Self-neglect has negative impact on charities

Putting
other people first is what charities tend to do. But by ignoring their own
people and neglecting their HR strategy, they are building up a mountain of
unnecessary costs and losing at lot of good employees. Alex Blyth reports on
why charities need to wise up

UK
charities are slowly starting to adapt to more progressive people management
policies, but they are still a long way off becoming as strategic as
organisations in the public and private sector.

A
recent report has highlighted some of the deficiencies although Chartered
Institute of Personnel & Development adviser Karen Giles claims the
situation is improving.

“The
not-for-profit sector is changing rapidly and a growing number of charities are
beginning to take a more strategic approach to HR,” she says.

The
study compared the performance of 117 charities and contrasted it with the
public and private sectors.

Staff
turnover in the charities surveyed was 22 per cent, compared with 15 per cent
in the private and public sectors; charities invest 30 per cent less on
training and development than other organisations; and only 23 per cent of
charities have systematic career planning in place, compared with 48 per cent
in the private and public sector.

Co-author
of the report, Roger Parry, director of Agenda Consulting, says: “Participants
were generally confident about operational areas of their work, such as
employee relations, recruitment and payroll, but were less confident about
strategic areas such as remuneration policy, appraisal and work-life balance.”

There
are several reasons for this, the most critical being the lack of money. Apart
from the fact that charities tend to be under-funded, most are extremely wary
of spending any of it on support staff. The uncertainty of funding also means
that many employees are on short-term contracts, a situation that does not
encourage strategic HR thinking.

Charities
also tend to be complex organisations. As well as head office staff, most also
have networks of regional offices, retail operations, and volunteers spread
across the globe. This makes it difficult to create cohesive and consistent
people management strategies.

Finally,
as Clare Smith, HR director at the Leonard Cheshire charity puts it: “HR is a
fairly new concept in charities. Until recently everyone made the assumption
that if you worked for a charity you were a nice person and so there was no
need for HR.”

The
situation is changing rapidly. Driven by the need for greater funding, an
increased professionalism in the sector, and a tougher regulatory environment,
charities are waking up to the need for a strategic approach to people
management.

This
is manifesting itself in various ways. Sue Barrington, HR director of St John
Ambulance believes that “the sector increasingly compares well to the private
sector, particularly in the recruitment of business professionals who bring new
standards of quality into the sector".

HR-led
innovations are cropping up throughout the sector. Leonard Cheshire is
introducing a benefits booklet, offering its staff discounts in local
retailers, while Oxfam is tackling the issue of training, as Jane Cotton, its
HR director explains.

“Training
is essential, but expensive for us, as it usually involves flying trainers to
remote locations across the globe," she says. "So, we’re trialling
some ‘pick-up-and-go’ training packs, that will enable local managers to do the
training themselves in a way that is low-cost, but more engaging than e-learning.”

While
the charity sector can take some encouragement from this type of initiative, it
clearly has a great deal of work to do to establish proper strategic HR.

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