Janine EdwardsJanine Edwards from the FSI outlines the key skills challenges facing the charity sector and suggests ways to address them.

Having the right skills and capabilities is a crucial part of any charity’s success. But we are working in difficult times. The FSI’s Small Charity Index recently reported a massive, cumulative increase of 64% in demand for services over the past three years. Whilst at the same time, small charities reported that funding was remaining static or decreasing. So if your third sector organisation has been feeling the pinch, then you’re not alone!

More demand and less funding are commonplace. And with so much else going on (Brexit anyone?!) it’s not surprising that learning and development (L&D) can slip down the list.

What’s the impact?

The FSI recently launched its UK Small Charity Skills Survey, and the impact of skills gaps was worrying. The most common impact being an increased workload, increased time to deliver work, decreased ability to take on new work and no room for the development of services. So it’s obvious that skills shortages are an issue we need to address…

What are the key skills gaps?

The top skills gaps highlighted by the FSI’s research were engaging and working with the business; strategic use of IT; and impact reporting. Fundraisers remain the most challenging vacancy for 28% of respondents.

The FSI’s research focuses solely on small and medium charities (those with a turnover of less than £1.5m). Larger charities have different challenges and priorities by comparison. Research commissioned by Giveback UK in 2016 compared the skills needs in small and medium charities with their larger counterparts. Respondents were asked to name three priority areas for skills development, with the highest responses for small charities being in:

  • Marketing and communications
  • Fundraising
  • Impact measuring and reporting

In contrast, larger charities identified their key priorities as:

  • leadership and management
  • Project management
  • IT

Put all this research together, and it means a lot of skills gaps. I’d be interested to hear if this reflects the situation facing your organisation?

How can my organisation tackle this?

The FSI Skills Gap research highlighted that only a quarter of small charities formally assess their skills gaps. Even fewer link L&D to their business and strategic planning. L&D needs to be seen as central to the effective functioning of the organisation and approached in a strategic way.

This starts by having a strategy in place, linked to an annual business plan. Without a clear understanding of what your organisation is trying to achieve, and your short-term and long-term goals and activities, it’s impossible to assess what capabilities you need. Within this you should be considering what changes are on the horizon – both internally and externally – that may impact on your skills requirements.

When you have an understanding of what you need, you can assess what you have –and identify the gap. You might instigate a skills audit across the organisation or in specific teams, to identify what skills each individual feels they need to improve on.
The best approaches I have seen are when annual planning and appraisals are integrated i.e. the objectives and KPIs in the business plan feed into team and personal objectives. As part of a two-way process, staff and managers work together to identify where they might need to develop their skills in order to meet objectives. It’s especially important in this challenging funding environment that skills development has a business case.

How do I resource this?

Research what free and low-cost support is available for your charity – L&D doesn’t have to have a hefty price tag. The list below will get you started.

Charities constantly prove that lack of funding feeds creativity. For example, you may have a wealth of internal expertise right under your nose! Your staff, volunteers and Board may have skills and would welcome the opportunity to share these with your team. At the FSI we have regular ‘lunch and learn’ sessions – a good chance for team members to share their experience and skills and also great for team building. You may also have someone within your networks who would be willing to provide some mentoring or coaching around a specific learning need.

Approaching learning and skills development in a more strategic way will help charities operate more effectively, and ensure that staff and volunteers are equipped to do their best work. Ultimately this means providing more and higher quality services, campaigns and projects. Which will attract more funding. A great example of a virtuous circle if ever there was one.

Free and low-cost resources for L&D include:

GivebackUK – a suite of hundreds of inspirational learning videos for the charity sector – and totally free.

Pilotlight – providing skilled volunteering opportunities from the business sector to charities

Charities Finance Group – a range of training and events specifically on finance topics with a specific programme of low-cost training for smaller charities.

FSI – provides over 3,000 heavily subsidised places on webinars, short workshops, longer training courses and conference events every year, as well as hundreds of hours of free 1:1 advice which you can access in-person, over the phone and by email.

Janine EdwardsJanine Edwards is Head of Consultancy and Development for the FSI, a charity that supports over 5,300 small charities to develop their skills and improve their capabilities. The FSI offers training, advice and consultancy support in governance, strategy and planning, fundraising, and impact measurement and reporting.