Celebrating 300 years

Interview with David Innes the Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation

Tuesday, 08 March 2016

Stronger voice

Chief Executive of the Masonic Charitable Foundation David Innes explains how he intends to use the leadership and operational expertise he gained in the military to take the new charity forward

What did you do before entering the charity sector?

I joined the army after finishing my A levels in 1971, which was the start of a 34-year career that saw me rise through the ranks and end up a Brigadier and Engineer-in-Chief. During that time my career had two main elements – the first was regimental duty, using leadership, man management and operational planning skills. The other half was in office jobs ranging from strategy, intelligence and budgets through to training, human resources and change management jobs. Consequently, I ended up with a broad spectrum of abilities in a number of areas.

What drew you to the charity sector?

Growing up, I’d been in the Cubs, the Scouts and the Pony Club, so I was aware of charitable activities from an early age, but had little chance to volunteer myself. I left the army in 2005 when I was 51, but didn’t feel it was time to retire and wanted to have a second career. The military sector is all about people and the motto from Sandhurst is ‘Serve to Lead’. You are under intense pressure to deliver on the tasks you’re given but you need to look after the people, otherwise you can’t deliver those outputs. 

I thought it was a chance for me to use the experience I’d gained and put that back into the charity world. 

What was your first charity position?

I headed up the fundraising at Canterbury Cathedral, which was very interesting. It’s been around for many hundreds of years but has only occasionally had to fundraise. We set up a new campaign, which required working with the Charity Commission and charity lawyers. It was a great start for me in the charity world but it wasn’t utilising all my leadership skills. I was approached to put my hat in the ring for Chief Executive at the Royal Masonic Benevolent Institution (RMBI) and was successful.

How did the RMBI compare with Canterbury Cathedral?

I started with the RMBI in 2008 and it was very different from Canterbury. It was about delivering an operational output and I realised there were huge parallels between delivering military operations and care operations. 

We look after 1,100 people in our care homes and we need to make sure each one of them is given the best possible care. There are 1,500 people employed in the RMBI, which is the size of a very large regiment in the military, so it’s about harnessing those skills, getting the right people in the right place at the right time with the right equipment, training and motivation, and operating as a team. 

How has the RMBI changed over the past eight years?

The RMBI has had to adapt to social and economic pressures. When I arrived, the vast majority of our residents were active and mobile, and many had been with us for five, 10 or even 20 years. Today, the residential sector has shifted to high-dependency and end-of-life dementia care. Residents stay for a much shorter time and their requirements are more demanding. Therefore, the number of staff we need is higher and the unit cost of care has gone up, but local authority or NHS funding has not matched it, so the economic challenges have been very significant. We’ve had to find a lot of efficiencies, which has proved intellectually stimulating as well as rewarding. 

Is the Masonic Charitable Foundation going to operate differently?

In the RMBI, I insist that everyone speaks about the residents first, the staff second, the relatives third and everyone else fourth. That way the primary focus is on the residents. Similarly, with the Masonic Charitable Foundation (MCF) I will encourage people to talk about our beneficiaries first because looking after them is the single most important thing we will do.

By bringing the four charities together we are improving the service by providing a single point of contact and a single process. Whether it’s advice or financial grants, we’re trying to make support easier to access. We are also providing increasing support to the masonic community – to Provincial Grand Almoners and Provincial Grand Charity Stewards. I’d like to see that strengthened as a result of being a single organisation.

Will the MCF have more of a voice?

When we bring all the charities together, we will be a sizeable organisation in the UK charity sector and, as such, we should be recognised. We should be a voice contributing to the third sector in giving our point of view. The masonic community has not been well represented because it has comprised many small elements. One of the things that I hope the MCF will do is bring them together and be a strong voice in an important sector.

‘We have more than 400 years of history and that will be the foundation for the MCF.’

What challenges do you face as a charity with a membership organisation behind it?

There are very few charities that operate across quite such a broad spectrum. Many tend to focus on one area, whereas we provide whole-life support to the masonic community, at whatever age the help is needed. That’s one of our strengths, but we also have to be mindful that, as our funds come from the masonic community, we spend those funds on causes that the community supports. 

How is the MCF affected by the need to recruit and retain more masons?

By the end of this decade, 50 per cent of Freemasons will be over 70. Clearly those masons will be relying on their pensions and savings, so we need to be mindful that income to the charities may well go down. We must look for efficiencies wherever we can, to get as much as we can out of every penny. 

I do believe, however, that by working with UGLE in supporting its future strategy for Freemasonry, we will be able to stem the decline in membership.

What is planned for the MCF?

Between the four charities, we have more than 400 years of history and that will be the foundation for the MCF. There is a lot of work to do and the integration will have an impact on staff. That will take a bit of time so I’ve allocated 2016 to getting us fully operational in our new organisation. 

As 2017 is the Tercentenary year, our focus will be on supporting a huge number of exciting initiatives. In 2018-19 I’m looking to start growing the MCF, to provide services where we currently don’t and to reach out to more beneficiaries. We need to build our brand, and our single name will make it easier to get that out into the community. The MCF has an exciting future and I feel hugely privileged to have been selected to lead it during these early years.

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