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Career & Workplace Insights Series: Duncan Dunlop

 24th Jun 2024


As per the launch of our Not for Profit desk, Andrea Green has been speaking to leading charities Board members in a series of interviews, starting with Duncan Dunlop. Duncan is an experienced Charities CEO, a Self-Employed Consultant at Connect with Purpose and currently standing for election in East Lothian.


What is your own background and current role in the charities sector?

I started off as a Youth Worker (after a short stint at a small Investment Bank) and then moved to Lithuania, Ghana, India before doing a Masters in Youth Work. I did Peace Building work in Belgrade before returning to Scotland and working on Care System Reform, including working as CEO of Who Cares Scotland. As part of this, I realised a lot of care-experienced young people are carrying trauma and managed to change various pieces of legislation and got involved in care reform in both Scotland around the World, including in New Zealand.  Now I do leadership coaching and develop organisations by working with them on their strategic planning. Currently, I have put myself forward to stand for election as the Liberal Democrat MP for Lothian East.

The consultancy work I do at present is to work with charities on strategic planning and thinking, leadership, and USPs. I do a variety of different roles. I can help charities develop their job application packs and processes.


What do you see as the most important factors when recruiting into the Charities sector – particularly positions of financial governance?

I’ve come to see that recruitment in this sector can be done really poorly. 

People come to work in this sector for purpose rather than salary, but this can get lost along the way. 

Boards, particularly voluntary boards, can be thrown into chaos if someone leaves. They need to provide routes for staff to give input into what they see as valuable in a good leader, including what leadership styles would make the staff feel comfortable. They need to think about what would complement their skills as a Board too.


Is it possible for people to make the transition from other private sector roles? What are the key factors to consider?

You need to be clear in your attitude and come in with an open mind. Some of the skills already in the charities sector are exceptional. Be very conscious that it is very different, some of it may feel amateur and that is potentially why you are being brought in but be respectful to who is already there. New systems and processes may need to be set up without the budget to buy fancy software.

Take your time to understand the culture. Charities are often under-resourced so be prepared to get stuck in and use initiative. They are generally full of people with good intent, so you are likely to find job satisfaction.


What are the main issues facing the charities sector at present and financial governance in this sector?

There is a real deficit in good quality charity Board members in Scotland. There is a massive deficit in Finance Directors due to pay differentials to the Corporate Sector. People need to be connected to the purpose of the charity for it to work for them. They are then more likely to stay as they engage with the subject matter. 

Charities can also grow their own – e.g. start people on the route of professional accountancy qualifications.

Volunteering is generally down post-covid. The main issue is working from home. The reason most people stay in roles is that they enjoy being around others in the charitable organisation. If that is not happening, the volunteers won’t necessarily stick around. Most charities will operate hybrid working models.


What would be the main tips you would give individuals either searching or hiring into finance roles in the charities sector?

For the hiring charities, they should think about what they need – could they provide a step-up opportunity or do they need someone stepping down perhaps at the later stage of their career, or could they grow from within?

It would be good for the interviewee to meet the service users e.g. if a disabled children charity, get them involved in the process in an informal environment. The feedback from the service users could provide invaluable and needs to be taken seriously.  Also the same with the staff and then once the new leader starts, the staff are invested in them succeeding because they are excited about what this person brings and feel part of the process. This works better when the organisation is in a good state. This ensures that individuals who are applying for ‘purpose’ are separated from those looking for another notch on their CV.

If you want to enter the sector to work in finance, look at the Leader and see what they are like. Understand what your mandate will be. There is a different culture so it takes a bit of adapting, you won’t necessarily have an exclusive job description. Be very clear about your own personal development journey to fulfil your own purpose, do not come across that you are doing them a favour. 

Overall there is a different value base – the new successful employee needs to get involved in the charity hands-on in the first 6 months and immerse themselves.


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