Steve Marsh, treasurer of Alternatives, races a Caterham in his spare time. So he’s pretty skilled at looking ahead, planning the best route, dealing with pressure and getting to the finish line fast. As a passionate fundraiser for good causes, a smart financial professional and an effective organiser, he’s a fabulous asset to a small charity like Alternatives. We caught up with him on a rare day at home to find out more about his role at Alternatives – and the financial challenges it faces.
Q: How did you get involved in Alternatives?
I took some time off after retiring from a full-time City career, and my friend, Ian Scott, a fellow member of Stamford XT, suggested I might be interested in the role of Treasurer. I had no direct charity trustee experience, although as a former Round Table member I had been involved in fundraising events. Talking to the chair of trustees Helen Walton, I felt the cause was very worthwhile and that I could make a real difference to them.
Q: What is your background and how does this help in your role?
I worked for large insurance companies including Pearl, Aon and Aviva for over 20 years as an Actuary and Risk Director. That profession trains you to always look ahead, assess risk, and work out the financial odds. And along the way I learnt about strategic planning and HR. As charities need to ensure a steady income to fund their activities and safeguard their future, I am always projecting the financial position to ensure we have secure revenues to cover our costs.
Q: What is your role at Alternatives?
I am a trustee and the treasurer, both of which are done on a voluntary basis. Being treasurer takes up the lion’s share of my time as I look after all invoices, payroll and dealings with the HMRC. I produce a monthly report to enable the trustees to keep track of our financial position, and take appropriate action in the event of a shortfall.
Q: What are the financial challenges facing a small charity?
Quite simply it is cashflow. While we make good use of volunteers the costs of running the centre, based in Stamford Hospital, means we always need to raise funds. The best funding for us is standing orders from regular donors as we can reclaim the gift aid. Plus having a regular income makes us less reliant on grants and fund raising events, although we need all three to make ends meet.
We have been highly successful in past years in obtaining grants, but the bodies that give grants prefer to focus on new projects, and don’t give to the same charity in successive years. They also won’t fund regular salaries and premises costs. Events make a contribution, but the money they raise can be small compared to the effort the staff and volunteers have to put in, which distracts them from delivering the core service.
Q: How do you see the financial future for Alternatives?
We are moving towards making our education programme (ASET) self-funding within the next 3 years. Schools pay a basic fee per presentation, and this covers the cost of developing materials. The presenters themselves are volunteers. And we have found a company to sponsor the cost of the Pupil Packs for our new Y6 programme.
But the advisory service that we offer for women facing unplanned pregnancy, or coping with the emotional impact of miscarriage, baby loss or abortion, has to remain free.
We have been blessed to date in that funds have been provided when we needed them. However as the charity has grown and matured we have taken on employees who enable us to run the centre professionally.
Whilst we have a number of regular donors, we need to increase regular donations by a further £1,000 per month in order to become long-term sustainable. Until then we are dependent on grants and fund raising events for our survival.
Some people believe that schools or the NHS should provide our service, but their funds are equally limited in the current economic environment, and the need is still there, so Alternatives bridges an important gap.
Anyone interested in becoming a regular donor can find details on our website www.alternativesstamford.co.uk
Q: What other charities and societies are you involved in locally?
I am a trustee for the Ketton Guides and Scouts Supporters Association and also belong to a number of Service Clubs – Stamford XT, Stamford Kiwanis and The Worshipful Company of Glovers (part of the City of London traditions through which I gained the Freedom of the City of London). All three of these raise funds to help deserving local causes (Stamford and the City). Stamford XT organise the volunteer marshals at the Burghley Horse Trials and also run a sponsored ride of the cross country course on Sunday to raise funds for local charities.
Q: What do you do in your (limited) free time?
Quite a lot – I enjoy walking, travelling and photography. I also compete in Sprint races in a Caterham – a twisty, one-mile course against the clock. Recently I completed a sponsored 3 Peaks Challenge, raising £5000 for Sue Ryder hospices.
Steve’s energy and commitment to charitable fundraising is impressive, and he clearly maintains a very watchful eye on the monthly income and expenditure, allowing the trustees to make sensible decisions on how best to deliver their service to the local community. He’s a great asset to the team.
If you’d like to make a regular donation to Alternatives, you can find out more and download a standing order form here. Or contact firstname.lastname@example.org