Make your charity a place where the staff want to stay

It's vital to have a decent leadership programme, says our columnist Valerie Morton

Valerie Morton
Valerie Morton

Q. If I develop my staff to support succession planning, how do I stop them from just getting a promotion elsewhere?

A. First of all, it is good to know that you are addressing the key issue of succession planning. With staff turnover in the charity sector traditionally higher than in other industries, many charities apparently bow to what can seem to be the inevitable and assume senior management posts will be filled by new blood, rather than from within. Furthermore, when budgets are tight, staff and leadership development expenditure will be subject to scrutiny - so your question is very pertinent.

In the commercial sector, identifying leaders of the future and investing in those people makes clear business sense; and in an area of the public sector such as health, there is a strong rationale for the NHS to develop a pool of talented future chief executives and board-level staff, regardless of which specific body is to be their ultimate employer.

The charity sector is stuck between these two approaches: it needs to retain and develop talent, but individual charities frequently have neither the variety or volume of roles, nor the flexibility on remuneration, to encourage people to stay, even when they have invested in the training aspect of development. As an industry, we do not have enough umbrella funding to invest sufficiently in leadership that benefits the whole sector. The result is the situation described - the will is there but the business case is risky.

So the crux of the issue is why you feel people might leave despite your contribution to their development. First, what does your leadership programme consist of? Simply relying on training is not enough. Have you looked at identifying projects for which an individual can take responsibility to develop specific skills? Are there secondment opportunities? Is there the potential for external secondments? Have shadowing and deputising been factored in? Is exposure to the external environment supported? A wide-ranging and targeted programme is less likely to be transportable to another organisation than a training course or qualification.

Second, have you looked at the way your charity is structured to make sure that appropriate opportunities are likely to be available? People often move because the charity they work for simply does not have any positions for them to grow into in a reasonable timeframe.

Finally, development in succession planning needs to be seen in the round. If your charity is well run, is achieving its goals and is a rewarding place to work, your staff will value the investment you make in them. If not, the temptation for them to take the training and run is hardly surprising.

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Valerie Morton is a trainer, fundraiser and consultant

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