The idea of putting jobs ads in doctors' surgeries may not initially sound like the best way to target highly trained people, but when it comes to recruiting in the voluntary sector, using a bit of imagination can make all the difference.
Staff shortages in areas such as fundraising mean that it can easily take up to six months to find the right person and, even when you do, it's now the norm for employees to jump ship after less than two years, leaving organisations back on the phone with another chair to fill.
Shortages are particularly dire in certain areas of fundraising, such as legacies and trusts, and fundraisers with at least three years' experience are like gold dust.
There are 118,116 registered charities across the UK but only 35,000 members of the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers (ICFM). While the ICFM only represents a portion of the county's 12,000 or so fundraisers, the figures press home a point of which most charity HR directors are painfully aware - everyone is fighting for precious few experienced staff.
But the staffing difficulties in the voluntary sector don't just stop with the people responsible for raising your funds.
According to David Lale, managing director of the recruitment consultancy Charity People, not-for-profit organisations also struggle to find finance, IT, housing and support staff, and have been doing so for years.
Of course, how tricky you find recruiting depends a lot on how familiar your name is, or how hip your cause.
"Charities that attract staff easily are those that have a strong brand, such as Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO), RNIB, Save the Children or Amnesty,
explains Lale. "Or those that work in 'trendy' areas such environmental, international development, and even animal charities."
Amnesty International has also found this to be the case. "We often have far more applicants than there are available jobs,
said a spokesperson.
"However, even some of these big organisations suffer from the problem of perception, and complain that people know the brand but are often confused about what it does,
Christian Aid is a perfect example of a charity with a familiar name but which battles against misconceptions when it comes to recruiting.
Occasionally, applicants have been put off because they think you have to be a Christian, or they'll be shipped off to a mission in Africa.
"This is particularly the case with IT or finance staff who come from the commercial sector, although people in the charitable sector tend to know what we do,
says Christian Aid's human resources manager Becky Luther.
"On the one hand, our logo is our selling point, but we just hope that people will read down the job ad to the statement at the bottom which explains that Christian Aid works with people from all faiths."
It has just taken Christian Aid six months to fill the post of a direct marketing manager. The organisation is now faced with finding a fundraiser to handle the "un-sexy
area of legacies. "People seem hungry to get into fundraising at the junior stage,
Luther laments. "It could be that salaries come into play after that because fundraising assistants know they can earn £10,000 more working in marketing in the private sector."
VSO is a fan of recruitment fairs, primarily as a way of filling its thousands of vacant volunteer posts - it will need 620 volunteers in 2003 - but also to challenge assumptions people have about the organisation and to woo potential paid employees. "Occasionally a middle-aged accountant wanders up to our stand and says 'I'd love to volunteer, but I'm not a teacher',
says VSO's marketing manager Michael Shann.
"At recruitment fairs, it is possible to talk through people's misconceptions such as that VSO only places teachers and health workers and would only consider you if you're young."
He adds: "It's far easier to do this if you have staff of all ages and ethnic backgrounds in front of a stand, rather than giving information through something passive, like a web site, or via our information line."
VSO exhibits both at general charity recruitment fairs such as Forum 3, which is held in September, and those that cater for particular professions, such as teachers of English as a second language. Thanks to its well-known name, it always had a high number of responses to paid-job ads but still struggles to find fundraisers to work on a voluntary basis for its projects in 70 countries worldwide.
When it comes to advertising jobs, the voluntary sector tends to stick to the tried-and-tested, ad-in-the-press method, although many now use specialist web sites, such as Jobsincharities.co.uk.
According to Jenny Floyd, managing director of the ad agency Floyd Advertising, it is possible to be a little more imaginative when targeting support workers - another group of employees that can be tough to track down.
"We put posters in doctors' surgeries and community halls, which is also useful for targeting particular ethnic minorities,
says Floyd, whose clients include Shelter and The Refugee Council. "We've also put postcards through the doors of local people,
she says. "It's far better than just bunging ads in the press."
