Charities should prioritise leadership development

Today’s charity chairs need support to implement leadership development, improve recruitment practices and prioritise equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) if they are to prepare tomorrow’s leaders and tackle the issues of the future. So says a report from the Centre for Charity Effectiveness at Bayes (formerly) Cass Business School.

The report, The Future Charity Chair: A research project, found that although chairs are an essential leadership role within charities and play a key part in navigating challenges, they struggle to look ahead and risk missing opportunities to address organisational obstacles that may lie ahead.

To address this, the report identified skills and attributes for future charity chairs and makes the following recommendations for action by charity chairs:

  • Explore the motivations and barriers for future charity chairs, emphasising equity, diversity, and inclusion.
  • Access support for foresight skills, trial flexible governance models and consider the potential of artificial intelligence (AI) as a helpful tool.
  • Change recruitment and support practices like mentoring programmes, educational tool kits and shadow boards to promote and reposition the role of charity chairs and improve board succession planning.
  • Prioritise the need for leadership development and gain sector-wide support to develop a pipeline of leaders to rely on.

Alex Skailes, director of the Centre for Charity Effectiveness, says: “The leadership role of the charity chair has intensified, and this rewarding but demanding voluntary role faces greater challenges than we had ever anticipated. A charity chair cannot be a champion of their organisation if they don’t have the proper support in place, and our research has found that charity chairs are frequently stretched thin.

“Chairs need enhanced access to a menu of support that is near term and future focused, if they are to start to meet the demands of tomorrow, today.”

Naziar Hashemi, head of social purpose and non-profits at accountancy firm Crowe UK, adds: “Unsurprisingly, the continued uncertainty of the operating environment has taken a toll on charity sector leaders, with many feeling that changing the structure of the role itself is necessary to encourage the recruitment of new chairs.

“There is a danger that chairs and the charities they serve will get left behind if they are unable to adequately prepare for what lies ahead. Developing a pipeline of future candidates also requires attention now for the sector to ensure it leaders represent true diversity, and best serve beneficiaries. It is clear that more and different support is necessary and changes should be implemented soon.”

Volunteer recruitment still tough

More than half of charities are still finding volunteer recruitment difficult, according to a report which shows that the situation has not improved over the last 12 months. The report, Present Struggles, Past Origins: Current Challenges in Volunteering Amidst Two Decades of Decline, is by Nottingham Trent University’s VCSE Data and Insights National Observatory and Pro Bono Economics.

When the survey last focused on volunteering in Spring 2023, charities reported concerns over decreasing numbers. While the latest barometer does not show significant decline, six in 10 organisations continue to face difficulties in volunteer recruitment and around half (47%) have not seen an increase in numbers over 12 months.

Lack of time (59%) and lack of interest (50%) were cited as the most significant barriers to recruitment.

There has also been little improvement for charities which do not have enough volunteers to meet their objectives, with four in 10 still in this position and 82% of those finding recruitment difficult.

Findings also indicate that charities are less likely to invest in recruitment methods which require time, money and skill, with a decline in in-person recruitment events and social media activity, and 84% mainly using word of mouth to recruit volunteers.

Charities continue to experience challenges in volunteer retention, with little shift in the picture since 2023 and one in three reporting difficulties. Almost 70% said volunteer family and caring responsibilities were a significant barrier to retention, with work responsibilities and a decline in flexible working also having an impact.

Almost double - 42%, compared to 23% - said that the commitment is too big for their volunteers and 42% noted the time contributed by their volunteers has increased over the last year, a slight increase on last Spring (35%).

Some of the charities which responded to the survey reported that they are changing the way they do things to try and improve volunteer recruitment.

Professor Daniel King, director of the National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory at Nottingham Business School, says: “It’s hard out there, and while some charities are adapting and having some success, others are experiencing tensions with balancing the needs of the organisation with the needs of volunteers.”

Charity committed five breaches of fundraising code

The Fundraising Regulator has published the summary of its investigation into overseas poverty charity Penny Appeal, which found five breaches of the Code of Fundraising Practice. The regulator has made a number of recommendations to Penny Appeal regarding its communication with donors and potential donors, its use of funds and its complaints handling. The charity has agreed to comply with the regulator’s recommendations.

The Fundraising Regulator found that three of Penny Appeal’s programmes had committed five breaches of the code in total.

