Best Charities to Work For: The Top Five

A Christian-based charity that works with vulnerable people has topped our inaugural list

Thirtyone:eight: gives emotional support to staff
Thirtyone:eight: gives emotional support to staff

1. Thirtyone:eight

Swanley, Kent | Employees 36  

As a Christian charity that helps to protect vulnerable people from abuse, Thirtyone:eight is acutely conscious of the connection between its work and the need to look after its people. “Our area of work often means members of our team are exposed to difficult and upsetting stuff,” says chief executive Steve Ball. “We make sure that all the team – whether they’re professional social workers or admin staff – get the same level of emotional support and that their mental health is always a priority.”

The charity’s name is a reference to a verse in scripture from Proverbs 31:8 that urges speaking on behalf of the voiceless. That is reflected both externally and internally to the organisation, says Ball. As a result, he says, many new staff comment on the very different culture they find when they join. He summarises that as a culture of “care, compassion and support for all”. 

One member of staff who recently returned from a period of long-term sickness spoke about how good it was to come back knowing that they were going to be supported and wasn’t going to be judged for having time away. 

Specific ways the charity has of increasing fun and reducing stress include a dedicated games room for staff to use at break times, with a television, table-tennis table and table football. “We run two table-tennis leagues, one for beginners and one for those who want to get serious.”

There are also regular staff lunches together where the charity provides the food and drink. Summer events include a barbecue in the car park, with the chief executive cooking the sausages. The charity also hosts dress-up days at Christmas.

As well as one-off events that bring people together, change perspective and help people to refocus, the charity is open to novel approaches to day-to-day stress reduction. Staff are welcome to bring their pets to work. “Having a dog in the office really reduces stress for lots of people,” says Ball.

Attention is also paid to the reward package it offers. As part of the appraisal processes, staff who have achieved over and above expectation in a given year are given a cash bonus. In addition, the board has recently agreed a month’s paid sabbatical for all staff after seven years’ service, regardless of grade. 

Staff also receive gift vouchers and cards on their birthdays, signed by the chair of trustees and with a note of thanks.   

2. Designability

Bath, Somerset | Employees 25

Creativity, challenge and impact combine to make the disability charity Designability a good place to work. The staff team at the charity includes product designers, mechanical engineers, occupational therapists, workshop technicians, fundraisers, marketers and administrative staff. The disciplines are very different, but the staff work collaboratively and supportively towards the same goal, which is to help people with disabilities live the lives they choose by designing and developing easy-to-use products.

With such a small team everyone is very close to the work and to the people the charity is there to serve, says chief executive Catharine Brown. That work is essentially practical, and people with disabilities are in and out of the office all the time as well as being on the staff and trustees. People feel that they are spending their working hours making a genuine difference to other people's lives. 

That adds up to a lot of job satisfaction and purpose, so much so that people are reluctant to leave. The longest-serving employee has been there since 1989, with changing and developing roles. There are others too, including senior staff, who have worked there longer than a decade.

The charity has the best kind of flexible working policy, whereby employees are trusted to fulfil their work and can leave early or start late when they need to. They can also can finish early before major holidays. Designability says this is all part of its “family-first” approach to employment, whereby people feel able meet their work goals while maintaining a healthy work-life balance. 

The leafy surroundings of its Bath office are appreciated by staff, with a communal area for sharing lunch or a hot drink together and a garden to sit in among the trees and plants during break times. Craft and hobby groups enable staff to learn and pass on new skills, such as crocheting. There are even free ice creams in the summer, courtesy of the chief executive.

3. ReachOut

London and Manchester | Employees 22

“We have fun as a team and like each other as people, not just colleagues,” says one member of the ReachOut staff. That is what chief executive Peter Blackwell wants to hear. He knows people don’t work for charities for the money. So although he and the 22-strong staff team are very focused on their mission, they also try to create a fun environment where people enjoy coming to work. 

Hence the music afternoons on Fridays: after 4pm, songs on a chosen theme resound around the office. It helps to create a nice relaxed atmosphere after a week of hard work, says Blackwell. 

The charity’s core team, split between London and Manchester, is supplemented by about 60 sessional workers and hundreds of volunteers. To say thank you and to help them feel included, there are two celebratory events to which all are invited, one at Christmas and one in the summer involving sports and a picnic. Also invited are former young people, who are the long-term beneficiaries of the organisation, providing both fun and a powerful reminder for everyone of why they do what they do.

Creating a friendly, cooperative environment can stimulate a virtuous circle. Many of the staff are friends outside work and do activities together, and they naturally support and help each other when things are busy. 

One member of staff who joined relatively recently describes ReachOut simply as an amazing place to work: “The team is great – people work well together and like each other.”

There are rules, though. For example, you are not allowed to complain about other people’s songs on Friday music afternoons. However, Blackwell quickly admits that people sometimes do.

Creating a friendly, cooperative environment can stimulate a virtuous circle. Many of the staff are friends outside work and do activities together, and they naturally support and help each other when things are busy because people are passionate about their work. Bea Marquez joined the charity in August and says: "It's really great to be a part of a close-knit, driven team. ReachOut is full of talented people, and every day we get to work together and help change the lives of some of the UK’s most disadvantaged kids."

4. All We Can

London | Employees 21

The international emergency relief organisation All We Can has the best possible recommendation for its child-friendly practices. A member of staff who brought the kids to work says they loved it so much they kept asking to go back. Adding to the days out, the caring ethos and the comfortable office space, the charity encourages lunchtime activities such as group walks, quizzes and order-in pizza bonanzas. There are also after-work gatherings, including group outings to local pubs, a book club and film trips.

5. Autistica

London | Employees 21

The personal development budget given to all staff at the autism charity Autistica isn’t just for external training courses. They’re encouraged to think laterally about any way to gain experience and insight, from mentoring to online learning and volunteering. There’s the same focus on flexibility and creativity in the monthly social activities voted on by staff. Many are designed to build team spirit, such as bowling, art classes, darts and board games. Crucially, the aim is to bring people together in an autism-friendly environment that doesn't exclude anyone.

Read about the rest of the top ten

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