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International Volunteer Day – Charities SIG

 5th December is International Volunteer Day, and what better day to reflect on one key asset of charities – people. And the challenges the charity sector is facing around this asset. In recent months, we’ve been hearing from our members that ‘people’, always a risk bubbling in the background, is now a priority risk – whether they are employed people or volunteers.

As the pandemic hit, charities had to adapt how they manage people. Many had to furlough some people, and many employees and volunteers were unable to perform their usual tasks.

At the same time, the pandemic brought with it many new volunteering opportunities, that engaged people who may have never volunteered in the past. How communities stepped up was wonderful to watch. Now, home working and hybrid models of work have become the norm, albeit coming with their own challenges.

Just this week, the Charities SIG hosted an informal meeting for those involved in charity risk management, with the theme “the recruitment challenge” in which we had two amazing guest speakers Laura Crandley of NCVO and Jo Winstanley from Together for Mental Wellbeing, and we discussed some of the current issues around people risk. This autumn, we’ve also been running a risk survey for the sector. I’d like to share some of what we’ve learned.

Currently, there are a lot of different issues affecting recruitment. For one, charities are all fighting for fewer people in the market and there are various reasons for this (e.g. Brexit, employees switching sectors, more people taking early retirement). At the same time, people’s perception about work has changed altogether (e.g. not being willing to move for a job), and workplaces cannot just go back to pre-covid in how they operate, instead, they need to manage the associated risks.

While it is more difficult and expensive to fill paid roles, attracting enough volunteers to make operations viable is also a concern. For instance, previously active volunteers have not all come back yet since the start of the pandemic. Charities need to consider how to reassure their old volunteers to ensure they come back. Where you can offer a more flexible business model, it may be easier to attract younger people as volunteers.

Another covid-related challenge in the health and social care sector, where there are many vacancies for staff and volunteers, is finding the right candidates. And this is more difficult now as they MUST be vaccinated against covid - even to hand out leaflets in the care setting.

As we know, risk is not all about the negatives but can involve opportunities too, and these also exist around recruitment e.g. how does your organisation present yourself to candidates? What information do you have on your website? What is your flexible working offer – is it a turn off to applicants if you apply very strict policies?

Equally important is the wellbeing provision – are you perceived to be a caring employer? With the pandemic, people now care more about these kinds of things, and organisations need to adapt to capitalise on this.

Since it is a candidate’s market, employers need to carefully consider their offering. Potential employees, and volunteers, have different expectations than they may have had before and have more choices available to them. Charities of course have a trump card (in comparison to private industry) and that is their mission, and they shouldn’t lose sight of the importance of their mission as a way of attracting candidates for paid and volunteer positions. Just make sure you articulate it positively and really explain how your current employees and volunteers feel about working for your organisation.

It is not just about recruitment though – there are issues around retention as well.

Some of the measures charities can consider for retention risk management include:

  • RAG rating for your employees (or why not volunteers too) to check what the risk of them leaving is
  • offering long term incentive schemes, e.g. bonuses for staying in the role for a certain length of time
  • ensuring job descriptions at the time of application accurately reflects the role people end up doing
  • and be flexible if possible on working hours and locations – trust your people to get their work-life balance right.

What has become clear from our engagements with charity representatives is that charities have many different options that they are employing to manage the recruitment challenge. However, as it is difficult to try to figure out what the future world looks like, and many challenges are still emerging and evolving, the solutions are not always obvious at the moment.

We believe that by joining us at the Charities SIG’s meetings, those involved in charity risk management can find a network of people going through similar challenges and learn from fellow risk professionals.

Click here to join us: Charities (

Written by Paula Karlsson-Brown, Co-Chair of the Charities SIG.

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