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Third sector recruitment: it’s all or nothing (unfortunately)

This post was suggested by a friend of mine who also works in the charity sector. We’ve both heard of organisations that are struggling to recruit staff. However, when you look at the job adverts many are putting out there, it’s perhaps no surprise that they’re failing to attract candidates.

You’d imagine, if the job market is weighted towards candidates (which it absolutely appears to be at the moment), you’d make any vacancy you have open as attractive as can be—yet this isn’t the case from what we’ve seen. Role specifications appear to be as long as your arm, and they often cross over into completely different departments—for instance, it’s common for charities to want a successful fundraiser, an effective marketer, a communications specialist and even a PR guru…all from one candidate and in the one role. Expecting one person to have such a varied skillset is bound to narrow your field of potentials, and it’s also a huge turn off for someone job-hunting. Pay scales, on the whole, aren’t too far out of whack within the industry, but if you’re asking someone to be four employees in one, they can become much less attractive.

It seems obvious to me that a ‘Jack of all trades’ job should be split up into its respective skillsets; this will benefit the charity as well as widen the talent pool. However, this is a scary prospect for some organisations who may only have the budget for one full-timer.

And that’s the rub. This ‘all or nothing’ mindset has most charities seeking a full-time worker. It’s like they’ve never heard of the term ‘part time’. If you have a role that spans four departments, rather than looking for the perfect full-timer who has specific skills and experience across all four aspects (a very tall order), consider instead hiring four part-timers, each on a contract of, perhaps, ten hours per week. Four part-timers whose specialisms match the individual aspects you need. You’d be amazed at how much work a person can get done in ten hours, IF it’s something they’re skilled in and good at. Far better than getting an all-rounder who never quite gets stuck into any one aspect of the role over the forty hours they may work each week.

The gig economy has escalated since the pandemic. It’s common for people to work for more than one employer and on more than one project through an array of part-time, short-term contracts and freelance scenarios. It makes sense, too, considering the number of businesses that went under because of Covid, and those that may find themselves on shaky ground in the coming months, following the astronomic rise in their energy costs. More and more employees are becoming wary about putting all their eggs in one basket.

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen experienced charity fundraisers, marketers, volunteer co-ordinators and comms specialists bemoaning how few part-time roles there are within the third sector. Opening roles up to job shares, part-time hours or contracted freelancers could make all the difference to a charity if they’re struggling to recruit. It may mean a slight increase in paperwork and HR duties to appoint four people instead of one, and it also requires a lot of flexibility and understanding from the charity…as these people will likely have other jobs and commitments in their lives. That said, I’ve seen it work really, really well, and having four specialists who can come in and get straight down to working within their given specialism produces far better results than one person who spends much of their working week bewildered about where to even start with so much responsibility and time-consuming work at their feet.

It's easier for the part-timers, too, as they can take full autonomy within the area they know so well; they can simply focus on that one task or project without all the other goings-on of the charity clouding their brains.

My friend works one day a week as a fundraiser for a community centre, a few hours a week as a project assistant for a second charity and two more days as a grants officer for a third charitable organisation. Her hours rarely conflict with each other, and the routine she has allows her to compartmentalise the work that needs doing. She can offer almost full flexibility to all three organisations, as all of them understand she has other roles; as long as the work gets done to the standards they’ve become used to (because she’s a machine, she just steams ahead!), her employers are not too fussed when she does it. It also works in their favour, too, as they sometimes have occasions when they need her to come in on a day that’s not part of her usual pattern.

Everyone wins. My friend appreciates the autonomy, trust and flexibility each of her bosses affords her, and she rewards them with her loyalty and commitment to go above and beyond their expectations.

Part-time used to be the working pattern of parents, who want to be able to do the school run and/or spend time with their children. This is not the case anymore. Candidates young and old, with or without offspring to consider, enjoy portfolio careers and greater control over when they work and who for.

Going forward, it would be wise for any charity to understand this is now the way of the world, post pandemic.


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