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Career & Workplace Insights Series: Adam Cobham

 10th Jul 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. Up next is Adam CobhamCFO & COO at Worldwide Cancer Research.

Also Treasurer and Board Member at the Association of Medical Research Charities and Member of the Audit & Finance Committee at Social Investment Scotland


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

I did a history degree followed by a CA with Deloitte to get an understanding of business. I then moved into Financial Services. I enjoyed Virgin Money particularly as it was going through a period of change and growth in the lead up to, and after, an IPO. I had always thought about a role in the charity sector and there was a degree of serendipity when W&A got in touch about Worldwide Cancer Research at just the right time. This was an interim position that turned permanent after 6 months in 2019.  Worldwide Cancer Research is a fantastic charity, funding early stage discovery cancer research –innovative new projects from across the globe to help tackle cancer. I am now CFO and COO as of 2021 – so also lead on HR, IT, the CRM system and related reporting, Information Governance, as well as Finance.


How did you find your transition from the private to charities sector?

I had some experience in volunteering, which I would recommend to other people before making the change. I had been on the audit and finance committee of one Edinburgh charity and Treasurer and Trustee for another, so I had a sense of how the sector worked and what I was getting into. I was very lucky that my predecessor at Worldwide Cancer Research and the CEO gave me lots of time and support to learn the role too and I was very curious to learn. Then the pandemic hit!


What advice would you give to someone looking to move into a finance role in this sector?

I would volunteer first. Find a charity that is in the field that you are interested in. You will get a sense of whether it is for you as an environment and whether you can add value.


What are the main challenges that you are seeing at present?

Income challenge is the biggest thing by far. We had expected all through the pandemic to see a drop-off in fundraising income. This has now happened later than expected, with the cost of living crisis. For us the greatest impact is on our core income stream – regular monthly givers where we are seeing supporters having to cancel donations more than they have historically. It is also harder to bring new supporters in – particularly with the rising costs of doing so. Both of those trends are common across the whole sector. Hopefully, this is all short term.


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

There is definitely something around individuals who have alignment to the purpose of the charity. It is very obvious if people just want a job and are not particularly interested in the cause. So I think about whether candidates have a genuine story that links them to the cause, have they volunteered in the sector; and also consider the questions that they ask at interview– are they only interested in the mechanics of the job or the wider charity?

Experience is more important than qualifications. Many people learn in role and are not qualified accountants and that can be really successful for the individual and the charity if they are willing to learn and are curious. 


What are the key things to consider in the interview and selection process?

To be in the running you have to demonstrate your ability to do some of the job and also have an awareness of what you can’t do and a willingness to learn.  Accept that you are not the finished article but be curious.

The ‘how’ you are going to do the job must align with the charity’s values - Collaboration/Curiosity being two key ones.

We try to get interviewers from other teams involved e.g. for Finance roles involving the Fundraising team. You want the candidates to get a sense of this other aspect of the charity’s culture, plus interfacing with other non-financial people is key as they will be working with them regularly.

We tend to look for diversity in its broader sense. It energises the charity to have a mix of people. For some charities lived experience of the cause would be helpful. 

We like to be a fast-follower of what is happening in industry e.g. digitalisation - bringing new ideas that are cutting edge from the commercial sector.

We are actively trying to position ourselves as a progressive employer, so even before the pandemic we were moving towards hybrid working. This means at least 2 days per week in the office, for most of the team. We have also introduced a 9 day fortnight. We can’t match the pay of financial services but we are offering a better life balance to help us remain competitive.



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