Charity Interns: A New Way of Bringing Talent to the Sector?

23 February 2024 | By Thomas Williams

Charity Interns, supported by NCVO, is looking to give professionals from outside the sector a helping hand at the start of their charity careers. Given the ongoing recruitment troubles that the charity sector is facing, this is welcome news. This blog takes a look at the programme and asks, ‘what can Charity Interns offer to the sector and teach us about combatting recruitment issues?’.

 

 

What is Charity Interns?

Charity Interns seeks to tackle the issues faced by professionals looking to enter the charity sector for the first time. Founded by Maya Bhose, the organisation facilitates internships for professionals aged fifty and over, giving them a chance to demonstrate the applicability of their skills to the sector. The programme was born out of Bhose’s own experience trying to enter the charity sector. A marketing and brand development professional with over 25 years of private sector experience, Bhose found it difficult to transition into a charity sector job, frequently finding that she lacked the contacts and direct experience needed to secure a role.

Now in its pilot year, which is being incubated by NCVO, Charity Interns is working with Alzheimer's SocietyDisability Equality ScotlandAge UKAge International and the British Heart Foundation, to run six internships. All interns are paid for their work during the programme and are allocated roles and tasks that build on their current work experience and expertise. Initial feedback from the pilot is overwhelmingly positive. Not only are interns finding the experience highly rewarding, but staff supporting the interns are reporting that the injection of energy and fresh perspectives is bringing new ideas to their organisation.

Due to finish in the spring of 2024, the pilot will be analysed and evaluated before learnings are shared with the sector.

"I am not being dramatic when I say Charity Interns has changed my life. I had been actively looking for work since 2019, and now I feel like my career can finally begin again." – Charity Interns participant

 

Recruitment Pressures on the UK Charity Sector

Amongst the recruitment issues of recent years, it is natural to begin to think about what this programme could mean for the charity sector. 

Months of economic turmoil and a cost-of-living crisis have meant that more people have turned to charities for support, leading to many organisations recruiting more staff to cope with increased demand. However, as evidenced in 'Running hot, burning out', a report published in March 2023 by Pro Bono Economics and Nottingham Trent University’s National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory, this recruitment has not been easy.

The report found that more than 50% of charities surveyed had vacancies and over 80% of these organisations were experiencing difficulties in recruiting a suitable candidate. A direct consequence of this was that 70% of employers with vacancies reported an increased workload for existing staff and almost a quarter (24%) of those surveyed cited they had scaled back operations and shelved new projects as a result.

The arts sector specifically mirrors these broader struggles. A recent article from Arts Professional on the findings of a survey by Ecclesiastical Insurance recorded that 21% of the museums, art galleries, and theatres surveyed were struggling to attract and retain staff and over three quarters (78%) agreed that they were concerned about their ability to recruit and retain over the next 12 months. Of the organisations surveyed, 80% also feared difficulties in attracting and retaining volunteers. 

It is easy to assume these findings indicate that the sector is struggling to attract interested or qualified applicants, overlooking the fact that, as demonstrated by the birth of Charity Interns, there are also skilled individuals struggling to enter charitable work. It is at this intersection that Charity Interns sits, offering exciting solutions to both problems.

 

A New Opportunity for the Sector?

It must first be clarified that Charity Interns does not pretend to be a programme that will bring a great influx of highly qualified individuals to the sector. As such, the programme cannot be seen as a panacea for ongoing recruitment struggles.

Nevertheless, offering training and a recognised, formalised, and remunerated route into the sector, Charity Interns remains well-placed to have a highly positive impact. In years to come, it is possible to envisage the programme creating a pool of alumni who have demonstrated their ability to work within the sector for charitable organisations to recruit from. The programme’s impact could also go far beyond just helping to alleviate staff shortages. It is no secret that fresh perspectives and alternative experiences can have positive impacts on organisations and cultivating formalised programmes through which these perspectives can enter the sector could have substantial, long-term benefits.

With these benefits in mind, it is clear that Charity Interns provides a valuable opportunity for mid-career professionals looking to enter the charity sector and an exciting way for charities to recruit talent.

However, the programme also reminds us of the deeper-rooted questions that we face regarding attracting and retaining talent.

Charity sector jobs are less well remunerated than their private and public sector equivalents and, on average, people working in charities earn 7% less than employees in the rest of the economy. Combined with the fact that private sector pay growth has outpaced growth in the charity sector for the last two years, this means professionals looking to switch to the sector may well face a considerable pay cut.

Dan Pallota’s UnCharitable, a revolutionary film calling for change within the charity sector, also notes the issue of remuneration, referencing the fierce scrutiny of charity overheads which can often lead to scenarios where organisations are unable to pay salaries which will attract and retain top talent.

Through no fault of its own, Charity Interns will not be able to tackle these wider problems, which will likely remain considerable threats to the sector’s ability to effectively recruit and retain new talent.

Are you struggling to recruit and retain new talent in the sector? What solutions have you found are working for your organisation? Let us know @OfficialCause4

More by posts by Thomas Williams

Charity Interns: A New Way of Bringing Talent to the Sector?

23rd February, 2024 | By Thomas Williams

Charity Interns, supported by NCVO, is looking to give professionals from outside the sector a helping hand at the start of their charity careers. Given the ongoing recruitment troubles that the charity sector is facing, this is welcome news. This blog takes a look at the programme and asks, ‘what can Charity Interns offer to the sector and teach us about combatting recruitment issues?’.

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