Hard economic times require senior charity managers to make tough decisions, but how well prepared are they to make them? Femke Colborne asks how they can get the training they need
With charity leaders under increasing pressure to do more with less, it can be easy for them to neglect their own personal development. But according to Agnes Jumah, head of marketing and membership at chief executives body Acevo, failing to invest in leadership training can be a false economy. "If you don't develop your skills as a leader, you risk not running your organisation as effectively as you could be in terms of communications, people management and financial planning," she says.
There are a range of ways for leaders to improve their skills, from in-house and e-learning training to full MA courses. Popular areas for training include strategic planning and capacity building, and softer skills such as people management, communications and time management.
Paul Palmer, professor of voluntary sector management at Cass Business School, which runs a range of postgraduate courses for aspiring charity leaders, says applications to the school's management courses have increased significantly over the past two years. "We are seeing a flight to quality following the downturn," he says. "We are seeing a greater take-up and the quality of the applicants is higher. There is a realisation that the sector has to be more entrepreneurial."
This sense of ambition has also been reflected in the take-up of courses at the Management Centre, which offers training and consultancy services for the voluntary sector. One of its most popular courses in recent months has been Good to Great, a one-day programme based on the principles of the well-known book of the same name by business consultant Jim Collins. Bernard Ross, director of the centre, says: "It is interesting that, despite the downturn, a small number of organisations are choosing not to batten down the hatches but to take it to the next level."
According to Ross, charity leaders are looking for training in four main areas: cash, change, culture and careers. The cash element, he says, is about income generation: "It is across the spectrum, but there is a particular interest in major donors. More people are trying to get into that space - government cash is drying up and foundations are becoming increasingly tough, but that is one area where a small number of people have retained their wealth."
The centre runs a general course on influencing and one on major donors, and it has seen increased interest in both during the past year. "Major donors want to meet the chief executive, the person who is going to make it happen," says Ross. "If you're going to spend £1m, you want to be in a room with the person who is going to be spending it. People want to feel more confident dealing with that."
The second element, change, comes in various guises, such as restructuring, resizing, partnerships and bidding to run public services. "Change is the watchword of the hour," says Ross. "Senior managers have to decide to make the change, but they also have to implement it. That's about communication, explaining what you are doing, how to organise and structure a change and how to roll it out to people."
The third and fourth areas - culture and careers - are about making savings internally. "Charities are under huge pressure to work in more joined-up ways, with communications, marketing and fundraising teams all having to work together," says Ross. "Some of that can be achieved structurally, but it is also about being more flexible.
"Managers are increasingly talking about how to bring on their most junior people," he adds. "They can't afford to hire the most experienced staff, so they want to grow their own, which means leadership and management training."
Acevo has seen a surge of interest in its course Build Your Resilience as a CEO, which aims to improve the ability of chief executives to cope with risks and threats to their organisations. There has also been increased interest in training around issues such as restructuring and downsizing and developing senior management, according to Jumah.
With punishing workloads and time being at a premium, it can be difficult for senior managers to take time away from the office for training. But there are a growing number of ways to bring training in-house or access it on an ad hoc basis, such as e-learning courses and webinars.
The Charity Learning Consortium offers online training for charity leaders in areas such as communications, personal development, leadership and team development. Members are able to access online training and meet once a quarter to discuss results and put their training into practice.
Martin Baker, founder and chief executive of the consortium, says: "Computers are never going to replace what humans do, but they can teach a whole range of subjects in a way that is consistent. You can go to them to get what you need, when you need it. If you need to have a difficult conversation with a member of staff and you are not sure how to deal with it, you can go through and access training on that. You can get how much you want, when you want it."
Jumah also believes that flexibility is becoming more important to charity leaders and training providers. "Providers are looking at ways of offering training that fits into people's schedules," she says.
"Training doesn't just happen in the classroom. You can read a book at your desk, use a smartphone or do an online course. Sometimes structured intervention helps, but there are other options."
Clore takes a line from arts leadership scheme
The Clore Social Leadership Programme was launched in 2010 and provides tailored training for up to 20 aspiring charity managers each year. The programme grew out of the Clore Leadership Programme, a similar programme for leaders in the arts sector that has been running since 2004.
Siobhan Edwards, fellowship director at the Clore Social Leadership Programme, says: "The arts programme had been very successful, but there was still a gap in the non-arts social sector. So few people in the sector get training of any kind, and it is often only after people become chief executives that they are offered these opportunities."
The programme is funded by the Clore Duffield Foundation, with a range of charities, foundations and companies providing further money for individual fellowships. It is open to anyone with at least five years' experience in the sector and a long-term commitment to becoming a charity leader. Fellows can complete the programme at their own pace, taking up to two years depending on their work and other commitments.
Clore fellows attend residential training courses arranged by the foundation and are each allocated a training budget to spend on external courses. They also complete a secondment of up to three months and a piece of research.
Jennifer Ogole, chief executive and founder of Bang Edutainment, a social enterprise that helps young people from black and minority ethnic groups find jobs in the creative industries, completed the leadership programme in January.
Ogole had previously worked as a youth worker and project leader before setting up the organisation in 1999 and had received no formal leadership training before she enrolled on the Clore programme in 2010. "It's the best thing I have done in my professional life," says Ogole.
"I have gained an understanding of leadership and an awareness of my own leadership style, and I have identified my own strengths and areas for development. The overall effect is that I've grown massively over the past two years."
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