If you have put your feelers out to explore doing something that makes a difference and loved it, and/or you’ve reached the point where you want to take the plunge and walk away from your profession for a role in a charity, or in Corporate Social Responsibility, you might be interested in some of lessons I learnt in escaping from law.
Myth #1 – CSR is not a specialism, it’s just common sense.
Like I did, many people believe they could run a CSR programme tomorrow, with no special knowledge or experience. I learnt that it requires a whole range of different skills, from accounting and budgeting, to workshop facilitation and public speaking, to PR, marketing, psychology, data crunching, etc. etc. Most charity and CSR teams are severely under resourced in terms of number of employees and requisite skills, so prepare to jump in at the deep end and start at the bottom of many steep learning curves all at once.
Myth #2 – It’s squeaky clean and you just help people all day long
If you’re feeling disillusioned about unethical behaviour in business, power dynamics and a thankless job and think working with charitable contributions will be a perfect antidote, you might be disappointed. A huge part of my job heading up social investment at a bank consisted of turning down requests for help… 90% of them. There are countless great causes and limited budgets for helping. This was difficult for me to do and went against what I had hoped to achieve, but it is necessary in order to focus efforts, with strategically aligned causes, ensuring a more sustainable, stronger corporate programme.
I learnt that gifts and donations is an area where there is scope for abuse. For example, donations can be used as an inducement by the giver to the reciever/their affiliate, in order to secure business. So there is, of necessity, a lot of compliance to be monitored in this space – bad news, given what I wanted out of my new career, good news given this, surprisingly, made many of my legal skills transferable to my new role.
Myth #3 – It’s an easier option and you just see the best in people
I found the field more competitive and needed all the resilience I gained in my legal career, and some. A boss of mine once explained that jostling is worse in positions of low power and resource, and this is what I experienced. As far as authority goes in an organisation, CSR feels like the bottom of the pile. Certain people respect you less because of your chosen field. Many, many people genuinely care and want to help. Very few actually do… With the best will in the world, many things just get in the way. Some people lack the belief that they can actually make a difference, many just don’t make the time to get involved. Worse, some people waste your time, committing to volunteering, even demanding an input to the cause and activity, then let you down at the last moment, time and again, leaving it to other people to show up and do the work.
Myth #4 – Make your passion your work and you will never have a bad day
If work goes badly, you lack the ability to escape to your hobby or passion project, if they are one and the same. Many people will never take the plunge and change careers, but will wish they could have. Some may feel that you should only ever be positive and grateful, as you occupy a position they envy. On the other hand, if you make this move, you’ll probably soon find yourself entirely burnt out, because you are so immensely passionate about what you do. You will take any knocks and set backs really hard and personally, because you’re working in an area that’s so important to you.
Despite some of the more difficult times, taking the plunge and changing the direction of my career was one of the best things I have done and I feel significantly more fulfilled as a result.