Neither employment law nor candidate’s needs and expectations change from sector to sector, yet working in an HR role for a charity does come with certain challenges specific to the charity and non-profit world. Despite the challenges that come along with HR work in the third sector, there are various rewards including work-life balance, autonomy in your role and job satisfaction which undoubtedly make charity HR a career path worth considering.
Our specialist charity and Not-For-Profit recruiters have provided insight into the key challenges and rewards that come with working in a charity HR role.
The Challenges of Charity HR
Funding & Resourcing Priorities
It is not surprising that funding is one of the key challenges faced by HR professionals in the charity sector. Charities are accountable to their funders and often need to be more transparent than private sector companies, and it is important to make beneficiaries feel confident that their donations are being spent wisely and the charity’s budget is being maximised. With Not-For-Profit organisations often under the spotlight about budget spend on administration and overheads, HR professionals can find themselves having to justify spending charity budget on systems or people-related initiatives. The spending of donations on every job advert, new product, training day or induction may need justifying, and getting the message across that HR initiatives are actually highly cost-effective and will deliver savings for the charity in the long run can be a challenge.
Some HR professionals find it very easy to fill vacancies within charities, often with people who are passionate about the cause and mission of the charity and who are keen to get involved and make a difference.
However, recruiting within the third sector does come with its challenges. Frontline staff, particularly staff or volunteers working with vulnerable individuals or children need to be strictly vetted. Additionally, salaries are generally lower in the charity sector which makes recruiting the right people tricky when the best talent could get higher salaries elsewhere or in the corporate sector, particularly with back-office roles like finance, legal or marketing. The key to overcoming this challenge is to develop a creative approach which focuses on building the charity’s brand and cause and highlighting non-financial benefits like flexible working, good work-life balance, learning and development opportunities, and the chance to make a real contribution.
More and more charities are having to take a more commercial approach in their work and charging for services that may have been previously free. This can lead to unrest among employees, particularly if they feel these changes are counter to their values, and charity HR professionals can find themselves having to work hard to communicate the necessity for commerciality to staff members, to keep up staff morale.
There are pressures on charities to be more transparent than ever regarding their policies and practices. Charity HR staff are faced with the challenge of finding the right balance between fulfilling the charity’s aims and making difficult people-related decisions. In other words, balancing a fair, practical and consistent method for effectively managing employees without compromising the atmosphere of passionate care which is often at the heart of the working environments of many charities.
It is also very important that HR policies reflect a charity’s mission. For example, a mental health charity should undoubtedly have an excellent internal support structure and resources available for employees, and a children’s charity should have flexible working opportunities and childcare available for working parents, and policies such as these will need to be drawn out and implemented by the charity’s HR department.
The Rewards of Charity HR
Making a Difference
Many HR professionals who end up working in the third sector do so because they have a commitment or draw to a particular cause. But regardless of this, working for a non-profit organisation can provide a great sense of job satisfaction and a feeling of making a difference in society, and therefore employees are often people who are very passionate and value-driven - which only makes the day-to-day experience of a charity HR professional an enjoyable and fulfilling one as well.
Autonomy & Progression
As of October 2018, there were 168,186 registered charities in the UK, and the majority of these organisations aren't able to go out to an agency for HR - everything needs to be done in-house. This means that teams are smaller - you may have a team of 3 or 4 instead of a department of 20 in a larger organisation, which in turn means that an HR charity role involves wearing lots of different hats and taking on a generalist role as opposed to a role focusing on one specialist branch of HR. This grants you autonomy in your role, more opportunity to implement change, and the chance to broaden your experience and skill set as an HR professional, and you may find there is a shorter route to progress within the organisation.
Charity roles can sometimes be overlooked by HR professionals but no longer is the charity sector seen as the ‘poor cousin’. In reality, third sector organisations can be equally exciting and fast-paced as the commercial sector and also come with benefits like a better work-life balance and the opportunity to utilise your HR skills and experience in an organisation that is contributing towards a cause you are passionate about.