RSM Ireland is a top ten accounting and business advisory firm specialising in providing advice to mid-market business leaders, both domestic and international. It offers three core services – Audit, Tax,  Consulting while also working for Not for Profit (NFP) companies across all these service lines. Together with a 50-strong team, Catherine Corcoran Gearty, who is Head of Consulting, works closely with NFPs in delivering these services - so has come across a lot of issues such as commerciality, which is necessary to deliver the ‘reason for being’, is viewed by the sector as an unpleasant distraction from the essence of what they do.

“It’s a mistake to view the work of our NFP clients with a one dimensional ‘financial’ lens,” said Corcoran Gearty. “We really need to bring with us a lens which understands that ‘mission’ is everything – and that finances, people and operations together with sales and marketing are functions which must work cohesively and collaboratively to deliver the essential outcome – ‘mission and purpose’ because their people unite around a ‘purpose’ that isn’t profit.

“At the root of all of this is a requirement to truly agree and understand what the entity’s mission is and the most effective strategy by which to deliver it – we do a lot of work with NFPs in arriving at this commonly agreed purpose and the value system that is required to deliver it. Execution and the arrival of action plans which deliver the strategy is a key challenge – and this type of work informs much of what we do – organising strategy into a cohesive set of action plans that deliver it with accountability and transparency around who does what. Value for money is key – and key to value is to spend your money on the right things.”

Corcoran Gearty said that ‘red zone’ crisis matters arise because strategy and action plans aren’t formulated properly, and people aren’t organised in the correct way around their common purpose.

“We are there to support clients when these issues arise and to help set things up to prevent a similar crisis happening again,” she said. “And we much prefer to work with our NFPs on ‘green zone’ matters - which are preventative measures to ensure ‘red zone’ issues don’t happen. Examples of ‘red zone’ matters are fraud, serious workplace complaints, board implosion and adverse reputational events – all of which can be avoidable if more work was done in the ‘green zone’ to prevent them.”

According to Corcoran Gearty, a few key areas for NFPs to focus on in order to prevent ‘red zone’ crises while at the same time delivering on your mission are the following:

1. Live by your governance code – be practical in how you live it. It’s been carefully written to help you avoid the pitfalls.

2. Agree your overall mission and purpose – engage with stakeholders and gain cohesive buy-in to what you are there to achieve – it’s surprising how often this isn’t that clear.

3. Manage your money strategically and really align it to your mission.

4. Don’t think in silos – think across finance, HR, operations and marketing. It is the sum of these that will deliver your mission.

5. Agree an action plan by which you will deliver your strategy, your mission and your values.

6. Value your ‘internal audit’ – it’s not there as an inconvenience, it’s there to help boards know what they should about the risks in the organisation.

7. Deliver accountability through your strategic action plans.

8. The command and control autocratic-style management is yesterday’s modus operandi. Today’s requirement is for authentic leadership which is rooted in allowing your people control over what they do – giving them the freedom to operate, the freedom to think and the freedom to speak, which is very motivational. You can achieve this by a system of controlled autonomy rooted in action plans.

9. Don’t let the heightened compliance environment get you down. Go with it and take proactive control over it – it's there for good reasons.

10. Finally, never forget your mission. It’ll keep you going on both the down days and the up days.


*As seen in the Sunday Business Post, 3rd June, 2018