging.”
Although the charity sector has its own technical rules and governance, Umarji says that in order to really succeed it’s about having passion, as at times it can be quite demanding: “Really understanding why you want to work in this sector is the key to long-term success.”
As the global pandemic continues to affect the charity sector and the wider economy, Umarji and his team maintain their usual service levels while assessing how different strands of the business have been affected.
Understanding the full impact on different charity models and adapting to change is essential to the survival of the sector and individual organisations. Umarji says: “We have to not only recognise sector trends, but try to stay ahead of them. Good governance combined with a good strategy are key and we should take this opportunity to create the new normal of the future.”