Why you should consider the charity sector as part of your Portfolio Executive work style

A meeting around a table with laptops and drinks

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Many of the people I talk to about their 2nd Half Careers are keen to make the second half count.  They want to look back and see not only success but also significance for their lives, particularly their working lives.  They are open to becoming a school governor, a charity trustee or volunteering for a worthy cause.  A Portfolio Executive workstyle certainly creates the space for this.

However, I believe that you can benefit from taking on charity clients as part of your portfolio in a number of important ways beyond giving back. 

Charities vs. the for-profit sector

But first you need to recognise that, compared to the for-profit sector, charities are an order of magnitude more complex and difficult to lead. When you run a business, you have simple goals of profit and shareholder value.

Imagine running a business in which:

  • ‘Not for profit’ defines your sector
  • Your customers don’t pay for the products or services they consume
  • Your income comes from individuals and organisations who receive no direct benefit from your product or services
  • You are unable to motivate most of your staff through payment or career progression
  • You are not accountable to the owners of the business but to multiple stakeholders most of whom have no direct personal stake in the outcome (e.g. regulators, trustees, Charity Commission, donors, volunteers, grant makers)
  • There are no widely recognised benchmarks for success

How charities add to your skill-sets

Working in the charity sector challenges your whole paradigm of business thinking and enables you to grow and develop new skills, capability and experiences which will also enrich your whole offer to the commercial market place. 

You will need to learn how to lead and manage through influencing and not just directing.  You will have to understand the difference between activity and impact. You will need to discover what it means to build sustainable growth in an organisation vulnerable to radically different pressures and concerns. 

You will have the opportunity to find, within yourself, resources of compassion, respect and humility that can re-shape your attitude to colleagues, leaders and those beyond your immediate social circle.

Your expertise from the commercial sector will be enormously valued by the charity sector and you will often find the work incredibly rewarding in ways you could never have imagined. 

You will also build relationships and networks that will enable you to find better portfolio executive roles in the for-profit sector.  A charity can also be a great place to hone and develop your proposition in a less competitive but more challenging work environment.

Adjusting your fee expectations

You will need to reset your fee expectations – £350-£600 per day is a realistic range for most charities – but the benefits to you personally, relationally and professionally far outweigh the opportunity cost of spending two or three days a month at a lower rate.

I urge you to plan to engage a charity client early in the development of your Portfolio Executive workstyle!

Find out more about the Portfolio Executive route

The Portfolio Executive programme gives you a path to freedom where you’ll bring all your past skills and experience to create a way of work that works best – and continues to work – for you.


Charles McLachlan is the founder of FuturePerfect and on a mission to transform the future of work and business. The Portfolio Executive programme is a new initiative to help executives build a sustainable and impactful second-half-career. Creating an alternative future takes imagination, design, organisation and many other thinking skills. Charles is happy to lend them to you.