According to Olga Johnson, chief executive of the recruitment consultancy Charity Recruitment, one answer to the recruitment problem is to train existing staff to take on roles in hard-to-fill areas. However, it is a solution that many charities are unwilling to consider, she says.
"There are individuals in organisations that have the transferable skills but just need training to help them up the learning curve,
explains Johnson, who represents Unicef and The Scout Association. "However, there seems to be a real lack of inclination to do it."
Staff retention and development are important issues for anyone with a skills shortage. They are particularly relevant in this sector, considering the nomadic nature of your average charity worker.
"Even the top 50 charities are not very good at developing people's careers,
says James Strachan, chief executive of the RNID, who used to run the UK and Dutch investment banking arm of Merrill Lynch.
"The private sector can't hook people on the passion of the job like the voluntary sector can, but (in the private sector) there isn't this culture of switching jobs every 18 months,
says Strachan. "It's hard to explain exactly why this problem exists in the charity sector. It could be because, as cut-throat as the City is, it is very good at praising people when they do well, and at identifying their career paths and training them."
Strachan concludes: "Maybe we should take a leaf out of the private sector's book. After all, retaining a fundraiser is much more cost-effective than hiring one."
REWARDS AND REALITY: FROM COMMERCIAL TO NOT-FOR-PROFIT
"Since the downturn of last year, the level of enquiries that charity HR departments are getting from people in the commercial sector has shot up,
says Lindsay Boswell, chief executive of the Institute of Charity Fundraising Managers. "And the links between fundraising and marketing are getting closer as fundraising techniques become more sophisticated."
Of course, money, or the lack of it, puts off many prospective charity staff, but refreshingly, it didn't feature in the decisions of those Third Sector spoke to who have turned their back on the commercial world.
Anna Trafford halved her salary by leaving a lucrative job in fashion to join the London Cycle Campaign (LCC) largely because she wanted, as the cliche goes, to "make a difference".
"It was a bit like living on the set of Ab Fab,
says Trafford, who worked in sales and marketing for brands such as Paul Smith and Ghost for 12 years. She quit her job, volunteered and landed a job of creating maps of cycle routes for the LCC and Transport for London. "It wasn't a hard decision,
says Trafford. "As a sales person, I have a lot of people skills and understand what the customer wants. I'm still delivering a product, only now I'm dealing with government departments.
The experiences of Help the Aged's database marketing manager Stuart McCoy and Guide Dog for the Blind's donor development manager Lisa Eleazu challenge any assumptions about low salaries, and lack of training in the charity sector.
Eleazu ditched a job overseeing direct marketing for The Prudential at the 300-strong ad agency WWAV Rapp Collins. She has seen her team increase from two to eight staff and received more training than in her former job. Like Trafford, she also has a higher sense of job satisfaction. "I wanted to move onto the client side,
says Eleazu. "I have to tackle the same direct marketing challenges at Guide Dogs but have the satisfaction of helping guide dog owners, rather than just selling home insurance or credit cards."
McCoy left his research job at publisher Emap for a higher salary at Help the Aged in September 2000 and has since had a promotion and been on 10 training courses.
"I'd find it very difficult to move back to the commercial sector now,
says McCoy. "The training has been fantastic, there's a lot less politics here and a much better atmosphere. I'm actually doing a job I enjoy that also has some integrity. I'm still in shock."
- Offer staff flexible working schemes such as part-time work or home working to attract parents of young children or staff equipped with a computer and modem.
- Try more imaginative job advertising. "To attract support workers, we have put posters in doctors surgeries and postcards through people's doors,
says Jenny Floyd, managing director of ad agency Floyd Advertising.
- Be more open to candidates from the commercial sector. Always insisting on a minimum of three years' fundraising experience could exclude potentially great staff.
- Look internally first: can you train an existing member of staff to take on a job instead of looking externally?
- "Recruit older people
is the suggestion of Janet Cummins, chief executive of CF Appointments. "Maybe charities should abolish the retirement age of 60,
she says. "We've placed people in their late 50s and early 60s in project managing, finance director and chief executive roles."