There's more to the job than just a salary

Charities that can't pay competitive salaries can instead offer their staff other benefits that make for an attractive workplace without huge cost implications. Annette Rawstrone reports

Many charities are becoming more sophisticated at offering employee benefits that do not have large cost implications
Many charities are becoming more sophisticated at offering employee benefits that do not have large cost implications

Charities might not be able to offer salaries to compete with those in the private sector, but many are thinking creatively about the benefits they can provide to encourage quality people to consider careers in the third sector.

Joanne Major, charity recruitment team leader at the consultancy Eden Brown, believes good benefits packages indicate an investment in employees: they can make a charity more attractive to recruits and help staff feel valued.

We work in a sector where salary is not a deal-breaker

Charity recruitment expert Joanne Major

"We work in a sector where salary is not a deal-breaker and candidates are aware that the charity sector is not booming at the same pace as other sectors," she says. "However, we're coming out of the economic downturn and candidates are asking more questions than before about benefits. Candidates who have sat tight for the past few years in their jobs might have accrued good holidays and pensions; they are looking to see whether the benefits on offer in a new job match."

Ian Morley, a rewards and benefits consultant and a volunteer for the Cranfield Trust, a charity that helps not-for-profits cope with management challenges, says that people who want to move into the charity sector or change jobs should consider the wider picture. He says: "There are benefits with cash value, such as pensions; but there are also benefits that charities can offer to help employees to do their jobs better and feel more engaged, such as flexible working, working from home or a relaxed dress code. For some people, there is value in not having to wear a suit. Think about the nature of the work, whether it is rewarding and other aspects such as longer-term career opportunities and work-life balance."

Major acknowledges that smaller charities can struggle to provide competitive benefits programmes, but she says charities are getting more sophisticated at offering benefits that do not have large cost implications. She says: "Some offer benefits based on their core services, such as discounted vet treatment for animal charity employees; others are using their corporate fundraising teams to obtain partnerships with corporate supporters that help with staff recruitment and retention – for example, they might approach insurance companies to provide subsidised packages or partnerships with branded gyms for free or subsidised membership."

Graham Hodgkin moved from the private sector to join London's Air Ambulance as chief executive 18 months ago; he says his charity is "at the start of the journey of offering more staff benefits to help bring us the best people possible". It has introduced season ticket loans, childcare vouchers, the cycle- to-work scheme and flexible working – measures that Hodgkin says are "largely cost-neutral to the charity, but appeal to employees". He is also investigating working with the charity's corporate partners to pass discounts to their employees.

"When recruiting, I find in the final stage of negotiation that questions are asked about what benefits we offer, such as flexible working and our pension scheme," says Hodgkin. "We're also able to offer professional development, such as a good career path and the ability to engage directly with management and the leadership team, and we sell our cause as a benefit. Seeing the powerful work we do and the direct impact it has on critically injured people in London is emotionally compelling and is the best benefit of all."

Many staff employed by Battersea Dogs and Cats Home in south London earn low salaries, so Bryony Glenn, director of human resources, looks for ways in which the charity can provide employee benefits that do not have major cost implications. The charity's benefits include a pension scheme that doubles employee contributions, a health plan and life insurance; it has also negotiated perks for its animal-loving employees, such as a 20 per cent discount on pet insurance with Petplan, 25 per cent discount in the four shops on its three sites – allowing them to buy discounted animal basics such as food and cat litter – and cost-price treatments at its veterinary clinic for employees who have rehomed the charity's animals.

"We publicise our staff benefits," says Glenn. "People want to take jobs with us because they love working with animals, but they also need to think realistically about whether they can afford to do so, and the benefits do help."

Nicola Williamson joined the BeatBullying Group as office manager in February. Before accepting the post, she took into consideration the benefits package, which was compiled after consultation with staff. Many policies reflect the charity's commitment to work-life balance, including flexi-time, compressed working weeks, term-time working, extended holiday rights and up to five "duvet days" – days off at short notice – each year.

"I think this benefits package was incredibly competitive," she says. "In fact, it was the best that I've seen in either the private or third sectors. The benefits scheme was definitely one of the areas that made me want to apply for the position, apart from wanting to work for a charity with such brilliant cause areas.

"By having such a great benefits package, I feel that the BB Group shows how much it values its staff and their wellbeing. I have a young son, so it is convenient for me to work on flexi-time and also have the opportunity to have a duvet day every so often if something is going on at home."


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