Date posted: 21/02/2018 7 min read

Better to give than receive

Helping the community with pro bono work adds up to about 40,000 days of service a year for accountants, who love what they do, according to a report from CA ANZ.

In Brief

  • Survey data shows CAs contribute enormously to society through pro bono not-for-profit work.
  • Service is satisfying for volunteering Cas, who often find themselves sitting on the board.
  • CA ANZ is developing resources to support members working in their communities.

By Paul M Southwick CA and Felicity McLean.

Chartered Accountants don’t just play a key role in leading companies and government bodies, they also make significant pro bono contributions to not-for-profit (NFP) entities in both Australia and New Zealand. A recent CA ANZ survey quantified this contribution, which can add up to hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of hours donated to charities and other NFPs each year.

The report, entitled What Really Counts: The Contribution of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand members to the Charitable and Not-For-Profit sector, reveals that 1,625 CA members surveyed collectively donated more than 40,000 days of professional service in a year. That’s an average of more than three hours per week per member, with 88 per cent of members surveyed providing volunteer services.

The contribution of these respondents alone adds up to more than a quarter of a million hours of pro-bono work annually. Yet clearly, the survey captured only a fraction of all contributions by Cas.

Not-for-profits take effort

In part, these CA numbers reflect the sheer size of the NFP sector in both countries. In 2010, Australia’s Productivity Commission estimated that the whole Australian sector includes 600,000 entities and 6.1 million volunteers – more than one in every four people across the country. Highlighting the importance of the NFP sector, the Australian Bureau of Statistics found that in 2006-07, NFPs collectively contributed A$43 billion to national GDP, employed 890,000 people and received $5.1 billion in donations, topped up by a remarkable $25.5 billion in government funding.

Chartered Accountants in particular are often called on to provide extra effort. Rather than simply turning snags at the barbeque, they must perform specialised financial tasks that other volunteers may not have the skills to undertake. Among these tasks, the What Really Counts report lists financial management, audit services and governance services and support – including acting as treasurers and chairs on NFP boards. Kay Gulenc CA, a director at Sovereign Taxation in Melbourne, notes that CAs who join an organisation can find themselves quickly drafted into these senior roles. “Once members know you are a CA, you often find yourself in the role of treasurer, which leads to sitting at the board table,” she says.

Related: What Really Counts Survey 

The contribution of Chartered Accountants Australia and New Zealand members to the Charitable and Not-for-Profit sector.

Graeme Stewart CA, senior partner of AFS in Bendigo, points out the significant commitment that many charity board roles involve. Pro bono Cas find they need to liaise with full-time staff such as CFOs, prepare for and then attend board and committee meetings and strategic planning days, and often present at these meetings as well.

Helping to steer a not-for-profit is no trivial task: They can be remarkably complicated entities. Even a children’s football club with 200 members will encompass coaching, fitness and first aid, team management, marketing, liaison with schools and local government, and management of grounds, property and a canteen – plus a large group of parents, each heavily focused on their own children’s welfare.

Silver Chain Group CFO David Ligovich CA (see case study below) warns accountants against thinking NFPs are easier work than for-profit businesses; the opposite is true, he says.

A professional duty

Members identify three main motivations for volunteering: helping the community, personal satisfaction, and a sense of professional responsibility.

Hard as it can be, volunteers find this sort of work immensely rewarding. Survey respondent Janice Kelly CA, finance manager at Birchip Cropping Group in rural Victoria, notes that for CAs in remote areas, pro bono work not only creates business connections but also builds strong friendships needed when people are spread out across the land. Graeme Stewart adds that serving as a not-for-profit director gave him a better understanding of the reliance that boards place on auditors.

That said, it is important that CAs volunteer for the right reasons. Janice Kelly believes that passion is essential to take on the work. “Don't take it on just to improve your resume," she cautions.

Graeme Rodda CA, Director of Moore Stephens South Australia, speaks for many when he says that CAs occupy a privileged position of trust. He notes that even a small contribution can make “a big difference, especially to groups with a low understanding of finance". And he concludes: “Volunteering services to the community is part of being a professional.” 

Case study: David Ligovich CA

(Pictured: David Ligovich CA with Simba.)

At one point, David Ligovich had three not-for-profit directorships, plus his day job at national health and social care provider Silver Chain Group. He reflects on his experiences and shares what he’s learned about the NFP sector.

