Richard Prince spent nearly 30 years in the energy sector before making a career change to the not-for-profit sector. As part of both the core team and a consultant with Eastside Primetimers, Richard shares some insight for any one considering making the switch.
What led you to get involved with EP? How much of a career change was it for you?
After nearly 30 years in the oil/energy sector, I had the opportunity to take an early retirement and start a career change. Initially, I managed a facilities rebuild project (from raising finance to completion) for a sports charity of which I had been a trustee for some years. As this came to an end, I reconnected with Brent Thomas (then a founder of Primetimers) and he encouraged me to become a member and take on some assignments. Working with Primetimers and then EP after the merger has been a core part of my portfolio career.
Consulting, especially in the not for profit sector is a huge difference from being an employee of a multinational energy company, but many of the skills and quite a lot of experience is transferable. Scale is one of the biggest differences of course (you can knock a few zeros off spreadsheet numbers!), plus appreciating how just under resourced most charities are compared to many private sector businesses.
What do you find most rewarding about your work with EP?
Actually, a high percentage of the work I have done with EP has been for EP rather than working directly as a consultant with EP clients – which makes me atypical. For example, I helped Primetimers and Eastside with their considerations about merger and then project managed the actual merger. I have also been project manager for several major funded programmes, such as ICRF and Big Potential.
The funded programmes have been very rewarding as the work involved helping clients with applications, setting up projects, helping clients achieve the best results possible, and in many cases, seeing them achieve substantial impact (winning new contracts, starting new activities, raising investment etc). And at the same time, these programmes have been a major part of EP’s business for several years and enabled a large number of consultants, experienced and new recruits, to get involved. So it’s been good for clients and good for EP.
Can you tell us about one of the assignments you have enjoyed most and why?
I think I’d pick out one of the first consulting projects I did with Primetimers – helping a regeneration charity in Yorkshire with a major strategy review as they faced economic headwinds and then a collapse in public sector grant funding. The charity delivered huge social impact in some very deprived areas, but the challenges increased and the priority became helping them think about ensuring their survival. They made it through, I am happy to say.
What has been your most challenging assignment and why?
The same one! One of the challenges was a very early start due to getting the East Coast line from London to Leeds to run board strategy workshop meetings. Another was gaining the confidence of an established group of trustees with many years of experience in housing and regeneration so that we could collectively explore options and bring in new ideas.
Has anything really surprised you about the sector? What differences have you noticed between your previous roles in the corporate sector and the NFP sector?
The vital importance of managing cashflow. Many charities do not have large reserves of cash and are very vulnerable to changes in their funding or loss of contracts. Most managers in large private sector businesses do not get very involved in this kind of treasury/finance activity and the vulnerability can come as a surprise.
What advice would you give to people new to the sector/ new to EP consulting?
Starting with some pro bono work is a good introduction to the sector, and it also helps in managing expectations all round. With confidence hopefully built, then taking on paid roles should be a good next step. Another vital thing for anyone new to appreciate is the need for flexibility with clients who are generally under resourced and often not experienced in working with consultants. Timescales often slip and getting necessary data and information can be slow. The key to success though is being patient and encouraging the client – badgering is usually unhelpful and can lead to breakdown of relationships.
New consultants need also to be realistic about earning potential. Working with EP can be an element of a portfolio career for many consultants, and possibly an attractive element, but it is unlikely alone to deliver sizeable financial rewards.
Any top tips about consulting generally?
Every client organisation is different, has its own challenges and people’s work styles vary hugely. But any consultant needs to find out what really matters to the client and try to keep the focus on helping them to increase their impact or at least preserve what they already do (if facing a major challenge). Learn to embrace flexibility, but do not lose sight of what this sector is all about – helping organisations and their beneficiaries to have better lives.
Since 2002 we have given free help and advice to over 1,000 people interested in making a transition to the not for profit sector and/or to a portfolio career through events we have run, partnerships with career management services, one to one meetings and more intensive personal career coaching. Many of these individuals have then joined our unique talent pool of expert charity consultants, helping us support a stronger social sector.
Are you considering making the switch to the not-for-profit sector? Join us at our next information event on September 25th to learn more about how you can get involved in the sector, or contact Hannah today for a discussion about how we can support you in your career transition