Lack of time and money 'hinders skills training at small charities'

According to a survey by the Foundation for Social Improvement, lack of skills causes increased workloads and poor productivity

A lack of time and money is stopping small charities from developing staff skills in IT, impact reporting and working with the private sector, according to a report by the Foundation for Social Improvement.

The FSI’s Sector Skills Survey 2016-2017, published today, says this inability to improve skills among workers leads to an increased workload and slower productivity, and reveals that small charities find fundraising positions the most difficult to fill.

The FSI surveyed 326 charities with annual incomes of less than £1.5m, asking them to rate the strength of their charity’s workforce in a variety of areas and explain their rankings.

The areas with the poorest performance ratings included engaging and working with businesses or companies, which 55 per cent rated poorly, strategic use of IT, which 49 per cent identified as a weakness, and impact reporting, scored low by 48 per cent.

But the report says these figures were an improvement on the previous survey for 2014/15, in which respondents rated each of these areas two or three percentage points lower than the current figures.

In the latest report, skills areas that respondents rated strongly included team working, which 67 per cent said was a strength, basic computer literacy (56 per cent) and leadership (62 per cent).

Almost two-thirds of the charities interviewed (61 per cent) cited a lack of funding as the primary cause of skills gaps, and 58 per cent said lack of time for employees to attend training was also a major factor.

More than half (59 per cent) said skills gaps within their organisations created more work for colleagues, 46 per cent said it meant they took longer to deliver work and 43 per cent said it reduced a charity’s ability to take on new work.

Further training provision was seen as the best way to combat skills gaps by 52 per cent of charities that said they had tried to do this, but 40 per cent used volunteers instead of paid employees as a solution, even though only 15 per cent said they thought that was the best solution.

Low salaries were identified by 36 per cent as the most common reason for charities to struggle to fill a role; 33 per cent cited a lack of specialist skills and 24 per cent a lack of experience.

In the 2014/15 survey, 31 per cent said they did not have enough funds to advertise widely, but in the latest survey only 22 per cent identified this as an issue.

Fundraisers remained the most challenging vacancy to recruit for, selected by 28 per cent of respondents.

Slightly more than two-thirds of charities said their existing fundraisers needed training in major donor fundraising, two-thirds said online fundraising training was needed and 64 per cent said corporate fundraising could be improved.

Almost a quarter of respondents said their charities’ trustees needed better leadership skills, and 86 per cent said trustees should play an active role in fundraising – only 51 per cent said their trustees actually did.

Pauline Broomhead, chief executive of the FSI, called on the government and other public funders to demonstrate a long-term commitment to affordable skills development and capacity-building.

She said umbrella support bodies should "invest in delivering high-quality and easily accessible learning opportunities that are tailored to a diverse audience of learners". Trustees, she said, needed to commit to funding the development of skills within their organisations and they, along with senior staff, needed to "actively seek out opportunities to collaborate with one another and by so doing contribute to ensuring their long-term sustainability".

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