Survey Charity Pulse 2009: Training is suffering, but morale is still high

The results of Third Sector's annual Charity Pulse survey reveal that charity staff are upbeat despite the recession, but frustrated with poor development opportunities. Tristan Donovan reports

Charity Pulse
Charity Pulse

We might be in one of the worst recessions for decades, but the third sector is still chipper. Results from the Charity Pulse 2009 survey of charity staff, conducted by Third Sector and Birdsong Charity Consulting, show that morale in UK charities is still high despite the downturn.

A total of 798 employees from more than 180 charities gave their views. Of them, 46 per cent reported high morale in their workplaces. This proportion is down slightly from 50 per cent in 2008, but it's still higher than the 44 per cent of 2007. The proportion that said morale was not high stayed at the 2008 level of 27 per cent.

Although the overall picture is positive, there were huge differences in morale between people who said their organisation was being open about the impact of recession and those who felt it wasn't.

"We tend to fear the worst as human beings, so a lack of openness can be harmful," says Frances Hurst, co-founder of Birdsong. "People tend to talk glibly about communicating openly with people, but these findings really bring home what impact it can have."

The morale of charity employees might be good on the whole because they tend to have faith in their leaders. A significant majority, 59 per cent, agreed that their organisations' senior management was effective, compared with 17 per cent who disagreed.

Asked whether senior management were well informed about what staff thought, 48 per cent agreed, compared with 25 per cent who disagreed. Staff were slightly less impressed by their trustees, with 42 per cent saying they were effective and 18 per cent saying they weren't.

But some problems have emerged, particularly over training. In 2008, there was a marked improvement in the proportion of people who gave the thumbs-up to their charities' training programmes. But this year, that percentage dropped significantly.

In 2008, 65 per cent of respondents said they got sufficient training to do their job. This year, the figure slipped to 58 per cent, the lowest level since the Charity Pulse survey began in 2007. Similar falls were seen when people were asked if they felt they were being supported in developing their careers.

"I'm not surprised, because training is often the first thing that gets cut," says Hurst. "In the short term, it's not such a worry for older employees, but it is a big concern for the under-30s. If charities can't afford to fund training they should look at alternative approaches to development such as letting staff cover for people on leave or giving people projects they will learn new skills from. It is important, however, to position this as a development opportunity rather than just extra work."

There was also a marked rise in the proportion of employees who said they intended to stick with their current employer for at least another year. In 2008 the figure was 56 per cent; this year it rose to 61 per cent.

But Hurst warns that managers shouldn't get complacent. "I would be concerned if a manager decided there was no need to make an effort to motivate people because they intended to stay anyway," she says. "Just because people plan to stay, that does not mean they are motivated."

The full Charity Pulse 2009 report is available at


Frances Hurst and Sam Attenborough of Birdsong Charity Consulting offer their top 10 pieces of advice for third sector managers, based on the results of Charity Pulse 2009

- Be clear about the charity's direction. Staff are looking to you to lead

- Be open about your organisation's situation

- Don't shut yourself away. Be visible and available

- Think about what your attitude and behaviour as a manager say to staff

- Involve employees in developing solutions to problems

- Resist the tendency to tighten controls on staff activity. This reduces their creativity when you need it most

- If training budgets are tight, get creative about developing staff in other ways

- Manage your stress and the stress of others. Be alert to the signs

- Develop staff resilience. Remind everyone what you've achieved together

- Finally, show your staff you care

How you responded

Life in the recession

This charity is demonstrating that it cares about me at this time
Agree or strongly agree - 45%
Disagree or strongly disagree - 24%

I am not concerned about my job security
Agree or strongly agree - 48%
Disagree or strongly disagree - 34%

I am not concerned about the future of this charity
Agree or strongly agree - 49%
Disagree or strongly disagree - 33%

Morale at this charity is high
Agree or strongly agree
2007 - 44%
2008 - 50%
2009 - 46%

Disagree or strongly disagree
2007 - 26%
2008 - 27%
2009 - 27%

Life at work

I plan to be working for this charity in a year's time
Agree or strongly agree - 61%
Disagree or strongly disagree - 20%

I have a good work-life balance
Agree or strongly agree - 64%
Disagree or strongly disagree - 19%

Poor performance is dealt with effectively at this charity
Agree or strongly agree
2007 - 27%
2008 - 26%
2009 - 27%

Disagree or strongly disagree
2007 - 34%
2008 - 37%
2009 - 36%


Have you registered with us yet?

Register now to enjoy more articles and free email bulletins

Already registered?
Sign in