The business of charity
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Date: 20 February, 2004


Tim Moulds

'The people I knew in the corporate sector, the senior managers and the owners of companies, worked without reference to morals. They were committed to maximising profits, and recognised that they had to achieve that within certain constraints.'




  Tim Moulds is Christian Aid's Associate Director for Church and Community. He joined Christian Aid after spending 15 years in the commercial sector. Andy Jackson asked him about the differences between the two

What was your career path to working for Christian Aid, and were you surprised that a major charity chose someone from outside the charity sector?

I had a first degree in engineering and an MSc in Management from the London Business School. Then I worked for 15 years at Investors in Industry (3i Group plc). I started as one of their investors, moving up to manage an investment office, then a region of 6 offices. Then I was appointed to the Executive Board, as Personnel Director for the group.

From that position I applied to be Head of Personnel at Christian Aid.
While I was at Investors in Industry, I had been a supporter of Christian Aid for about eight years. My Christian faith tells me that God put the poorest at the centre. For us, the rich, the most important part of our faith is how we respond to the needs of the poor.

As an investment banker, I wasn't doing much to live out my faith. I decided to buy off my conscience by giving regularly to a development agency. I went about it in a typically investment banker way! I wrote to several charities, sending a donation and asking for copies of their accounts. I analysed the accounts and decided that Christian Aid was the best of them, so I made out a standing order.

Christian Aid regularly sent me information about the work that I was supporting. This didn't help my conscience at all. I began to get drawn in. I started by collecting in Christian Aid Week; then I became a representative for Christian Aid in my church. I took over as the Christian Aid local organiser for a group of ten local churches. The more I did with Christian Aid the more enthusiastic I became about the work we ('we' I was starting to say) were doing with people in poor communities.

When I applied for a job at Christian Aid, even though the sector was very different, I thought that I had Personnel Management skills that could usefully be transferred. Certainly, I had the enthusiasm.

How did your impressions of CA change after you became an employee?

As an organisation it lived up to, and beyond, my expectations. As I expected, it was a delight to go to work every day and know that you were contributing to the cause you cared about more than anything else. It was quite extraordinary to work with colleagues all of whom were similarly committed.

Everyone was entirely honest: if we had debates about how we should work most effectively, they were very forthright, but everyone was honestly trying to do a better job for poor communities. You could never hear the sound of axes grinding, in contrast to my experience in investment banking.

What went so far above my expectations were the challenges and the competence of management at Christian Aid. Managing a development agency involved much more complex judgements about the purpose and the aims of the work. There wasn't the easy clarity and simplicity of managing to maximise profits.

Staff were all very committed to the work. Some of them it seemed to me were so committed that debates about work became bound up with issues of personal identity. So the management of people was also different from my commercial sector experience.

And to my delight, Christian Aid had managers who were responding to these challenges very impressively. I knew I had joined an extraordinarily committed organisation; it was good to find that I had joined a very competent one as well.

What are the best and worst aspects of the charity sector?

My work at Christian Aid is me living my Christian faith. There are all sorts of things that are good about the job, but that sense of doing what I believe most, every day - that's the best thing.

Some times as a manager you have to take decisions that others disagree with, and that upset them. Not just everyday upset, but things that really challenge who they think they are. That can result in debates that aren't much fun. That's probably the least good part of the job.

What lessons can charities learn from the business sector and do you think that charities genuinely benefit when such advice is put in to practice?

It is possible for the business sector to think that they know about management and that charities should be like them. I think that's wrong. The two sectors are very different. They both need good managers, working in very different ways. They can learn from each other.

Imagine you are appointed as the director of the charity sector or the UK's 'Charity Tsar'. What short-term and long-term changes would you make?

I don't think I would look to make big 'top down' changes. I would work with agencies to find out what the challenges were, and with them would try to develop what they thought were the right solutions.

I would be very interested to hear how other agencies respond to the challenges of building movements of support, by bringing together organisations with common interests. It is a challenge for us all. How do you make the sum of many agencies much more effective than they are separately? And how do you do it in ways that preserves the strengths of the different agencies? I would want to work with others on that broad agenda.

Are you happy with the Government's reliance on the charity sector for national and international support, and is it helping or hindering the sector?

We have to work in ways that bring good news to the poor, and we have to be very intelligent about how we do that with, relative to the needs, very modest resources. Governments have the potential to contribute to the work we do. We have to decide whether we tap that potential best by co-operating, or maybe by confronting. We must not become reliant on government; we must be able to confront them when it is necessary to do so.

Are you depressed when the unethical practices of major businesses are discovered?

The people I knew in the corporate sector, the senior managers and the owners of companies, worked without reference to morals. They were committed to maximising profits, and recognised that they had to achieve that within certain constraints. I can think of one or two exceptions: people who genuinely took an ethical position, knowing it would reduce profits. But most would not do that. Sometimes when that reality hits you in the face, it is discouraging. But it reminds you whose side you are on, so I don't think I find it depressing.

Is there anything you miss from your days in the business sector?

Nothing. I would find it very hard to go back and work in the commercial sector. However, It raises a very important point about preaching. Many of the people I am preaching to would love to work for what they most believe in, but that luxury is simply not available to them. It is really important not to make them feel bad about that.

If you were able to time travel and start on the career ladder again, what would you do differently?

Where I am now is such a product of where I have been, that I don't think I can imagine changing bits of it. You've caught me on a good day. I don't think I would do anything differently.






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