Accountant ploughs his own furlough with volunteering site
1 May 2020: while enjoying a virtual curry with friends during the COVID-19 lockdown, a Chartered Accountant sketched out an idea for a volunteering site for furloughed employees. Four weeks later it has attracted more than 1,000 ‘furlonteers’.
Less than a week after cooking up an idea to match furloughed volunteers to good causes and charities over a video-based curry, Sam Tasker-Grindley, together with friends Hamish and Rosie Shephard, had launched the non-profit website furlonteer.com.
Not only is the concept now realised but through marketing and digital campaigning, it has now attracted over 1,300 registered ‘furlonteers’ and successfully matched up many individuals with charities and voluntary organisations, including UN Women and Children in Rwanda.
Tasker-Grindley, who until he was furloughed a few weeks ago worked out of RSM UK’s Leeds office, said he immediately saw his furloughing as something positive.
“Having suddenly been given this freedom of time, something I’d never had before, I knew it was a massive moment and one I wanted to use constructively,” he told ICAEW Insights. “I really didn’t want to look back at it and think I’d been sat in my pyjamas watching Netflix for days on end,” said the 32-year-old.
“There’s a mental health aspect to this, too,” says Tasker-Grindley, “as people will start to lack a bit of purpose, miss a routine and annoy their other half”.
The trio of friends figured that charities might need some extra help with social media or digital marketing to help drive their fundraising or brand awareness and “we just thought, why can’t we be that matching service?”
The site has attracted a diverse cross-section of volunteers, from self-furloughed managing directors to fundraisers, bookkeepers, lawyers, accountants and even chefs.
“We bring out the transferable skills people might not know they’ve even got,” says Tasker-Grindley.
The site essentially operates as an introductions agency, passing on the details of suitable candidates to the respective charities.
Having supported over 50 charities in their first week, Tasker-Grindley says he’s “genuinely excited” by the speed and development of the project, which has already swollen to a 20-strong team at their virtual HQ and “we’ll need to probably add another two to five members every single day for the short term”.
Not just about the numbers
Tasker-Grindley puts much of the ability to play his part in helping to grow and sustain the innovative project down to his accountancy training.
“One of the reasons I did the ACA was because of how broad the qualification is and how many skills you learn from it. I never felt it was just about the numbers and it can potentially lead you to become the CFO of a huge business.”
A significant element of his new role is negotiation and a “massive people management aspect”.
Aside from an accountant’s core competencies such as attention to detail and wrangling the numbers, it is, for Tasker-Grindley, the building of relationships and project management skills that have “set me up really nicely to do this”.
The virtual team that had never previously met one another have been “absolutely phenomenal”, says Tasker-Grindley. They now come together every day on Zoom, from locations as varied as Shanghai to “deepest, darkest Cornwall”.
And his message to anyone who has been furloughed?
“Try something different, put your hand up and have a go – not one person whose signed up has regretted doing it.”