HR ‘deserves more central role in charity management’

Voluntary sector organisations should consider human resources management as a “business essential” rather than an “optional extra”, according to the director of the Centre for Voluntary Sector Management at Henley Management College.

Stephen Lee said HR management specialists are often under-represented or non-existent at board level, with resources allocated more favourably to functions such as fundraising and service delivery.

“Good employment practice is not seen as a priority at times because some voluntary organisations fail to see how it contributes to a better service for their beneficiaries,” said Lee. “Organisations need to understand that the thing that makes them effective is effective people.”

His comments came after qualitative research by the college showed that HR staff felt their role was “weakened” in comparison with service delivery and fundraising functions.

It took into account responses from 22 charities, including the British Red Cross, Oxfam and Tearfund. HR staff also felt their function was regarded by colleagues, management and board members as a “tactical means to an end”, rather than part of the overall strategy of the organisation.

Lee said the research found that charities of all sizes were very concerned about looking after their staff, but were often doing so with limited resources.

“Our research confirmed that people management is the single most important piece of asset management charities engage in,” he said. “They spend on average 85 per cent of their budget on HR, which shows how central people are to an organisation achieving its goals – especially compared with the private sector, where the HR spend is nearer the 60 per cent mark.”

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