Bringing heart into our finances

Finance and community work are not mutually exclusive. Yet, so often we frame them as mortal enemies.

Community work is for big hearts, caring and compassionate souls.
Finance? Well, that’s for the soulless.

This is bonkers, right?

When it’s laid out like that we can see how absurd it is – but we let these ideas creep into our conversations, actions and our leadership.

Not all the time and not always consciously. Just enough to form a pattern.

We frame financial tasks like credit card acquittals and budget reviews as the absolute worst. They take us away from our ‘real work’ –  the time spent on-the-ground, in the community with real people.

We roll our eyes at the financial jargon, and when it comes to showing financial leadership, we’re dismissive.

“Isn’t that the CEO’s job?,” we ask as we abdicate any responsibility.

We wear our Not-For-Profit badge of honour, as though profit is the work of the devil. If we know too many financial terms, or don’t show enough apprehension about balance sheets then we’ve sold out. 

I take issue with this for three main reasons:

1. It feeds into the scarcity mindset
There’s never enough money to care for people properly, therefore money is never our friend. When we see another cause getting a much needed cash injection, we wonder what they did to get the money.

As a seriously underfunded sector, we MUST come from an abundance mindset and support each other. We must look at the cause (eg. government decisions) not the symptoms (organisations being funded).

Just because we can do things on the smell of an oily rag, doesn’t mean we should. Just because we’d happily volunteer our time for a good cause, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be paid what we’re worth. And we definitely shouldn’t attack those who are fighting for adequate resources to do their work. There are many worthy causes that deserve funding and support.

The NFP and charity sector gets enough flack for overheads and how money is spent – let’s not fight an internal battle at the same time.

2. Financial leadership is a feminist issue
As a sector that remains majority non-male, we do ourselves and the world a disservice by playing down our intelligence and refusing to engage with financial concepts (including discussions about our wage).

“We’re too busy caring for people”.
PLOT TWIST: Showing financial leadership is how we care for people.

3. “You don’t understand money, your heart is too big”
This is the most desperately annoying (and damaging) stereotype. That if you work in community services, you don’t understand how money and finances work. If I had a dollar for every time someone dismissed my ideas because my bleeding heart surely couldn’t comprehend the financials… well, I’d be rich.

(I can’t blame the community services stereotype for this entirely, of course as a young woman I am also inept at finances).

Absolutely, this is not the entire sector (clearly, because the sector hasn’t collapsed). I’ve seen many fabulous examples of excellent leadership and financial understanding and growth.

It’s not any one of us, but our collective throw-away comments and micro choices that add up.

And I don’t think this is deliberate. We’re right to be angry at how much money is spent on luxuries, while the communities we serve are left wanting. We’re right to feel put off by board room arrogance and smug presentations. We’re right to feel less enthused about some tasks over others.

There are good explanations for how we act. But, we must bring awareness to our actions. Do they help or hinder? We need to make a conscious choice.

We need to show financial leadership, so we can lead strong teams, strong organisations and build strong communities.

This post is the first in a series about financial leadership from a community sector lens.

Over the next few weeks I’ll be posting my reflections on how I bring heart to financial leadership and trying to demystify some of the key tasks and concepts that I come across regularly in my work.

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