Dear Richard: ‘Is it too late for me to make a difference in the world?’


Dear Richard,

I have a happy home life and a reasonably stimulating job in finance. During the depths of Covid we bunkered down, working from home, shopping online, cocooned in our own world. This autumn I have been back in the office and seeing the world, and the problems we face both socially and environmentally have come home to me more starkly than ever before.

I want to do something concrete to help people less fortunate than I have been but I can’t step off the treadmill completely – we need my salary to get by – and I worry I don’t have any particularly useful skills other than my actual job, and again, if I moved out of my sector and became a chief financial officer for a charity, say, the financial implications would be difficult.

If I could engineer a day a week to something good in the world, what might it be? I feel that when the kids are grown up I may not have the energy – and things may well have got even worse by then!

I would welcome any advice you have.

– Elizabeth, via email

Dear Elizabeth,

The first thing to say is: this is a nice problem to have! I hope I can help you solve it.

The second thing to say: play to your strengths. You have a skill – you understand finance. You can read a spreadsheet; you know the difference between safe and risky investments; you can balance books. Number-crunching doesn’t scare you a bit. There’s many a charity that comes a cropper because of rocky accounting: your grasp of figures will be of tremendous value to anyone with whom you choose to work.

Which brings me to my third point. Who should that be? What types of causes interest you? Which are the ones more likely to have you delving into your own pocket for a donation? There’s a lot of truth in the motto “charity begins at home”. My wife and I are patrons of the Cornish Air Ambulance (we have a home in Cornwall) and we undoubtedly derive an extra twist of pleasure and satisfaction from our work with them because of our personal connection with the county we love. It gives the whole thing extra meaning for us.

So make a list of the organisations that call to you, Elizabeth, and contact their head offices or human resources departments. If you’re interested in getting involved at board level, is a good place to look for vacancies.

Describe your specialist area and offer your sevices, pro bono, one day a week. Trust me, they’ll bite your hand off. Good luck, and happy new year!

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