Recruiting and retaining staff

Recruiting and retaining staff was raised at a recent Charity People conference.  The comments, however, are relevant in a wider charity context.  How many charities think broadly and consider what makes their cause more compelling than another and why it should receive support?  Learning from the academic work in competitive advantage can be helpful.  In small and medium charities in particular, a key source of competitive advantage are the charity’s staff.  How?  Because staff contribution as individuals and a team can mean the unique delivery of the charity’s mission which is difficult to imitate, thus a source of competitive advantage.  Given this, do we pay sufficient attention to recruiting the right people in the first place and retaining their support by nurturing them?

The 27th April 2017 article in Third Sector reporting on the conference highlights the panel response in the Q&A session to a question about the problems of recruiting high quality staff.  The panel highlighted their concerns not just about recruitment, but also staff retention.  In summary:

  • Fundraising professionals tend to move often; on average a fundraiser stays two years in London.  Thus a charity is only likely to reap one year’s benefit as a consequence.
  • Reasons for moving are twofold; to seek promotion and to get a way from bad managers;
  • It was important for the sector to train effective managers;
  • Organisational culture can play a part in an individual’s decison to leave;
  • One panellist observed that their charity had identified it was more important to recruit the person with the right attitude rather than skills and then train for those skills.

Recruiting the right staff can be amongst the hardest task a manager undertakes.  The cost of a wrong recruitment decision is expensive, not only in terms of recruitment costs, but the impact upon team morale, wasted effort in training and the impact upon supporters and service users.  Do we assume that because recruitment is a normal management activity that managers will somehow know what to do?  How much training and support do we give managers in recruitment and selection?  In a lot of cases, very little.  Employers often recruit people on the basis of their past employment rather than trying to predict the candidate’s ability to do the job on offer.  There is alot ot be said for recruiting on the candidate’s ability to be learn from skills training and measuring attitude.  However, such an approach takes preparation.  It means thinking beyond the job description and person specification and considering the behaviours we require from our staff.  We then need to consider how we will seek out and then measure these skills and attitudes in candidates.  In small and medium charities employing a consultant to help may save money in the longer term.   Click here for more information.

Having gone to so much trouble to recruit the right person it makes sense to think about how they can be retained.  The conference panel highlighted two factors they believed contributed to fundraising staff leaving; more money and poor management.  There is a lot of evidence suggesting people are more proactive than previously about managing their career development themselves rather than waiting for their employer to promote them.  Small and medium charities may think they lose out because they may not be able to offer such promotion opportunities.  Therefore, the thinking goes, why should we spend money in investing in staff where the benefit accrues to the next employer?  However, there may be factors that staff value which may be easier to achieve in a smaller charity and, aid employee retention.  Factors like a greater ability to manage work/life balance, or, the availability of flexible working arrangements including working part-time or staff feeling they are really making a difference can influence an employee’s decision to leave.  As a panellist observed, paying close attention to organisational culture – the shared values, implicit assumptions and ways of working – can impact upon staff retention because culture influences how staff perceive, think about and react at work.

Retaining staff is also about sound management.  Management is a term we’re all familiar with, but if we’re asked to define the term, can we answer effectively?  Management is all about, planning, organising, leading, decision making, influencing and controlling.  We can learn through experience, but we can also learn management skills through training and mentoring.  A small training budget needs to be considered even in the smallest charity.  There are organisations such as the Small Charities Coalition and the Foundation for Social Improvement which can help small charities access quality training and management with minimal costs.  The Institute of Fundraising can offer bursaries.

Employee engagement is a term which is often used and relates to the emotional commitment an employee has to the organisation and its goals.  The thinking is, that an engaged member of staff cares about their work and the charity.  CIPD in their factsheet about employee engagement highlights “Employees who share a mutual-gains relationship with their employers tend to deliver improved business performance. It’s therefore no surprise that employers value engaged employees; not only are they happier, healthier and more fulfilled than ‘disengaged’ employees, but they are more likely to increase customer satisfaction levels, productivity and innovation”.  In managing a charity, trustees and the senior team need to think about employee engagement; how they develop, enhance and harness it in within their organisation.  Having a great cause alone will not be enough to retain staff.

Charities consultancy Synergies specialises in supporting small, medium and large charities to produce great results by improving their organisational performance and effectiveness and diagnosing and solving problems.

Call managing director Catherine Arkley on 07831 846760 or click here to email Catherine to talk about how Synergies can help you recruit and retain staff, creating a motivated, engaged team, developing healthy organisational culture and strong management.

Catherine Arkley, Managing Director