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A letter to Trustee Boards about getting the most out of staff and volunteers


Dear Trustees and Executives

Sunday Times best places to work in charity and public sector

Did you make the Sunday Times top 100?

The Sunday Times this week published its list of the top 100 third sector places to work, 76 of which were charities.  Whilst the authors wouldn’t pretend that the findings are representative of every single charity in the UK,

they might help us (I am a Trustee too) as a collective of leaders to think about the factors which make our organisations positive places to work.

It seems that there are still significant differences between the commercial and not for profit sectors in terms of what motivates people to work there (no kidding) so I recommend we start focusing on these:

  • Charity staff value highly the opportunity to give something back.  Perhaps we can make the results of their contributions more specific and more obvious?  I’m thinking internal communications, appraisals and reviews… simple and sincere thanks?
  • The vast majority believe their organisation makes a positive difference to the world – surely something that we should reinforce with evidence and beneficiary stories wherever relevant to ensure staff stay engaged with the cause.
  • Charity and public sector staff may be less demotivated by pay and benefits than we might think.  That doesn’t mean we should take advantage but perhaps work with them to understand what they think is fair (and therefore motivating to them to do a great job) and benchmark fairly across the sector for the SKILLS they bring.
  • Job security is perceived to be much lower than in the private sector.  Paying low salaries is clearly not going to help this.  Neither is not having a clear and communicated strategy to work our way through the financial crisis and into a more sustainable future.
  • As a sector we often pride ourselves on developing our people but ‘our people’ don’t agree.  Private sector staff feel significantly more able to learn and grow and, given generally lower salaries and fewer benefits, we MUST pay attention.  More structured programmes like the top placed Julia’s House Hospice may be the way to go.
  • Charities score more highly across pretty much all facets of the survey (leadership, well-being, management, team, fair deal, giving something back, the organisation itself and personal growth) than public sector bodies.  We should be thanking them for this.  We should be rewarding managers and leaders for fostering the goodwill and higher levels of commitment.  We should be focusing, as leaders, on continually creating and nurturing the environment needed for our people to continue to achieve and grow.
  • And if your charity is in the top 100, you should pat yourselves on the back.
  • Lastly, include volunteers in your thinking regarding ‘staff’.  OK, this isn’t actually explicit in the findings and is my own contribution!  Almost every charity I work with that treats all of their people with the same respect and commitment is more effective than those that rate volunteers as sub-standard employees.

Incidentally, why were the largest charities absent from the top 100 list?  We see lots of case-studies across fundraising, branding, comms etc. which highlight their successes but where are their results?  Did their people simply not bother or did they just finish outside of the top 100?  If I was a leader at one of these charities, I think I’d like to know…

Fellow Trustees and Sunday Times readers out there, what would you add?

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