Giving as good as they get

In recent years, charities have mushroomed and grown, which has provided HR
departments with a range of employee and management challenges.  Roisin Woolnough talks to four HR directors
about working in the voluntary sector

The charity sector in the UK is relatively
young. Many charities were formed after the Second World War and have grown
exponentially since. As a result, issues of management, career development and
consistency have become increasingly important for HR charity teams. Many
organisations are in the throes of introducing employee and management
development programmes, performance management systems and other HR tools to
measure their effectiveness.

A big issue is, as ever, recruitment and retention. While few
charities have problems attracting sufficient volumes of potential employees,
they are hard pushed to compete with the private sector in terms of pay to
attract the best staff. Many employees are attracted to the profession because
they believe in it, but providing a solid, comprehensive benefits package helps
to retain them.

International charities are striving for consistency in terms
of the pay, benefits and career planning they offer. International rates tend
to be paid for senior international posts, but at a lower, local level, charities
believe it is better to pay competitive local market rates. How to meet the
needs of a global workforce and ensure consistency and best practice is a
concern for any global organisation.

Personnel Today has spoken to four HR directors, with experience
of working in the charity, public and private sectors, at UK-based charities
about what their jobs entail.

Andrew Thompson
International HR Director at Oxfam

What are the big HR issues in the charity sector?

In the UK, it’s can we afford to keep pace with the general market in terms
of pay? We have to look at the total reward package – maternity leave, flexible
working. Also, we’re doing a lot more, particularly on the international side,
on career development and enrichment. But how far should we go in becoming a
professional, modern organisation without being top heavy and having all the
donated money spent on management costs?

What is your big HR challenge for 2004?

Redesigning our approach to recruitment and improving management skills. We
need to attract more quality candidates, so we are looking for people with
transferable skills. Charity is a relatively young and rapidly expanding
sector, so it doesn’t have a strong management history. There are a lot of
issues around people management, such as contracts, benefits, performance
management and project management

How does the sector compare to the public and private sectors?

The big difference is that most people are very committed to the aims of the
organisation. Also, unlike the public sector, we are not influenced by
government politics. With regard to the commercial sector, the bottom line is
different and we are accountable to a different set of people – that’s it
really

Why do you work in charity?

I come from the public sector, but I started working for the charity because
it offered me a very interesting job

What do you like about it?

Virtually the complete absence of personal politics. The diversity of people
I get to meet around the world and seeing what life is really like. It is a very
invigorating cause to work for

What do you dislike about it?

Trying to educate people about how we do our work. There is a big gap
between the surface image of how people believe our work gets done and the complexity
of an organisation like this. You have to explain it without getting the simple
answer ‘How much do you spend on admin and management?’

About the charity

www.oxfam.org.uk
Oxfam has about 4,500 employees worldwide, with 3,000 in the international
division. Founded in 1942, it works in roughly 80 countries

The HR team

There are 21 HR professionals, plus 52 support/admin staff with HR duties

Ben Emmens
HR service manager at People in Aid

What are the big HR issues in the
charity sector?

Security is a big area – health and safety, duty of care,
insurance, and so on. Since September 11, this has become increasingly
expensive. Legislation too. There are big issues in terms of consistency and
equity because of the global workforce of expats and locally hired staff. HR
professionals are having to think more laterally about staffing structures

What is your big HR challenge for 2004?

Looking at internationalism – how People in Aid responds to a
global management and how we support that

How does the sector compare to the public and private
sectors?

The dividing line is not so stark. There’s an increasing
awareness in the sector that charities are not just accountable to donors and
beneficiaries, but to staff as well

Why do you work in charity?

I had some frustration with the corporate sector and the insane
hours and was looking for a change in direction

What do you like about it?

You really do contribute to alleviating poverty and suffering,
so job satisfaction is high. My role is about helping individuals reach their
potential and organisations benefit as much as they can from their staff

What do you dislike about it?

Sometimes there’s a lack of urgency in decision-making and lots
of consultation, so progress can feel slow

About the charity

www.peopleinaid.org
People in Aid is a network of international relief agencies, including Oxfam,
the Red Cross and Action Aid. Registered as a charity in 1999, it supports aid
personnel and promotes good management practice through lobbying, workshops,
seminars, research, and so on. It has three full-time staff, a board of 12
trustees and around12 consultants

The HR team

Emmens is the sole member

Jill Tombs
Director of HR and governance at Mencap

What are the big HR issues in the
charity sector?

Across all charities, it’s recruitment and retention and the
associated strategies of reward, recognition, workforce development and career
planning. We’ve always trained staff for specific roles and looked to develop
them, but we have to provide more career paths and opportunities. Another one
would be diversity, particularly regarding disability

What is your big HR challenge for 2004?

Strategies for having people with learning difficulties more at
the heart of what we do and improving staff communications are the main
challenges. We are also bringing in a new people management system to improve
our business processes

How does the sector compare to the public and private
sectors?

The most immediate difference is the stakeholder culture. There
is a strong identity in this sector and often a very personal commitment. But
the differences between the sectors are no way near as great as people think

Why do you work in charity?

It was an opportunity to use my experience in HR and social
services and in an area that interests me

What do you like about it?

The variety, the challenge and the supportive environment.
There is a lot of openness, commitment and sharing across charities, with a lot
of cross-charity initiatives. You don’t have political manoeuvrings

What do you dislike about it?

The resource challenge is always there, but you have to focus
on what will make the biggest difference. Communication is hard in a scattered
organisation like this

About the charity

www.mencap.org.uk
Mencap works with people with learning difficulties, their families and carers.
It provides direct services, such as residential care, education, employment
assistance and community support. Made up of roughly 5,500 staff and some
casual workers and volunteers, it has a network of affiliated local groups

The HR team

There will be 26 HR professionals when HR and payroll split

Sue Barrington
Head of personnel at St John Ambulance

What are the big HR issues in the
charity sector?

The challenge from the centre is to support local branches,
while ensuring consistency to salaried and non-salaried staff. Legislation is
the biggest issue. The Disability Discrimination Act is particularly focusing
our attention at the moment regarding the need for inclusiveness of less able
people in the training services we provide. We’ve got to have thousands of
properties adapted

What is your big HR challenge for 2004?

The main focus is the quality of our people management and
consistency. We’re delivering selection interview skills to all managers and
appraisal system training, a new system linked to performance related pay.
Plus, in January, we are implementing of a new HR information resource system,
and I’m setting up a staff consultative forum

How does the sector compare to the public and private
sectors?

Ten years ago, charities were seen as poor relations to the
private sector in terms of HR issues. Benefits and remuneration packages were
perceived as better. Now the gap is closing and we’re bringing in business
professionals. That brings in new standards

Why do you work in charity?

Having worked in the private sector for 20 years, I was drawn
to the ethos of St John. We provide an essential contribution to society and
save lives

What do you like about it?

I love the variety of my role and the daily sense of purpose. I
am very involved in policy and I enjoy the knowledge sharing among colleagues

What do you dislike about it?

The pace of change can be frustrating. Communicating to a
national network and consulting for overall acceptance can be a slow process

About the charity:

www.sja.org.uk

St John Ambulance, which is 900 years old, trains half a million people a
year in first aid. It has 2,000 salaried staff and 43,000 volunteer members
across the UK

The HR team

There are three HR professionals at HQ, with HR officers at
county level

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