In 2003, benchmarking company Agenda Consulting produced a shocking report into the state of HR management in UK charities. It revealed that they were far from being the compassionate, enlightened employers that most people assumed them to be.
The 117 organisations questioned had an annual staff turnover of 22%, compared with 15% in the public and private sectors they spent 30% less on training and development than organisations in the public and private sectors and only 23% offered any systematic career planning, compared with 48% in the private and public sectors.
The message was clear: UK charities were failing to take a strategic approach to HR and, as a result, were developing problems around how they managed and retained their staff.
So for some charities, change has been on the agenda ever since. For example, Isabelle Simon-Evans was hired by The Children's Society in June 2004 to deliver just such a change. "The charity had just had a major restructure to fit its new mission, and recognised that to deliver these changes it would need to adopt a more strategic approach to HR. So it created my post [assistant director, people and organisation development] and hired me," she recalls. "We based the strategy on attracting, nurturing and retaining talent, and on becoming a high-performing organisation."
In practice, this has involved introducing formal performance management systems, strengthening the charity's online recruitment offering, launching its first-ever employee survey, and the development of an induction toolkit for line managers.
It is still early days, but the organisation has already won four awards for its HR work, and the second staff survey has shown a marked increase in the number of employees who have had appraisals. This year, the charity has 3% of its salary bill ring-fenced for training - clearly demonstrating the commitment of senior management to HR.
However, not every charity has demonstrated a similar level of commitment. A follow-up survey by Agenda Consulting in November 2005 revealed that, while average sickness absence had fallen from eight days to 6.6 days, and the percentage of employees from an ethnic minority background had risen from 6% to 9.6%, little else had changed in two years. Annual employee turnover had fallen