by Isaac Jeffries, Senior Consultant
I recently had coffee with a university student, who is passionate about social impact but unsure about how to get a job in the industry. She’s studying maths and economics, and surprised me with this pearler of a quote:
“Finance is boring. The world does not need more finance graduates – it’s just moving numbers around”
Now, I completely understand where this view comes from. Finance conjures up images of faceless men in suits, dull spreadsheets and corruption. I get why the idea of studying finance seems uninspiring to anyone motivated to change the world.
Here’s the problem; they’re mistaking the subject for the person, and confusing the tool with the craftsman. In the same way that you can love cooking without aspiring to become an angry Three-Hat chef, or becoming a builder without wanting to bulldoze trees.
If you want to create impact, you’re going to need a lot of resources; which allow you to employ people in need, run marketing/advocacy campaigns, fund educational programs, etc. These resources come from the spending power of your customers, government grants, donations from the public, corporate sponsorships, or your own time and wealth.
You’ll have a huge interest in seeing these resources used well.
If you run out, your impact stops.
These resources need to be monitored and defended, whilst you simultaneously secure a strong pipeline for the future. You’ll be fighting for grants, donations, investment or sales, and ensuring that you aren’t wasting what you already have.
Every employer you have will care about this skill – your ability to bring in more money than you cost. You’ll be asked to increase sales, attract more customers, contact more donors, write more funding applications, cut unnecessary expenses, or dream up new ways of growing the organisation.
If you switch to being self-employed, the pressure ramps up even more. You’re personally responsible for finding new customers, charging them the right amount, making them happy, and ensuring that you earn more money than you spend.
That’s what finance is about – learning how to play offense and defence with resources.
There’s no rule that says you have to be greedy or that you have to wear a tie or use your skill for evil companies. A lot of finance professionals choose to do those things, but that’s up to them.
Criticise the craftsman, not the tool.
If ignored, money will become an issue for you and interfere with your plans for creating change. Since you’ll have too many good things to spend money on, your natural inclinations will push you towards taking more risks, relying on luck, and eventually insolvency.
When you’re presented with a series of options, it will be difficult to tell which ones will lead towards financial sustainability, so you’re more likely to choose the ones that lead to maximum impact, then later panic as you scramble for urgent funding.
The social impact industry does not need more people with passion – it needs people who can channel their passions towards action.
One of the most practical things you can do to advance a cause is to fix its financial situation.
On offence, you can find new customers, change your pricing structure, ramp up your sales funnel, switch to better suppliers, impress potential investors, and headhunt excellent staff who bring in more than they cost.
On defence, you can spot cashflow issues from far away, get rid of the expenses that aren’t essential for your work, find ways of outsourcing tasks to cheaper/more efficient partners, identify which customers/donors/grantors aren’t worth chasing, and avoid recruiting roles that will lose money each year.
Finance does not require a qualification or piece of paper, you either understand it or you don’t.
You need to know your stuff – like how to read and write financial statements, and measure how your money is being used.
It’s a combination of diligence, creativity, and making good predictions. These skills can be learned from books or online courses, which are either cheap or free. That means that studying finance doesn’t need to be your major, but rather something that can be tacked on to any other field.
I don’t love spreadsheets; I just recognise that they’re useful for building strong businesses that can change lives.
Learning how to use the tools of finance might be boring at first, but its uses are incredible.
Imagine if you could boost the funding of the causes you care about, or stop them from going out of business?
How satisfying would that be?