A curious mind

A desire to continue learning is one of the big drivers behind Melanie Richards' work with charitable boards.

“We all want to make an impact to our company and in society,” says Melanie Richards. “People like me and organizations like KPMG have a responsibility to play a role in making an impact.”

Supporting communities and tackling social immobility is indeed an issue KPMG takes very seriously. Actively encouraging their people to channel their diverse backgrounds, experiences, opinions, and passions into serving the causes that matter most to them – and to their communities. 

Last year 3,100 KPMG UK employees delivered 48,000 hours of work in their communities, directly supporting more than 20,000 individuals nationwide. Over 360 of their employees took up board-level volunteering positions in school governors or charity trustee positions.

“Things don’t just happen by themselves … and it’s no great secret that as a sector, not for profit is simply isn’t as diverse as it should be” says Melanie.

There is a lack of young trustees (the average age of a trustee is 61 in the UK) and the traditional view has been that predominantly people who bring a lifetime of experience really benefit charities. 

It is estimated that only two per cent of charities have young people on their board in the UK. Whilst a survey, carried out by The Charities Aid Foundation, shows that 85 % of people under 35 would consider becoming a trustee.

Taking up a trustee role need not be a function of your age, gender or perceived experience. Being a trustee is an opportunity for anyone to broaden their skills sets, regardless of age. For Melanie being a trustee is about how we can all challenge ourselves to do something different. “I’ve always felt that if you believe in something, you should try to find a way to make it happen. Seeing others achieve breakthroughs has inspired me to try to make a difference.”

With a demanding job as Deputy Chair and Board Member of KPMG UK, Melanie has had to carefully consider her participation on charitable boards as being a trustee requires commitment to doing a good job and the same time meet competing demands.

But she has made it work for her and the charities, and the payback has been immense in terms of networking, skills development using the full breadth of her skills, which may not always get used in other aspects of her life - and pride.

She is Vice Chair of The Eve Appeal, which funds research into better prediction and detection of gynecological cancers. “Too many women lose their lives because they don’t find out until too late. One of my friends had ovarian cancer and it brought home just how much it impacts women and their families. Thankfully she survived but others don’t – due to late diagnosis, so hopefully our work with the charity will make a difference both in terms of earlier diagnosis and greater awareness.”

At KPMG UK, Melanie, the senior leadership and their people have been working with Charities, Not for Profit organizations and their communities to drive sustainable change and help maximize their impact (for more than a decade). The firm’s corporate responsibility strategy focuses on promoting lifelong learning and increasing numeracy and literacy skills to help people achieve their potential and ultimately, create a fairer future for all. 

The KPMG Foundation, chaired by Melanie, has helped more than 30,000 children in the UK improve their literacy, while also giving £13 million of funding to 68 charitable projects nationwide to improve social mobility through education since its formation in 2001. KPMG Foundation has often been an early stage funder of these projects which have gone on to attract £167m in total funding.

“The work of the Foundation is a massive priority for the UK firm, focusing on those young people who are most disadvantaged and with least opportunities in society. We’re privileged to have an independent and inspiring group of trustees.”

Until recently Melanie was also Governor of Eastbourne College, a school in the south of England that her sons attended, and for 7 years was on the board of Orbis UK, a nonprofit organization devoted to blindness prevention and treatment in developing countries.

Melanie feels that volunteering also helps to satisfy her innate curiosity. “I’m a great believer in continuous learning. If you want to be successful in a fast-moving world, you need that attitude. Business today involves dealing with a very wide range of clients and stakeholders, and every new experience gives me a fresh lens on challenges and situations. Without it, I think I would be at risk of becoming one-dimensional. I’ve been fortunate to work with some truly amazing people across many charities and have learned so much from them.”

Melanie feels she has been fortunate to have the opportunity to address some of the big passions in her life, notably women, health, education and social mobility. To those that may feel they lack a similar drive, she urges a rethink: “We all have strong emotions about lots of issues – and we all have useful skills to offer outside of the workplace. It’s not an enormous stretch to combine these two. If you look hard enough, you’ll find something that’s right for you, and I promise you won’t regret it!”

Connect with us