Issy Freeman: The importance of training in staff retention

It can be better and cheaper to retain staff and invest in training them than to acquire new ones, writes Issy Freeman

Issy Freeman
Issy Freeman

Keeping hold of valuable staff is a balancing act for any organisation, but the charity sector – with its constant need to justify spending – is in a uniquely tricky situation. In the face of higher wages and attractive perks offered by private employers, charities need to think creatively about keeping employees engaged.

High staff turnover – often the result of a bored, unchallenged workforce – is expensive and leads to a loss of knowledge that is not easily replaced. In lieu of higher pay, training is an attractive incentive, and it is often far cheaper to train and retain employees than to acquire new ones.

External training providers are worth researching. Some can be surprisingly affordable and help bring in new ideas and techniques that keep roles fresh and engaging while contributing to personal development. The training available varies from on-the-job courses that focus on specific roles to off-the-job training such as seminars and conferences, which can develop communication skills beneficial outside work too.

As trustee for the children's cancer research charity Kidscan, I helped to organise a staff development day that included a top-up session on Kidscan’s aims, a fundraising workshop led by an external speaker and team-building exercises that led on to a feedback session, giving staff the opportunity to voice their ideas. Enhancing employees’ skills away from their day-to-day routine not only contributed to their development, but also had knock-on effects on their work.

On another occasion, we arranged for Lowri Turner, Kidscan’s director of development, to work one-to-one with an executive coach to hone her management skills. The training allowed Lowri to focus on her – and Kidscan’s – specific needs, and proved to be an efficient use of resources at nowhere near the cost Kidscan had anticipated.

Charities on the lookout for training will find plenty is available. Organisations such as the Institute of Fundraising, the Directory of Social Change and the Foundation for Social Improvement offer courses and qualifications specifically targeted at the charity sector, with reductions in charges often available for smaller organisations. Although coaches such as the one Kidscan worked with might already offer charity discounts, it is still worth haggling for a better price. Most people won’t expect a charity to pay a full fee.

Charities that can’t set aside a budget for training can turn to government-subsidised schemes. NVQ courses can be enrolled on for free, and Professional and Career Development Loans are available without interest. Institutes such as the IoF offer a lot of content free of charge – the IoF has a full selection of resources on its website.

Where budgets or diaries won’t allow for external training, charities can look inwards. Trustees and business contacts often have a lot to offer. Dr David Pye, Kidscan’s scientific director, was able to give fundraisers some really insightful training in the science behind the charity’s work, giving them an in-depth understanding of what their work is doing in practical terms.

The ultimate aim in providing training for staff is to increase income and improve the help a charity can give, but the further benefits are varied. With improved knowledge and skills, employees become happier, more efficient and productive, and feel valued by their employer. All of this results in valued and well-trained fundraisers who are better equipped to make a successful pitch and to continue to do so with stronger skills, deeper knowledge and greater dedication to the cause.

Issy Freeman is a director of HR and a trustee of the children’s cancer research charity Kidscan

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