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The Donkey Sanctuary

Author: ICAEW

Published: 01 Jul 2019

As a levy-paying employer, The Donkey Sanctuary develops its employees through the Level 7 Apprenticeship route, building a network of talented professionals for the benefit of the organisation.

Company profile

The Donkey Sanctuary was founded in 1969 in Devon, with a single donkey as the first beneficiary. Now, 50 years later, the organisation operates in almost 40 countries and has improved the wellbeing of over 20,000 donkeys. The organisation collaborates with communities, governments, the media and other NGOs in the UK and internationally, and is now the largest equine charity in the world, with an average income of £38m, generated solely through donations and legacy funding.

The Donkey Sanctuary is the largest equine charity in the world, with its income generated solely through donations and legacy funding. The internal audit team’s role is to evaluate and improve the effectiveness of The Donkey Sanctuary’s governance, risk management and internal control. By recruiting a graduate and training him on the ACA, the team gained invaluable support, while providing him with in-depth knowledge and a strong ethical understanding. This has inspired trust, encouraged more open conversations, and has led to more efficient operations. 

Attracting best talent

When the need arose to expand the internal audit team, Sarah Mudd, Head of Internal Audit at The Donkey Sanctuary, wanted to recruit someone straight out of university and offer them training and a qualification. To her, this was a great way to not only publicise the organisation as an employer that values staff development, but to also ensure that they attracted the best talent and developed staff in-house to meet the charity’s specific needs. 

It was important to the charity that the trainee would develop the necessary finance and business knowledge, while also acquiring the soft skills valued by charity organisations and internal audit teams – communication skills, the ability to connect with people, trustworthiness and curiosity. 

The right qualification for the business

Sarah, with the help of the ICAEW Business Development team, set up her organisation as an Authorised Training Employer, and shortly after hired Sherv Cheung, a recent Exeter University graduate, as the ACA trainee.

Ethics at the forefront

As The Donkey Sanctuary is a broad organisation, all the modules and elements of the ACA have been beneficial and have contributed to developing Sherv, giving him a good grounding for a successful career. The Business Strategy and Technology module in particular has helped Sherv understand how organisations develop, what the business risks are and what it all means for internal audit.

Sarah explained: "Even if it’s not evident at the time trainees are taking their exams, they will find relevance between real-life scenarios and the ACA modules in their career. The qualification provides them with a solid background and with the ability to use what they’ve learned when necessary." At The Donkey Sanctuary, it’s not about the profit – it’s about the people in the organisation and the welfare of their beneficiaries. This is why technical knowledge isn’t always enough.

Training and trainee as an integral part of the organisation

In Sarah’s words, fitting the training into the organisation was all about the ‘”pull and the push”. The way I go about it is to ask: “What’s right for the organisation and what’s right for the individual?” It’s important to me that we, as a business, develop the trainee’s innate talents. The ACA is very flexible and can be tailored to suit the needs of both the organisation and the trainee, so they get the development they want.

Sherv, in turn, has become a strong advocate of the ACA. "I’ve already started recommending the qualification to others. I’ve gone from being someone who was sceptical about doing it to one of its strongest advocates. Now, with 12 out of the 15 exams successfully behind me, I wonder how anyone can run an organisation without knowing what I’ve learned throughout the training."

Making use of the resources

During the authorisation process three years ago and since then, Sarah has been visited by ICAEW staff to help get Sherv set up and to offer support. Sarah said: "We are based fairly remotely and yet the representatives make the time to come and visit. Even though I don’t need much guidance anymore, it’s good to know there’s always someone I can ask and get useful and straightforward information. Access to the ICAEW library has also been useful, and Sherv has used it a lot for research purposes."

For Sherv, the technical resources available to ACA students have been particularly helpful. "The exam resources, the practice software for the computer-based exams, the question banks and past exams – all have been very useful and helped me pass my exams. Self-care is also a priority for me, so having access to CABA is definitely a great asset and I suggest everyone makes use of it", he added.

Building a network of talented professionals

Sarah will continue to train ACAs in the organisation, with the new trainee starting in September. As a levy-paying employer, they were keen to invest their funds in developing their employees, so they will now be offering the Level 7 Accountancy Professional apprenticeship. Sarah said: "In the same way that Sherv has used his talents throughout the training, I’m sure that our apprentice, Charlotte, will bring different but equally valued talents to the table."

While the organisation would like the trainees to stay with them, it’s important to Sarah and the team to develop well-rounded professionals who have the ability to give back and help the accountancy sector grow. As Sarah explained: "We obviously want to retain the talent, but we also want what’s best for them. We want to let people fly and see where they end up in five or 10 years’ time."

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