OPINION: Hot Issue - Are charities doing enough to nurture their own leaders?

A survey from the chief executives' body Acevo showed last week that more than six out of ten charity CEOs came to their jobs from private and public organisations. It also revealed that a quarter of charities spend nothing on training their leaders. Third Sector asked industry insiders for their views.

IAN LAWSON, CEO, The Campaign for Leadership (part of the Work Foundation) - NO

There is massive scope to nurture leaders and - as seen by high levels of entry at the top from outside the sector - a huge need to develop and support the pool of talent residing within the sector's own leaders.

Our programmes for voluntary sector managers suggest that, if anything, the greatest need is at the middle and junior levels. They provide the seedcorn for the CEOs of the future.

Budgetary and time pressures are most commonly cited as barriers - but carefully targeted investment in short programmes, directed reading, open learning, mentoring and coaching can bring massive benefits to an individual's sense of value and their ability to do the job well.

To quote a well known phrase, "if you think training and development is expensive - consider the cost of ignorance".

TONY BEST, Chief Executive, Sense - YES

A successful charity can't afford not to. On my first day as a chief executive, I met a culture that valued nurturing. There was a training programme, and, a few days later, another CEO who called me to offer support.

Most leaders will come to their job with competency in key skills. But the essential mastery is likely to develop in the job, as you identify what you don't know. There are plenty of relevant training courses, but I find it is the staff development opportunities that are most valuable - identifying your needs for an appraisal, exchanging information in a network, and developing a mentoring relationship. And our less competitive culture, compared with the commercial sector, is an advantage.

We may feel we cannot spend money on ourselves, or leave our desks for a day, or admit to trustees that we do not know everything. But I think we recognise that our biggest asset is our people. The message I hear is that we are expected to develop. And the opportunities are out there.

RANILA RAVI, head of communications, Acevo - NO

Most organisations do not spend enough time or money developing their staff. The average spend on chief executive's professional development last year was only £725. I doubt if more is spent on other staff! We say that recruiting skilled, professional staff is a major issue for most organisations, but once the staff have been recruited, not enough is being done to nurture and retain them.

Talented people have always been poached by the public sector, and are increasingly being 'seconded', in some cases permanently, to central government.

These people might not leave their fulfilling job if it offered career progression. There seems to be a sense that you have to leave the sector to get ahead in your career.

Mobility between sectors is a good thing, but only if it works both ways.

Some 30 per cent of chief executives in the sector are recruited from the corporate world. I don't know of any corporate leaders who have been recruited from the voluntary sector. This is not because the third sector has no suitable candidates, but because not enough is done to develop and promote them.

JUDITH BRODIE, Chief Executive, Impetus Trust - NO

A culture change is needed throughout the sector to ensure that leadership and management development is a bread-and-butter issue. At the moment it is, to say the least, patchy.

While large charities may operate much more like public or private sector organisations with training budgets and programmes to match, other charities may lack the commitment or financial flexibility to invest in this way.

It has to become part of the understanding of the sector and of funders and purchasers that a strong, healthy, vibrant third sector requires proper funding for training and development throughout. In parallel there needs to be more substantial development opportunities, including MBAs, made available and accessible to promising third sector leaders.

Although the sector boasts people of a high calibre who are worth developing, it needs to look beyond the survey results to the qualities that leaders new to the voluntary sector should bring. We should value diversity and challenge, and use it to increase further the strength and potential of the considerable third sector workforce.

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