The Children’s Society’s human resources team was left stunned by its 2008 staff survey. Only a third of its employees thought career prospects at the charity were good and just 43 per cent said the charity offered them opportunities to learn from other departments.
"These results were very worrying and made us take a close look at what we were doing in terms of career development," says Isabelle Simon-Evans, people procurement and organisation development director at the Children’s Society.
Simon-Evans found that the charity’s lack of a graduate recruitment and training scheme was a key factor. It had been too expensive to set up such a scheme, so late last year the society devised a joint training package with five other charities: Advance Housing Association, the RNID, St Mungo’s, Together and the Terrence Higgins Trust.
The resulting Charity Works package is far cheaper for the society because costs are spread across the six charities taking part. Rachel Whale, managing director of Vanilla, the consultancy that runs Charity Works, says the scheme
will run as a year-long pilot until summer next year. If it is successful, it will become a permanent two-year course for graduates.
Of the 14 people who are taking part in the pilot, three are graduates straight from university who will each receive a salary of £15,000 and the hope of a job at the end of the course. The three will spend the year mainly on two six-month placements at the charities taking part. The remaining 11 are graduates already employed at the six charities involved and will spend the year working in different parts of their own organisations.
Charity Works focuses on junior management skills, and all those selected from the 1,000 applicants have been identified as potential charity leaders. All the trainees will receive mentoring from senior charity staff and will be able to network with those from other charities and work together on assignments.
Charity Works has also linked up with a professional networking organisation, the Whitehall and Industry Group, to give those on the scheme a chance to learn something from the public and private sectors.
"What appealed to us was that it is not only a cost-effective way of providing good training in management skills, but it also gives our graduates a chance to work closely with other organisations," says Simon-Evans.
"Our staff also get a chance to learn from other departments, which is something our staff survey showed us they wanted."
Whale sees the Charity Works model as the perfect solution for cash-strapped charities that want to ensure high standards in career development. If the permanent two-year course gets the green light next year, Charity Works hopes to be able to recruit 24 graduates, half of them straight from university, the other half from charities.
"For most charities, running their own graduate scheme can be very expensive," says Whale. "As a result, only the big ones such as Cancer Research UK and Oxfam are able to provide this. Pooling resources makes sense financially and also helps to provide a better quality of training experience."
Despite the cost-effectiveness of pooling resources, Cancer Research UK has no plans to abandon its own graduate training initiatives. It prefers to tailor its existing schemes to meet its own specific needs.
Emily Wilton, graduate recruitment and development manager at CRUK, says the charity has two graduate schemes. The first, launched in 2001, is its fundraising, marketing and communications scheme, which lasts for two years and takes on five graduates a year, each on £24,000 a year.
The other is its corporate and scien-tific scheme, which takes on three graduates each year and began in 2005.
"The graduates work on projects we consider real priorities, which we might not have had the resources to work on otherwise," says Wilton.
Claudine Sharples, one of CRUK’s marketing, funding and communications graduate recruits, says specialist training schemes for graduates are a perfect way to learn more about the sector. "I wanted to get into fundraising, but I was unsure where my skills lay – so I saw this scheme as a great way to find out," she says.
So far, Sharples has worked on online marketing projects and fundraising projects involving legacies and running events. "These broad experiences have definitely helped me to establish an exciting career," she says.
Simon-Evans is hopeful that the Charity Works graduates will be similarly impressed by the training package it offers. "We also hope that after the first year of Charity Works we will see an improvement in our staff survey results," she adds.