Helping NGOs do more with their money

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HR and Finance - a match made in heaven?

It’s February and the shops are filled with love hearts and the media full of relationship stories in the lead up to Valentines Day. OK, so what’s this got to go with HR and Finance in the NGO sector?

If you researched peoples’ opinions on the top 5 ingredients for a successful marriage or relationship, I bet they would all include trust, respect, making time to talk/listen, shared interests and shared values.

I’ll also wager that it’s those same ingredients that are at the heart of HR and Finance working well together. Simple isn’t it?

I believe there are inherent tensions between these two vital support functions. Each often feel the need to defend its space, get its voice heard and champion what it knows to be true. Who can argue with the HR mantra ‘People are our greatest asset’ and in the same vein, who can deny that ‘cash is king’?

These two mantras have the potential to pit finance and HR departments against each other - particularly if they are both vying for their place at the top table in NGOs. With increased pressure to do more with less money there is a risk that the potential friction between these vital functions will get in the way of developing a relationship that harnesses its potential power to be transformative.

The challenge for both functions, particularly in a changing donor environment, will be to forge better relationships at all levels, drawing on shared values and interests to address common concerns. Staff within both functions must do more to work outside their own bubble or silo, learn from each other, develop leadership qualities and change.

What can finance do to break through the bubble?

Drawing on Mango’s experience may be helpful here. All our training programmes focus on raising standards and building financial capacity but many of our trainees are not financial specialists. The bubble our trainers have to burst every time they walk into their next training session is the bubble of fear - fear of finance.

Mango’s ability to build confidence as well as skills comes from approaches used by learning and development specialists to ensure key finance messages are delivered in an optimal learning environment.

Thinking laterally, not vertically is critical in tackling problems and obstacles. A client recently came to Mango asking for a workshop that would support finance managers to have better conversations with partners, especially when assessing their capacity. They wanted their finance managers to be ‘seen as friends, not police’ by their partners. The key will be to balance their auditing and auditory skills.

“Partner assessment - it’s all about listening”
Sara Holloway, Head of Partnerships at Mango.

Sara (a CIMA qualified and highly experienced NGO finance manager) will work with these specialists to develop the communication skills they need to work respectfully and inclusively with people from diverse backgrounds and cultures.

The value of capacity building and staff development is self-evident for most NGO staff but is not always easy to prove. Can finance experts help HR make the link between money spent on learning initiatives and impact? Can we work together on securing the right amount of resource that allows people to work more productively and efficiently?

Be strategic...and keep your head

It’s important when recruiting finance staff for the NGO sector to test behavioural and leadership qualities as well as financial competence. The finance staff who are most successful are those with strong communication skills and those able to build relationships and confidence with programme and other non-finance colleagues.

“Being good at charity finance needs leadership skills too, as often the finance person needs to keep their head when those around them are losing theirs”

What NGOs require are technical finance people who can see beyond finance and can help others get to grips with the financial aspects of their job.

The Mango Competency Framework may be a useful tool in identifying the right leaders of the future. It draws on the work done previously by the CBHA agencies and identifies what you do and HOW you do it.

What can HR do to break through the bubble?

HR and learning and development specialists play a key part in helping organisations break the silos that naturally exist between specialist areas. My experience with Mango has proven this to me time and time again.

HR may not have to be fluent in finance for the relationship to grow between the two functions but to achieve their goals more effectively, HR needs to up-skill and tool up to become at least finance-savvy.

When finance people think like HR people and when HR people use the language of finance they build bridges that can transform the landscape of their organisations. Using shared language and interests helps build trust and trust allows mutual respect to grow. By working together we can help our NGOs become more resilient and adaptable to meet current and future demands.

Check out our training calendar if you (or your colleagues) want to become more finance savvy.

Lucy Markby


This article originally appeared at