Giving back: Making the most of your skills

James Appleton
Project Manager, Pilotlight

This is my last blog post as a Pilotlight Project Manager. Next week, I move from London to Dublin. It’s an exciting new chapter for me – but I’ve been reflecting on my time at Pilotlight, about the work I’ve done and the work that will be carrying on once I’ve gone. What has stood out during my time here? What are the moments that will stay with me?

How can my skills be useful?

Over my three years at Pilotlight, there is perhaps one phrase I’ve heard more than any other from our volunteers: “I’m not sure there is anything I can bring to this charity.”

It continues to amaze me. All of our Pilotlighters have stellar careers, generally having reached the top echelons of their chosen fields and moved mountains along the way. How can it be that, when faced with a comparatively small organisation, these high-flyers feel so uncertain?

Nevertheless, that’s exactly what happens. And in some ways it’s understandable – if you’ve spent your working life in the city, a community centre or a domestic abuse charity or mental health work can feel like a different world entirely.

Still, my response is always the same: listen, be patient, and you will see just how much good you can do.

Lightbulb moments

It’s been fascinating then to see our Pilotlighters have what we call ‘lightbulb moments’, where after a few weeks in the project they suddenly see what pearls of wisdom they can share with the charity CEO they’re coaching. Something clicks in them and the project moves up a gear as the whole team leaps into action, creating change in the room.

One of my projects recently featured a meeting which was the perfect example of this. The charity has a leader with lots of experience in the organisation but limited financial know-how. Meanwhile, the person responsible for the money is relatively new in the role and training budgets are non-existent. While the charity was on a decent financial footing, there was limited confidence in the accuracy of the numbers and how to predict what was coming round the corner.

At that meeting, one Pilotlighter in particular took a star turn. He is a partner at a major law firm and clearly knows his numbers – he was able to talk the organisation’s leaders not only through the insights that the management accounts showed him, but also what they needed to do to be able to report the accounts with confidence to the trustees. What’s more, with some simple techniques, he was able to give a firm foundation for future plans – crucial to the decision-making, and therefore stability, of the organisation.

The charity representatives were blown away, and both of them expressed delighted amazement not only at the knowledge they had been provided but the easy way in which it was explained. At Pilotlight, we talk a lot about lightbulb moments, and this was about a thousand of them switching on at once.

I spoke to the Pilotlighter in question after the meeting, too. Guess what he said… “Until today, I had been wondering how I could help.”

You have more to offer than you think

This is only one story from one meeting in one project that happened within the last month or so, but it’s far from unique. The main thing I’ve enjoyed about this job has been watching the incredible impact Pilotlighters have had on charities and their beneficiaries as I managed the journey for both parties – but it has also been remarkable watching senior business leaders see their own expertise in a new light.

I hope there are a couple of experienced business leaders – people with skills in things like strategy, finance, people management – reading this and thinking, “Could that be me?”

Why not find out? Get in touch today and talk to our Partnerships team about becoming a Pilotlighter. Giving back to the community isn’t just about donating your money to a worthwhile cause. Challenge yourself too and find out just how far your skills can go.

HR & Leadership, Partnerships

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