On contributing to the NFP sector:

As Chartered Accountants we have a great opportunity to apply our knowledge and experience to organisations in the sector. What you bring to any NFP organisation, as a Chartered Accountant, is discipline, training and rigour. Add to that your experience in the commercial sector, and you can help a NFP organisation or charity be more financially sustainable than it traditionally might have been. 

On learning from his NFP work:

There’s a very different culture in the not-for-profit sector. People join for the mission – which is fantastic – but I think we need to recognise that it can’t be about the mission at all costs. Sometimes well-intentioned people working for the mission of that organisation may not be working as effectively or efficiently as they could be.

I’ve learned that you can’t come in from the for-profit sector and expect change overnight. It has to be a gradual process. We have very good people working in the NFP sector and we need to make sure that we care about them, as opposed to just taking a blunt approach to change, and disrespecting their previous work. 

Advice for CAs considering a NFP role:

Don’t underestimate the sector. Don’t think that because it’s the NFP sector that it’s going to be a simple, easy gig. 

In my experience, NFPs are more complex and more intricate than the for-profit sector for a variety of reasons. The services that these organisations deliver are exceptionally good social services that the for-profit sector selectively avoids because making a sufficient profit is difficult. The NFP sector is largely government-funded, requiring organisations to serve all clients’ needs – simple (profitable) and complex (not profitable).

Culture is also something to be aware of – these organisations have historically taken time to change and have a strong mission focus. This is changing due to the various government-driven reforms in the sector. But remember that working for NFPs and charities can be very rewarding.

Related: Rebecca Glover CA's world vision

Meet Rebecca Glover, a young CA leading by example in the not-for-profit sector with World Vision Australia.

Case study: Emma Bird CA

(Pictured: Emma Bird CA)

Emma Bird is the Treasurer of the World Young Women’s Christian Association (World YWCA), a global movement working for women’s empowerment, leadership and rights in more than 120 countries and 20,000 local communities around the world.

On the obstacles or challenges in entering the NFP sector:

The biggest challenge is finding where you fit. It can be difficult finding somewhere that you’re able to make a contribution, while also gaining something yourself. Whilst volunteering is clearly not something you get a monetary return from, it’s absolutely essential that people find an organisation they are aligned with, so that they get personal satisfaction from their work.

The trick is working out what organisation suits you, and then finding an organisation that has a need for your skills. Another challenge is that we’re all time-poor. My work with World YWCA takes up a portion of my time, but I make that time. We all have the same amount of time; it’s about how we choose to spend it. I have two primary-school aged children, and a partner, and a full-time job. I guess sometimes I don’t sleep very much!

On Chartered Accountants’ contributions:

NFPs are notoriously under-represented when it comes to financial skills. So what I’ve tried to do, as a financial person on the board, is upskill the rest of the board to ensure that I’m not bearing the full responsibility for financial issues. 

I’ve worked really hard with my boards to make sure they understand the basics of a balance sheet and a financial report. I don’t want them to just say: “Well, Emma understands therefore it must be okay.” 

Learning from NFP work:

Personally, as an accountant I didn’t have much of a helicopter view of organisations. I was always bogged down in the detail, always looking at tiny calculations or errors or formulae. 

What I’ve learned from my fellow board members is around strategy and looking ahead; about having a broader view and seeing more than financial outcomes.

Challenges for the NFP sector in Australia:

It’s always difficult to fight for that philanthropic, or government grant dollar. But the bigger challenge is volunteer time. More and more people are fighting [for it]. If everybody just contributed a little bit of volunteer time, there’d be less burnout of the volunteers who are currently contributing.

CA ANZ Support

In the wake of the What Really Counts report, Chartered Accountants ANZ has developed several ways to support pro bono work.

  • NFP Insights papers on KPIs, Dashboard Reporting and Reporting Financial information to the Board.
  • At, a not-for-profit reporting webpage provides information on the key legislative, reporting and audit obligations that apply to registered charities in Australia and New Zealand. It also links to a range of CA ANZ’s publications.

In New Zealand, CA ANZ has created the New Zealand Charity Reporting Awards to recognise the progress of NZ charities in transparent and accountable financial reporting. Winners in the 2017 awards, announced in November, were: health group Comprehensive Care; the Royal New Zealand Ballet; distributor of food, clothing and household goods Kiwi Community Assistance; and the Waikato Society of Potters, a pottery teaching centre.

Related: Registered charities in New Zealand making progress

Registered charities in New Zealand are making progress with more than half of all registered charities complying with mandatory requirements.

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