Charities are missing out on brilliant staff

Since launching Charityworks in 2009, there are two conversations I’ve had so many times I feel like I could rehearse them in my sleep.

The first is with students and graduates: they tell me that we have made it incredibly hard to find a way into our sector, and that when they do get a foot in the door they often get stuck in entry level-roles, with little scope to make a real contribution.

The second is with leaders and managers in the sector about their haphazard and fortuitous career journeys. I’ve lost track of the number of great people I’ve met working and leading in this sector who ‘fell’ into it almost by accident, only to subsequently discover all that the sector has to offer.

Both of these conversations chime with me personally, having fallen into the sector myself as a volunteer more than 20 years ago, and both make me think the same thing: are charities missing out on talented people by failing to target  graduate talent? And are we making the most of the people we do persuade to build a career in the sector?

My experience is that we are consistently missing out on brilliant people capable of becoming our future managers and leaders, and that we need to improve at giving our best people the licence to prove their worth and fulfill their potential.

At the same time, I am optimistic about our ability to respond to this issue. Partly this is because I think the solution is in our gift, and partly because I think there is a real appetite for the type of collaboration which will have a big impact. I was buoyed by the results of some recent Charityworks research, released today, which shows that almost 80% of charity leaders surveyed believed charities had a ‘shared responsibility to develop a non-profit sector workforce capable of tackling the social issues of the future’.

When I think about the impact talented people can have if they’re given the space and licence to deliver results, my mind is immediately drawn to a trainee who came through the programme last year. She came out of university quite inexperienced and ‘green’ in many ways, but her values and attitude were so strong that her potential was obvious. She was given a challenging operational placement working directly with service users, and performed with such integrity and skill that she was soon outperforming people who had been in the same role for years. That is what’s possible, and it shouldn’t be as an unusual a story as I fear it is.

People in this sector know that talent can come from anywhere, and I’m certainly not making an argument to target graduates at the expense of people who haven’t been through university. But the sector should be pulling people from every available source to support their work, and at the moment the way we speak to graduates is massively under-developed in comparison with other sectors. We are in the process of defining this sector in the eyes of graduates who want a social career, and I urge everyone reading this to get involved and make that happen.

Rachel Whale is the founder of Charityworks, the UK’s leading non-profit graduate scheme

  • Mark Atkinson

    There is clearly a cross sector responsibility to nurture talent but it is not clear where the leadership role for that exists and how such a venture would be funded. We know ‘what to change’ but we don’t yet know ‘what to change to’ or ‘how to cause the change’. Maybe the next step is to focus on answering those questions.

  • Morgan Hunt

    Last week was National Apprenticeship Week where employers large and small pledged over 20,000 new apprenticeship jobs. Apprenticeship is the ‘new’ good idea that brings in new talent. Fundraising needs more new talent coming through and this is such a good way to capture the passion for causes that often start out early in life. Cause or career? http://goo.gl/solVty

  • Morgan Hunt

    Talent can indeed come from anywhere; from the young starting out in their career and from those in their last career ‘trimester’, maybe second or third careers. Fundraising is a skill like any other; you need to be creative and ‘gutsy’; not
    afraid to speak your mind, ask for money, tap into funds. Our poll gives some insight into the motivations behind being a fundraiser. Will fundraisers swap causes for more pay or to further their career or is the cause greater than the reward. To find out go to: http://goo.gl/wLDCVn

  • Eowyn Rohan

    Last week was indeed National Apprenticeship Week….. and it remains a pity that, rather than predicate the term “Apprenticeship” to a formal and structured programme of Continuing Professional Development (delivered by Qualified and Trained Professionals within an accreditated Further Education College) for the 16-18 year old demographic who have no formal qualifications, any employer may redesignate any job of any duration as an “Apprenticeship” and attach to that job any wage, and need not even reach the National Minimum Wage.

    In November 2011, it was reported that one age range had demonstrated an increase in the uptake of apprenticeships to a whopping 897%…. unfortunately, the age range was not the 16-18 year old, but rather those who are older than 60.

    Of course, Charities may be losing out on “Brilliant Staff” – sadly, those charities which are complicit in deceit, and recruit people who are unemployed, who are told to work for the charity less they be sanctioned, are not doing anything productive, and if anything, by torpedoing any Brand Value that they may aspire to earn, are shooting themselves in the proverbial foot.