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Talent management in the charity sector – Five ways to get it right

Blog post   •   Jun 11, 2018 14:56 BST

Kurstin Finch Gnehm from the Royal Academy of Music discusses talent management in this great new blog.

In team meetings at the Royal Academy of Music these days, our discussions turn more and more frequently to talent management. What roles do we need to fill? Are the salaries we’re offering competitive within the sector? What can we showcase that makes us as attractive an employer as the mega-charities? How do we keep the young development professionals we’ve recently hired, given our limited training budget and scope for promotion?

The truth is that a good fundraiser or charity worker can easily have a new role every 18 months, especially in London. New opportunities with tempting salaries are just a tweet or LinkedIn post away, and so hiring and keeping talent can be incredibly time-consuming and expensive.

At the Academy, we’ve hired an entirely new team within the last 18 months, and so developing these new staff members is a full-time job. Sometimes accidentally, occasionally on purpose, we’ve taken a few small steps to ensure we get – and keep – the right people. I’ve outlined our approach below, and hope that some of these steps will work for your organisation as well.

Make “being a team” part of core business

According to a 26 Sept 2015 article in Fortune Magazine, people who feel they belong are happy at work. But creating a sense of belonging can be difficult. One of my first tasks at the Academy was to facilitate a discussion about the values that we hold as a team (boldness, transparency, etc). Now, we discuss one of these shared values at the front of every development meeting. It’s a small thing, but it allows everyone a part in shaping how we work together as a team. Talk to your team about being a team, and you’ll start to generate a sense of belonging.

Be honest about the challenges in your office and in the sector. 

Fundraising for the Academy is not always easy, and we don’t hide that in interviews. Instead, we tell good candidates that we’re a 200-year-old start-up with lots of ambition but that our infrastructure is a work in process. We’re clear that there are challenges and that the environment can be frustrating. Our hope is that transparency means we only hire people who will thrive.

Celebrate, not just achievement, but resiliency. 

After 20 years in the sector, I sometimes forget how much that first wobble can feel like a catastrophe. Remind your staff that things go wrong for all of us, and that that’s okay – what matters is learning. Publicly praise those who get knocked down and get back up. And find ways to measure resiliency in interviews (beyond that old chestnut, “Tell us about a time when something went wrong”).

Tap into apprenticeship and mentoring programmes. 

Many professional networks in the charity world support free mentoring programmes. Quite a few Academy development staff mentor or are mentored through the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education or the Institute of Fundraising, and in most cases find this useful. We also bring in student interns from local universities and engage them on interesting, high-value projects. While interns and mentees do take up our time, it’s paid off when we’ve hired some of them after graduation. It’s a great way to build a pipeline.

Finally, make sure everyone in your office is responsible for recruiting and maintain staff


Getting and keeping talent really is a full-time job, and it’s likely you don’t have the luxury of hiring a dedicated talent manager. But you can’t be with your new hires seven hours a day, five days a week, and so your team must be as committed as you are to employee retention. You can formalise this by establishing a coffee or lunch buddies programme, encouraging office celebrations, rewarding staff who recruit new employees or actually making retention a team metric. Or keep it casual, but be clear that finding and keeping good employees is everyone’s job.

Of course, these are just the strategies of good office management, but in the competition for talent they can make or break a team. The sector’s next leaders won’t look like us. Nor will they come to a development career in the same way. And judging by the number of pings my team gets from recruiters, there will always been a new job just round the corner. A thoughtful on-boarding and internal support programme can ensure that the next job they jump to is yours.

Written by Kurstin Finch Gnehm from the Royal Academy of Music.

I look forward to Small Charity Week – in particular, to the outcomes of Policy Day on 20 June. It’s so important that policy-makers understand how important the work of small charities is to life in the UK, and the outsized impact recent regulations have on programmes with limited staff and budgets. And I can’t wait to see the winners of the FSI Small Charity Big Impact Awards!

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