Making a little go a very long way

“Delivering training on a budget like ours is a constant challenge,” says Anne Diss, chief executive of Community Action Furness. Her charity, based in Barrow-in-Furness, Cumbria, helps about 500 people a year back into work.

It is not the only voluntary sector organisation to face this problem. The 2006 Learning & Development Survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development found that, while companies spend an average of £480 per employee on training a year, charity budgets only stretch to £438.

Furthermore, the managers responsible for training at those charities will have fought hard for every training pound because of the pressure for income to go towards their mission. They are adept at making their budgets stretch, and all training specialists could learn from their cost-effective approach.

Informal learning

Where possible, charities use existing in-house resources. They develop formal processes for transferring knowledge and skills between employees, so the only cost involved is the employees’ time. But this can only meet so many needs, and at some point most charities have to call in external experts.

However, this still does not mean that they pay. Many training companies will work with charities for free, as their way of contributing to the good of society. Another option is to do a reciprocal deal. The Muscular Dystrophy Campaign, for example, currently provides a company with office space in return for management training.

Even when charities do have to pay for training, they often succeed in sourcing highly cost-effective solutions. There are a number of providers that specialise in providing training to the voluntary sector, such as the Directory of Social Change, which runs more than 300 courses.

Keeping it cheap

Charities are also making increasing use of the internet for training. Online courses are cheaper than residential courses and they allow the student to progress at a time and a pace that suits them. Many groups are now even using it for live training sessions, using online conferencing tools, as this reduces the travel costs associated with gathering everyone together in one place.

Diss says one of the ways she has reduced the cost of training is by working with the Centre for Training & Development at Lancaster University, which helps charities access grants and provides advice on investing in the right type of training.

“There are grants out there for charities, but most don’t have the time to look,” says centre director Jane O’Brien.

The centre at Lancaster University works with many small voluntary organisations across the North-West, helping them tap into the European Social Fund, a European Union investment initiative.

There are other signs that the charity and voluntary sector is becoming more serious about professional development. Earlier this year the Institute of Leadership & Management launched the UK’s first management qualification for the voluntary sector.

Despite making great strides, it remains unlikely that charities will ever spend as much on training as the average company. What is certain is that private sector employers could learn a lot from the budget-conscious techniques of their colleagues in the voluntary sector.

Case study: Royal National Institute for the Deaf

The Royal National Institute for the Deaf (RNID) is fortunate enough to be able to spend around £500 per employee on training. This budget is split into three areas: 60% is spent on statutory and legal obligations of care service employees 20% on the professional development for interpreters, HR and finance staff and 20% is discretionary.

Vicky Hemming, director of HR, says: “In the past few years we’ve increased the level of our discretionary spend to allow more employees to receive specific training that they need to continue to develop and perform effectively.”

The RNID has secured funding from central government to develop new courses such as an MBA for deaf people and qualifications in mental health and deafness. In future, the charity would like to work with external bodies to develop accredited training and academic qualifications that can be marketed to smaller organisations.

Hemming believes the sector as a whole would benefit from a more collaborative approach, by offering mentoring opportunities or secondments. “This would enable the sector as a whole to benefit from a broad range of expertise at very little cost,” she says.

Training & Coaching Today

Along with an in-depth look at training in the charity sector, the current issue of Training & Coaching Today reports on how to demonstrate the impact of training initiatives on the bottom line.

Personnel Today’s sister publication, Training & Coaching Today, is a monthly magazine dedicated to keeping you on top of training issues. Subscribe online, or call 01444 445566.

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