Strategy & Operations » Leadership & Management » Give and Take: Coping with the unexpected

I WAS recently asked to address a charity audience in a talked called “More than just the numbers”. It was a look at the role FDs play in leading their charities through changing times.

The night before the presentation I had an experience that enabled me to make a few points in a little more lighthearted fashion. As it went down well with the audience, I thought I’d repeat it now for you and hope that you didn’t have to be there.

However, in the best tradition of developing a story and building the anticipation (in the hope I don’t overbake it and disappoint, of course), let me first give you a bit of background information.

The role that finance professionals play in supporting charities has evolved over time and the demand for finance professionals’ skills should be increasing in the current climate. The skills and contributions of finance professionals go beyond looking after the numbers, which demonstrates the journey that FDs have travelled: from stewards and scorekeepers to finance leaders. Now is the finance professionals’ time in the spotlight and our opportunity to shine.

In the recession of the 1990s, we saw a slower sink to the bottom (seven quarters) and a faster bounce back to pre-recession levels (five quarters). This time round, we hit the bottom (we think) very hard and very fast (in six quarters). However, the recovery looks like it’s slowing down seven quarters later. Some might say it is even threatening to plummet back down, causing a so-called double-dip recession. But I’m no economist. I flag up these historic comparisons simply to illustrate that we will be operating in very difficult and challenging times for the foreseeable future.

So what can we do about it? On to my story…

In the small hours of the morning, I was awoken by my teenage daughter telling me that a bird had flown into her bedroom and was now being chased around the house by our two cats. In fact, the bird was a bat, and it had decided to go on a frantic search around the house for an exit route, waking the occupants as it went.

I have never encountered a bat in the house. How on earth do you catch one? Or steer it out of an open window, when, at every raising of hands, towels, bed linen or the like, its sonic system keeps it one step ahead?

One of my twins was delighted by the prospect of this late-night visitor. The other showed signs of forming a pathological fear of the tiny creature. Eventually, the small, and rather exhausted, bat landed on a curtain and (after gently shielding it with a soft cloth and preventing it from taking off for another flight) I was able to show my girls the cute and bewildered visitor, before holding the curtain out of the window for it to fly off.

The relevance? Charity FDs are currently dealing with things that they never expected, at times when they are least well prepared and without the equipment and perhaps even the prior experience. Some find the experience thrilling and exhilarating. Others are scared stiff. We have to try things out: some work and some are less successful (thrusting a towel in the air to herd a bat in flight towards an open window, for example, does not work, I have found). We have to adapt and react; we have to be fleet of foot. We have to expect the unexpected. And sometimes, as in the case of my poor bat, we just have to wait for things to settle down.

The morale of this shared experience? Finance directors need to be able to face what is thrown (or, in my case, flown) at them!

Caron Bradshaw is CEO of the Charity Finance Directors’ Group and blogs regularly for Financial Director.