How I’m using my professional skills to help small charities

We recently sat down with John Coombs, a Bank Manager at Lloyds Banking Group, to learn more about his experiences sharing professional expertise as a Charity Mentor for Alternatives Trust East in London and how his skills have helped out in unexpected ways.

Tell us about Alternatives Trust East

It is a fantastic charity based in Newham, East London, that offers education and support groups for people in the community. The main areas that are supported includes support for parents who have just come to the UK following persecution and mistreatment in their home country, with support groups and counselling for parenting skills. There is also education on appropriate relationships and sex education in schools, and support for pregnancy choices.

I have found that charities welcome support from people with a business or retail background. Just by listening and applying a common sense approach based on experience it is often possible to add considerable value

What first motivated you to become a Charity Mentor?

I have a genuine desire to help the community and make a difference. As a Bank Manager, I feel I have the skills and opportunity to make that difference. When Paul Streets joined Lloyds Bank Foundation, he visited my Branch and I found his vision to be compelling and inspiring, and this encouraged me to become more involved.

How did you first establish the relationship and find focus for your support?

I have been a mentor of various charities over a long period of time and had a relationship that had run it’s natural course, so I asked the Foundation to find me a new charity support in the underprivileged area that I grew up in. I met with the CEO, Julia, to see if we were a good fit and it went from there.

What issues have you helped the charity to address?

The charity normally ask me for help in terms of business and finance, so looking at funds in and out of the business. Also, in maximising social enterprises including a shop, cleaning business and a café. I have also been involved in talks aimed at partnering with smaller charities to help them develop on behalf of the charity.

Have you encountered any challenges? How have you addressed these?

There is normally a challenge in some aspect of the charity as all of those working there are driven to do as much good work as is possible. I try to use my coaching experience to help to frame issues and identify solutions to any issues that arise.

How have you benefited from being a Charity Mentor?

The work helps me put some of my issues into context and gain perspective of what is important. I feel that being in an environment where I have no experience has meant that I have had to rethink how I communicate and coach. I try to help the team by helping to bring their best ideas out.

You’re new a trustee of Alternative Trust East. Tell us about that role.

I am mainly the business and finance specialist in the charity, which can prove challenging as prioritising finance is always key in a charity. I will often find myself in a position of being the ‘voice of reason’ and suggesting a pragmatic approach as many charity leaders are very much driven by purpose and passion. As the CEO of the charity is retiring later in the year, I reviewed all applications for the job , was involved in the selection process and put together an assessment pack for candidates.

Any tips for new Charity Mentors?

You can make a difference! It is easy to think ‘What skills do I have that would help? Would I be able to add anything?’ but I have found that charities welcome support from people with a business or retail background. Just by listening and applying a common sense approach based on experience it is often possible to add considerable value.

If you are an employee of Lloyds Banking Group and want further information about being a Charity Mentor, contact Kay Cameron, Project and Employee Engagement Manager: or call 0370 411 1223.

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