Mark Flannagan: Awards show that this sector delivers

But we need to do more to challenge misperceptions and outright lies about us, writes our columnist

Mark Flannagan
Mark Flannagan

The celebration of the charity sector at the Third Sector Awards this week is one of our best reminders that this sector delivers for so many, making a difference every minute of every day. The charity sector doesn’t take time off from its work. It is a huge contributor to the wellbeing of our whole society. If there is anyone out there who thinks that a black-tie "do" put on by our friends at Third Sector is a little too much, just remember that we don’t get big award ceremonies, with the goody bags and the glitz of the Oscars. Neither do we get the salaries and bonuses that many in the high-profile film and television world get. Our one chance to come together, share good stories and celebrate the best is small compensation.

A career in the charity sector is not a second-best alternative to a career elsewhere. I think anyone can work in the City of London, or join an advertising agency, or become a graduate trainee at a high-street store. It takes a special kind of person to head for a role that is usually lower paid, often requires finding ways to do things on a shoestring and is often viewed by others as "voluntary work", not a proper job.

As a sector, we need to address this more openly. Of course, we need to engage with external bodies and interests, and forcefully challenge their perceptions and sometimes outright lies about us. Charity Comms, Acevo and the National Council for Voluntary Organisations are beginning to lead on this. But we need to do more.

We also need to finally get to grips with the development of careers in our sector. We need apprenticeships, training academies, more universal qualifications and much more embedded into our whole sector infrastructure. All of these exist in the private sector and in large parts of the public sector. Why not in ours?

We must have a shared goal to get a comprehensive human resources-driven and standardised programme that is recognised as a world leader for enticing people into our sector, nurturing their talent and then developing them as highly effective, motivated contributors to wider society. To this end, we need to have government accept this goal and provide real support.

When the buzz of awards wears off with people, I hope they will acknowledge their good fortune in being recognised and then think about how we can also focus on the vast majority who do not get the accolades. The leaders on the stage this week are a valuable cohort of people who can advocate for a better, stronger, clearer approach to creating a cohesive recruitment and training ground in our sector. I hope they will pick up this baton. In the meantime, my heartiest congratulations to all of them.

Mark Flannagan (@MarkFlann) is a former charity chief executive who now works in the NHS.

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