The number of ethnic minority employees in the voluntary sector has risen significantly in the past two years, according to a major new study of charity HR practice.
People Count 2005, a survey of 136 organisations, which employ 12 per cent of the voluntary sector workforce, found that ethnic minority representation had grown from 6 per cent to 9.6 per cent since 2003.
The percentage of employees with disabilities also rose, but much more modestly - from 1 per cent to 1.2 per cent.
The survey, conducted by management consultancy Agenda Consulting, shows that charities still struggle to retain workers and are forced to recruit just over a fifth of their workforce each year.
However, staff turnover dropped from 22 per cent in 2003 to 21 per cent last year. This contrasts with a turnover figure of 16 per cent for all UK employers.
There is some evidence, though, that voluntary organisations are becoming better at persuading staff to stay longer. The survey found that people remain in their jobs for an average of 33 months, compared with 30 months when the research was first conducted in 2003.
Absence is also falling and compares well with other sectors. Charity workers take 6.6 sick days a year, down from eight in 2003.
The rate for the economy as a whole is 8.4 days. Managers are absent less frequently than operational staff.
Carol Gunter, HR director with WRVS, said: "The report shows there is still high turnover among employees, but there is also some evidence of people staying longer.
"Most charities do not pay high salaries, and it would be easy to automatically settle on this as the main reason for high turnover. But we must remember that people choose to stay with an organisation for reasons other than pay."
Report co-author Roger Parry said charities needed to pay more attention to learning and development. "Only a small proportion of charities have a formal approach to career planning," he said. "A number of people are not being engaged on that issue."
The report also said that there are fewer formal warnings, grievances and employment tribunals in the voluntary sector than in other sectors. But personnel consultant John Burnell was quick to cast doubt on that assertion. "That's only true because the voluntary sector is significantly smaller," he said.
"In fact, per capita, there are more complaints to Employment Tribunals from third-sector employees and ex-employees than from anywhere else."