It’s time for charities to focus on their staff as well as beneficiaries – A guest blog by Lizzi Hollis

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I think we can all agree that charities are great. Our causes support our next door neighbours; people in the furthest corners of the planet; they help animals; conserve environments and enable all sorts of scientific discoveries. Without charities and the people that run them the world would be a darker, unhappier and far less healthy place and yet, are our organisations dedicating as much to the well-being of their employees as they do their beneficiaries? In many cases, the answer is sadly no.

Whether it is maternity pay, flexible working, staff benefits or understanding of mental health issues, our organisations are often not equipped to support their people with the same dedication they do beneficiaries. The problem with this is, that without a happy, supported work force, our charities simply cannot continue to do the awesome work they set out to.

Through the group I run, Charity Women, it has come to my attention that most charities do not offer their female employees more than statutory maternity pay, making the prospect of starting a family a financially stressful time, particularly if the woman in question is the main bread-winner. A significant reduction in pay for a prolonged period can be off-putting and in some cases feel like a punishment for daring to have both a career and family.

It goes the same way for men too, many of whom, at the arrival of a new child want to take some time to get to know the newest member of their family. Many organisations do not offer proper paternity leave and often do not recognise the male as an equal member of the household when it comes to childcare and parental responsibilities.

Development of staff is also a really important aspect that can be overlooked. If our charities are working towards, say skills building or educational opportunities for beneficiaries, then this must also be extended to staff. Even for organisations where money is tight, options can be found for development. The FSI is a great place to start if you’re a small charity, they offer free and significantly subsidised training opportunities for almost all income streams and all over the UK. The IOF First Thursday events are worth going to and if you’re a member the cost is only £5 (£10 for non member) and are an opportunity to learn and network in a relaxed environment. The IOF also offer a number of bursaries for individuals from smaller charities to be able to attend their Annual Fundraising Convention.

As fundraisers ourselves we should also be looking out for affordable development opportunities. Twitter, Fundraising Chat, CharityConnect and Dawn Newton’s Charity Meet Up page on Facebook are all good places to start and cost nothing to be a part of.

Some charities have already nailed it and we should be looking to them for encouragement. Girlguiding in particular have perfected practicing what they preach – for example they offer no statutory maternity leave and for the first 20 weeks offer 100% of normal salary to employees. As an organisation dedication to the progression of girls and women it is refreshing to see them extending the same support to their female employees.

My own organisation, Independent Age, is dedicated to people development and I delighted to say I have never been denied a training opportunity if it will maximise my development. Even at the comfort of my desk I can contribute to my own learning through our Charity Learning Consortium, where I can do anything from honing my IT skills to career planning.  We have an Employee Forum Group that is run solely for the benefit of the staff and discusses things like our induction process and staff benefits.

By giving our charity employees opportunities to grow, progress and feel valued we will create a much happier workforce and grow retention, meaning we can hold on to the most talented and dedicated team members. In the long run this will actually save our organisations money and create the best outcomes for our beneficiaries. It’s a win-win situation and is something we should all be thinking about.

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Lizzi is a corporate fundraiser and feminist. Founder of Charity Women and believer of bringing your authentic self to work. Follow @LizziHollis on Twitter for opinions, retweets of great thought pieces and pictures of cats.

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