OrphanKind and Hifz Appeal invited donors to sponsor individual children, implying that the money raised would be used exclusively for the benefit of that child. It was not made clear that, in reality, those children may not benefit directly from individual donations but would benefit indirectly from the accumulated money raised.

Thirst Relief Appeal, which was also examined as part of the investigation, was not found to have misled donors by failing to highlight the potential for reallocation of funds donated for a specific well. However, this appeal was found in breach of the code regarding the use of direct debits.

The regulator found that the FAQs supporting the campaign were ambiguous and did not make it clear that a monthly direct debits would continue after 12 months until the donor cancelled it.

Gerald Oppenheim, chief executive of the Fundraising Regulator, says: “We understand that fundraising appeals encouraging donors to raise money for a particular individual can be very effective. However, we urge all charities which pool the money raised through such appeals to ensure their fundraising material clearly reflects this and inform donors that their donations may not be used exclusively for the benefit of a specific individual or project.”

More charities in breach of fundraising regulations 

There do seem to be quite a lot more charities in breach of the fundraising rules. The Fundraising Regulator’s investigation into SOS Children’s Villages UK and its agency Zen Fundraising Ltd has found both to be in breach of two standards of the Code of Fundraising Practice.

The investigation was launched following a complaint from a member of the public, who detailed and recorded three separate interactions with fundraisers. The regulator found, in the first interaction, that the fundraiser continued to engage the complainant after they indicated that they wanted the interaction to end, in breach of the code. When fundraisers laughed at an offensive remark made by a passer-by, this breached the code sections on politeness.

The regulator did not find the charity or agency to have acted in a manner that was discriminatory and found that SOS Children’s Villages handled the complaint acceptably, taking reasonable steps to investigate the complaint, and seeking to remedy the situation by apologising to the complainant and retraining fundraisers. Both the charity and the agency accepted the findings of the investigation.

 In relation to the investigation into Breast Cancer Now and its contracted fundraising agency APPCO UK, the agency was found to have breached provisions regarding interacting with vulnerable individuals, having taken donations from an individual whom they had good reason to believe lacked capacity. Breast Cancer Now was judged to have breached provision 7.3.1, which calls for charities to ensure that contracted agencies comply with the code.

Since the departure from APPCO UK of the fundraiser, the Fundraising Regulator could not definitively establish the facts of the case, but made a judgment based on the balance of probabilities, and concluded that the fundraiser proceeded to solicit a donation despite having reason to believe that the individual was vulnerable. It could not be determined that a “no cold-callers” sign was ignored.

Both Breast Cancer Now and APPCO have accepted the findings and recommendations of the investigation.

Charity meets NHS regulations with data system

Children’s Hospice South West has transformed its care delivery operations via support from change management consultancy Nine Feet Tall. The hospice had commissioned Nine Feet Tall to manage the roll out of a new data system across its operations, supporting 173 staff members within the Care Team.

The changes follow new regulatory guidelines by NHS England and have delivered improvements which mean the charity’s Care Teams can now input and access information through handheld devices, whilst directly supporting families.

Over a period of 11 months, Nine Feet Tall provided project management support, ensuring progress in digitalising all care plans and note taking, and training front line staff in the use of handheld devices used to support the new system. The onboarding ensured that staff at all levels could use the new technology.

Children’s Hospice South West cares for children and young people living with life-limiting conditions and their families from the three hospices in Devon, Somerset and Cornwall. The charity provides hospice breaks, emergency care, palliative and end of life care.

Why charity staff leave

CharityJob, the job board, has published its Pay and Retention Report 2024, providing insight into charity salaries, employee satisfaction and why staff leave. It found that 74% of respondents who’d been in their job for longer than a year received a pay rise in the past year. However, overall satisfaction with pay is low. Nearly half of respondents (48%) didn’t feel their pay was fair, and 69% felt that their salary didn’t reflect the current cost of living.

59% of respondents said they were planning to move job within the next year, with salary advancement the most cited reason. The data also revealed a gender pay gap: 23% of male respondents earned £51,000 or more, compared to only 9% of female respondents.

“These findings show the importance of a transparent and consistent salary review process based on experience, performance and market rates,” says Raya Wexler, co-founder of CharityJob. “But a holistic approach is crucial to keeping staff motivated to stay at your charity. That means providing opportunities for training, skill development and career progression; and fostering a workplace where they feel supported and heard.”

