FD in Five Minutes: Indira Mahalingam-Ellis

Indira Mahalingam-Ellis FCCA,  finance, facilities and corporate partnerships manager at Action West London talks versatility, singing and charities operating in a dog-eat-dog environment


What made you work in the charity sector? I joined Action West London ten years ago, however, I have worked in the non-profit sector for more than 20 years as a qualified accountant. I chose to work in charities due to my personal pull towards wanting to make a real difference in society at a grassroots level, especially in local communities. No day is typical and there is never a dull moment at AWL. Being a medium-sized charity I learnt very quickly that my role wasn’t a purely transactional financial job, but over the years it has expanded to include facilities management, IT and digital marketing, and recently corporate partnerships.

How is working in the charity sector compared with the private sector? Charity accounting is not something that is taught in accounting schools so you tend to learn it on the job. It’s quite different from the commercial sector. It is complex and risky as the nature of charities is not about profit-making, however, without making sufficient surplus the charity would run the risk of draining its reserves.

What do you do in your spare time? I sing in a choir, I am an avid reader and enjoy playing golf and dancing, especially salsa, in my spare time.

If you were charities minister for the day, what one thing would you do? I would make it compulsory for all large commercial companies, through their corporate social responsibility policies, to allocate part of their profits towards smaller charities. Smaller charities struggle in competing with larger charities, which in the long term puts local communities at risk.

Are you optimistic about the future of the charity sector? Versatility, adaptability and open-mindedness are vital values to possess in the ever-changing face of the charity sector. Although charities are not answerable to shareholders like the private sector, the sector is going through massive changes with challenges competing with businesses and local authorities for funding in an almost dog-eat-dog environment.  In order to survive this difficult and challenging climate, charities need to be courageous and innovative in diversifying their income streams in order to maintain sustainability for the future.