More sense than money

Liz Pepler
Liz Pepler

Liz Pepler talks to James Cracknell about her mission to demystify finance

Liz Pepler wants to help make numbers less scary.

Drawing on her 20 years of experience looking after the finances of various charities, the Walthamstow bookkeeper decided in 2018 to launch her own not-for-profit company – Embrace Finance – focused on building “confidence, capability and capacity” in various social impact organisations, large and small.

Liz has worked with many well-known local charities and voluntary groups, including Walthamstow Toy Library and The Hornbeam, helping them to stay on top of their finances and avoid many of the potential pitfalls that sometimes blight small third sector organisations.

She tells the Echo: “I work exclusively with social organisations – charities, foundations, social enterprises – from set-up through to scale-up.

“Most people find finance really dull and boring, but I think often it is that lack of a good grasp of finances that holds social organisations back, because they don’t understand their own business models.

“If you build people’s confidence, you improve their social impact. I started out wanting to overcome the attitudinal barriers to good financial management. I think people often lead with the heart; they see a problem in the community and they want to fix it, which is marvellous, but at some point the finances come into play and, for different reasons, they fail to grasp the nettle.

“I understand why – not everyone enjoys writing a cost-benefit analysis!”

Liz’s no-nonsense approach to finance helps even the most novice social entrepreneur develop a basic understanding of business accounting, sometimes in less than half-an-hour. As well as being brought in to work directly with clients, she hosts training sessions, courses and workshops for social leaders.

“The mentoring side of it, helping social leaders, is really enjoyable. You want those leaders to be on top of their finances. What I do is demystify accounting. It is often shrouded in jargon, but strip it all away and you can do a lot in just a 20-minute session.

“Often I am brought in to help when people are in financial trouble, but it is better to be brought in early on. If you don’t embrace finance, you are going to fall down eventually. You will stand a better chance if you embrace it from the start.

“My advice is to be intentional and be in control. Some people take to it quickly, but some people look at a page of numbers that swim around the room and won’t want to get involved. They might bring someone else in, but they still need to understand it a bit themselves.”

Liz teaches social entrepreneurs to build financial resilience into their organisations, finding the optimal business model that will work for them.

“You can’t build resilience for the long-term without some level of financial engagement. I want people to not be terrified of it and get on top of their financial reports. It is actually dead simple when you are starting out – it’s when you get to a million pounds in turnover that it gets trickier!”

In these unprecedented times, many charities and other social organisations are facing financial oblivion unless they can quickly source external assistance. Liz says the government support offered to date is not going anywhere near far enough.

“The government settlement for the sector was tiny in comparison to what the ask was. Most people don’t plan for a pandemic, just for a bit of bad weather. We can ask social organisations to be resilient but we need systemic change to enable the conditions for them to thrive. A lot of them have absolutely no support and are flying under the radar.

“The government is assuming everyone sets up their business for monetary purposes, but when you are doing something for a social purpose you don’t want to lay people off. These organisations are more vital now than ever.”

Liz recently began working with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs, to lead some training for other ‘Big Local’ award winners in the St James Street area of Walthamstow. This work has moved online during the lockdown, while she also now offering pro bono support for organisations affected by the pandemic.

“I have had some good feedback on the training – it can be quite transformational.”

For more information about Embrace Finance:
Visit embracefinance.org.uk

This article is supported by St James Street Big Local in association with UnLtd, the foundation for social entrepreneurs. To find out more about UnLtd:
Call
 0207 566 1100
Email cheryl.ndione@unltd.org.uk
Visit unltd.org.uk