People skills critical for charity success

  • Small charities are finding it challenging to recruit the right skill sets
  • It is important to keep abreast of technological or social changes and recruit the right people for these roles
  • We look at how to address skills gap concerns

Having the right people with the right skills is crucial if your charity is to fulfil its potential.

Whether it’s keeping abreast of changes in IT and technology, successfully managing your image, or ensuring there’s a reliable stream of money coming in, a certain amount of expertise is needed to remain robust in an ever-changing voluntary sector.

A study by the Foundation for Social Improvement found that small charities lack significant skills in areas such as lobbying, social media, fundraising and HR.

Filling the skills gap

Gaps may open up for a number of reasons – people leaving the organisation, changes in processes, or the winning of a new contract – but how can you fill them? Should you be looking to recruit younger and less experienced workers, or more senior people?

Both have their positives and negatives, as Louise Beasley, director with responsibility for learning and development at Roots HR explains: “Senior people often come with a really thorough understanding of the sector, the funding process and the different cultures they need to work with in the sector.

“On the downside, if they’ve always done something a certain way they may not see the need for change and they may not have kept their skillsets up to speed.”

In addition, people with a greater amount of experience are also likely to command a higher salary.

“With someone more junior, you have the opportunity to get them right at the beginning of their career, so you can really help to shape and tune their skills as you need,” she says.

“They can be more entrepreneurial, innovative and creative, simply because they’re coming in with fresh eyes. With these people you need to recognise that it will take more time and commitment to bring them up to the speed you need, and that once you’ve trained them you may lose them to another organisation.”

Make use of a range of talents

It makes sense to aim for a balance of different types of people.

Maria Clayton, head of client services at Zurich, says that rather than thinking solely in terms of junior or senior posts, charities should begin by identifying what skills are missing and work from there.
“Start by analysing skills gaps in your organisation in detail, thinking of them as a set of competencies rather than giving them any sort of individual face at this stage,” she explains.

“Once you have done this you can start to assemble the competencies into concrete job specifications and start looking for real people to fill them.”

Be open minded

She says it’s a good idea to keep an open mind about who these people will be – avoid getting caught up in stereotypes in terms of what junior and senior people can offer.

Remember that organisations benefit from having a mixture of people offering a range of perspectives, attitudes and experience as well as diversity in areas such as gender, ethnicity and sexuality.

There could also be the option of recruiting people who have made it to a senior level in other sectors and want a career change. According to Beasley, these individuals are likely to bring some high-level experience with them but also be open to learning, and may put more importance on job satisfaction than financial reward.

Particular talents and experience

Some skills gaps will inevitably be harder to solve than others. Judith Brodie, who runs the consultancy Leadership for Social Change, says finance, fundraising and technology come under this bracket, partly as a result of supply and demand issues.

She also notes that there can sometimes be a reluctance or inability to pay for talent, and charities could do more to grow their own talent and retain it.

“Boards need to be prepared to invest in what is seen as an overhead but is in fact essential infrastructure to deliver for beneficiaries,” she says.

“In the meantime, charities can focus on non-financial benefits – for example , training and development, positive culture and work-life balance, to recruit and retain the skills needed.”

It’s also about taking a long-term view, advises Clayton. Think about what you want the organisation to look like in two to five years time. Then consider what competencies your charity will need.

She advises building a ‘pipeline’, involving a mixture of talent to meet your strategic goals. With a well-thought-out, targeted approach, you’re much more likely to avoid gaps opening up when circumstances change or new challenges present themselves.

Zurich risk guides

We have a series of tailored, easy-to-follow guides to make insurance and risk management in the charity sector easier to understand.

The aim is to make this subject simple and, where possible, remove barriers to activities, so that the efforts and pursuits of community and social organisations are not hindered.

We know your communities and customers must come first and our ethos is that insurance is there to facilitate the customers being innovative and taking risks in a managed way.