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Challenges and opportunities in the charity sector

By Frazer Thouard, Senior Appointments Director, Charities, Morgan Hunt


The charity sector suffered much reputation damage in 2015 as a result of three major events. The first following the death of Olive Cooke that revealed widespread misuse of donor data, the second over the closure of Kids Company which sparked much debate on the way it used Government grants, and then finally the Times special report on executive pay that questioned why over 1,000 executives at 390 charities received salaries of over £100K a year.


There has been much embarrassment in the charity sector as so much happened in such a short period of time and each event, as unrelated as it was, involved such small numbers of charities. There are over 150,000 registered in the UK with 50% of annual income coming from just 2,000.


Yet there is no doubt in the industry that charities have to smarten up their act in fundraising. The industry expects the introduction of a new fundraising regulatory board and standards coming into play in 2016. The major changes relate to a restriction of the way charities use supporters’ personal data and the introduction of a more robust regulatory body bringing with it a Fundraising Preference Service (FPS).


New standards will bring clearer guidelines into what has, until now, been a fuzzy area for many. There is an acceptance in the charity sector that there has been a lack of skills and understanding about donor privacy, so the big challenge in all this is how to attract good skills when salaries are coming under pressure from a negative public perception.


A question that Morgan Hunt asks is “What would you pay the leader of a $1bn global business with a turnover of more than $300m?”…because this is Oxfam, and the job at the helm requires superior skills to navigate through the treacle of global politics and the innovation of enterprise. Not forgetting of course the work that they must do in the field.


The problem is one of ‘perception’ and perception is all that counts in the eyes of the public. By calling the organisation a charity the public perception is of ‘volunteered labour’ and to discover that actually there are some people highly rewarded for their charity work comes as a shock. Unfortunately using the word ‘charity’ in the same context as altruism and philanthropy deepens the impression.


We should not condone the price of great skills. Not everyone can do the job of running a highly successful charity. Individuals with high demand skills can command salaries 3 times higher in commerce and industry.   


For a recruitment agency operating in this sector, the challenge is in finding top skills and negotiating with the charity what they are prepared to pay, and this is no mean feat. Relationships with the charity are critical, they need to trust your advice and you need to work closely with them to uncover the detail and the focus of the job.


The best opportunities come as a result of having a strong brand in the sector. A charity is like a custodian of donor money and they know they have to spend it wisely. Recruitment decisions are among the biggest that the board of governors will make and they need to justify the cost benefit of these decisions to their donors.


A core part of our vision is to use our position to help the wider community and ensure we operate as an ethically sound and responsible organisation. We are active in the sector for our cause and have implemented a comprehensive and robust CSR programme that ensures we are tackling our responsibility from all angles.


Strong relationships and good recruitment advice can help the sector enormously. Today’s charities are run more like businesses, with one exception, they run a surplus and not a profit, and as they continue to take on an increasing amount of public service work from the public purse, the fact is that there would be much more suffering in the world without them.


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