Large lottery donation for wildlife

The People’s Postcode Lottery has donated £400,000 to help treat wildlife at RSPCA centres as well as encouraging local communities to help neighbouring wild creatures. The generous support will help fund the charity’s four specialist wildlife rehabilitation centres - RSPCA East Winch in Norfolk, RSPCA West Hatch in Somerset, RSPCA Mallydams Wood in East Sussex and RSPCA Stapeley Grange in Cheshire.

The money will also help expand the RSPCA’s Wildlife Friends, a “micro-volunteering” scheme which challenges people and families to take quick action to help wildlife in their local communities.

Caring for carers initiative

Phoenix Group, the long term savings and retirement business, has launched its “Caring for Carers” initiative, which will see it linking with charities across the UK which focus on caring.  The initiative has started with a new partnership with Carers UK. The overall initiative aims to help millions of people who work and care for someone to better balance some of the challenges they might face, be they personal, financial, professional or emotional.

Phoenix Group colleagues will be working with Carers UK to raise awareness as well as developing volunteering and impactful fundraising opportunities together.  

Returning to work after brain injury

Big Issue Group has launched a partnership with brain injury charity SameYou, helping brain injury survivors return to work with the support of Big Issue Recruit Job Coaches. In a survey, conducted by Big Issue Group and SameYou, of brain injury survivors and carers, a third of respondents felt they did not feel ready to return to their jobs after their brain injuries. And of these 53% of survivors said they had to return for financial reasons.

46% of survivors have needed to claim benefits since their brain injury. Over two-thirds (68%) of these say their benefits were not enough to cover their regular bills and expenses.

27% of brain injury survivors said that they felt pressure from an employer to return to work before they were ready. One in 5 survivors who returned to work rated the support they received from their employers as “Poor” and over 50% of survivors had to make some changes to either their role, their employer or the hours on returning to work, as a result of their brain injury.

SameYou was founded by Game of Thrones actor Emilia Clarke and her mother, Jenny Clarke to support brain injury survivors with their recoveries.

Big Issue Recruit supports people who face barriers to work with finding sustainable employment, and the partnership will expand this support to brain injury survivors and their carers. Individuals will work one-to-one with expert job coaches to get back to work. Big Issue Recruit works with candidates, pre, during and post-employment to ensure the employment is truly sustainable.

Better outlook for charity defined benefit schemes

Research from pensions advisory firm Spence & Partners reveals that charity defined benefit (DB) schemes have seen funding levels rise to 104% on an FRS102 basis and 83% on an insurance buy-out basis. The research reveals that buy-out deficits now average only 21% of unrestricted charity reserves, as rising yields have shrunk DB schemes relative to charity balance sheets. For some charities, running on schemes to access a surplus may now be more viable, using initiatives being rolled out off the back of the Conservative government’s Mansion House reforms.

The research found that 26% of charities are no longer paying deficit recovery contributions, with this proportion expected to rise as more deficit recovery plans come to an end. With deficit contributions ceasing, focus for charities will shift to endgame planning and reducing running costs.

The range of viable endgame options is growing and should be reviewed in light of improved funding levels and new options coming to market.  Insurance buy-out will now be in reach for some schemes.  However, charities with smaller schemes should consider waiting for the public sector consolidator from the Pension Protection Fund (PPF) to come to market from 2026.  Furthermore, charities with larger balance sheets which already manage their own investments could consider running on their DB scheme to access surplus assets in the scheme.

The Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) is consulting on regulatory developments to make it easier for sponsors to access surplus assets in DB schemes. Charities also do not have to pay the 25% tax on pension scheme surplus refund, having not received corporation tax relief on the pension contributions.  Spence has calculated that if the DB schemes in the research were run on for the next 10 years, they could generate surplus assets for the sponsoring charities equal to an average of 8% of a charity’s unrestricted annual income or 12% of their unrestricted reserves.

The analysis shows that annual running costs for charity DB schemes average £450,000 per year. Some of these costs could be reduced significantly by using the latest systems and a simplified governance model. Spence has estimated that running costs could be cut by 30% with these actions – generating an average saving of £135,000 per year.

Alistair Russell-Smith of Spence & Partners observes: "After years of pain, cost and liability from DB schemes, charities could potentially start viewing their schemes as an asset rather than a liability.”


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