Charity careers and recruitment special: agencies can nab the high-flyers

Alex Blyth serves up some tips on how voluntary organisations can get the most out of recruitment agencies

Sightsavers International
Sightsavers International

An organisation is only ever as good as the people who work in it, so recruitment is vitally important. But the best people are often enticed by the higher salaries and generous benefit schemes offered by the private sector, so finding and recruiting top performers is a continuing challenge for charities.

Recruitment agencies can help. They specialise in letting people know about your vacancies, selling them the benefits of working for your organisation and helping you with tough selection decisions. But they are expensive. These four tips can help you cut those costs and get the most from your recruitment agencies.

1. Build a long-term relationship

Andrew Clark, senior manager of the public services and charities division at financial recruitment firm FSS, says: "Don't just send a job specification. Instead, invest time in meeting the agency, discussing your requirements and educating it on the culture of your organisation. The better we know your charity and team, the easier it is to sell the organisation and the position to prospective candidates."

Building these long-term relationships also reduces the need for further time-consuming briefings, mitigates the risk of using a new supplier and might even allow you to negotiate a lower fee in return for the promise of a steady stream of work.

2. Be creative with the deal you strike

Rather than just agreeing to standard terms, be more imaginative. Structure a deal that works for all involved. Joel Barnett, managing director of Fortune Hill Executive Search, gives an example of how this might work: "If a charity is prepared to invest time in sharing its ethos, mission, culture, objectives and aspirations with us, we are happy to agree our standard terms and donate a percentage of our fee back to the charity. This gives us the knowledge and motivation we need to find the right people to suit the charity."

3. Don't feel you have to use the entire recruitment service

Jan McQuaker, business director for charities at recruitment firm Hays, says: "A charity might not always want a full recruitment service, but might instead want help with response handling, campaign development or even the provision of an outplacement service. The best solution is to find a provider that offers the full range of services and is willing to tailor those services to fit your needs exactly."

4. Look beyond obvious experience

Usually one of the first requirements charities put on the brief they send out to recruitment agencies is that candidates should have experience of the voluntary sector. But Simon Lewis, content editor at online job board Only Marketing Jobs, says: "The current economic climate means charities can attract people they might previously have found it difficult to entice. This is a great opportunity, and charities should grasp it."

Bear in mind, though, that new employees joining from radically different backgrounds might take time to settle down. You should expect your recruitment agency to offer assistance during this integration period.

Duncan Verry, managing director of executive recruitment at the agency Penna, says: "If you leave recruits unsupported, about 40 per cent of them will leave within 18 months, in which case you will have to start the whole process from scratch all over again."

CASE STUDY - Sightsavers

Sightsavers International recently worked with Mango, a charity that specialises in recruiting and training financial management staff in the voluntary sector, to find a new management accountant.

"We've had a lot of success advertising roles on our own website, on low-cost sites such as Charity Jobs and even at the local Jobcentre," says Tracey King, human resources officer at Sightsavers, which is based in West Sussex. "However, for very specialised, more senior roles we sometimes use an agency.

"We provided Mango with a clear job description and some background information on our work in developing countries. Mango was very accommodating to our request that interested applicants completed an application form rather than just submitting a CV.

Mango quickly built a list of suitable candidates and we moved to the interview stage before eventually appointing the excellent Jackie Deacon as our new management accountant."

King says charities should not be afraid of negotiating rates with recruitment agencies: "Hiring someone through this channel can be very costly, and with budgets being particularly tight at the moment, the method used to fill a position really needs to be the most cost-effective and appropriate for that role."

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