Give and Take: Brain drain, and what do about it

We have seen a backdrop of job losses within charities and indications in our members’ responses to our December report Managing in a Downturn, produced in association with PwC and the Institute of Fundraising, which shows that redundancy is firmly on the agenda for many.

As I review the findings of our recent salary survey this month, supported by ThankQ, I’ve had a lot of interesting lines of thought. And after doing a session at the Voice11 social enterprise event that explored how you attract, retain, and support talent in financial management roles – and the Lord Davies report on diversifying boardrooms last month, about which I blogged for Financial Director as well – I thought I’d share some emerging ideas arising from our findings.

This year’s survey, the results of which will be released later this month, examine salary levels; pensions and benefits; job satisfaction and work-life balance; and the impact current economic conditions are having on staff recruitment and retention.

A well-known discount already applies to the salaries of those working in the charity and voluntary sector finance teams. However, many outside the sector believe that voluntary and third sector employees inhabit a space that is an easy alternative to the harsh realities of the “real world”. This couldn’t be further from the truth. My discussions with our members and  some of the comments of respondents to our survey show that you work just as hard, in an increasingly professional environment – just for less financial return.

Following recent high-profile resignations within the charity sector, we have seen that work-life balance is an important consideration for charity sector leaders. In this respect, finance professionals are no different. But are we getting anywhere near the elusive balance?

The job market is tough, and it looks set to get tougher. Unfortunately and, in my view, erroneously, the media continue to be obsessed with executive pay levels. Even Lord Hutton found himself combating the notion that the prime minister’s salary was a benchmark that all public and third sector pay should not exceed. All the evidence suggests that, while there may be a handful of highly paid individuals in the sector, many are not in a position to keep pace with the cost of living.

In this difficult operating environment, it’s unsurprising that we have seen an upsurge in redundancies. But the initial information appears to indicate that there may be some better news for finance professionals and accountancy teams.

Our organisation has long said that finance teams have a strategic role and are central to their organisation’s operational stability and sustainability, particularly in light of the difficult economic climate and squeezed funding. Increasingly, we are seeing recognition of the vital role that finance teams play in helping their charities cope when things are tough.

The downturn will clearly have had an impact on recruitment strategies. Members told us in our forthcoming report that they have endured recruitment freezes and redundancies, and it must follow that training budgets are coming under pressure.

Though the sector provides a challenging and interesting variety of work, it can’t rest on its laurels. I would encourage those in the sector not to assume that their best talent will stay with them if they are passive in their approach to managing. If you have good staff, think about how to keep them: a little effort, focus and investment now might avoid the loss of good people and the following costs of recruitment.

As I discussed in my last blog, more women are employed in finance teams in this sector than in the private or public sectors. However, men still appear to dominate the senior roles. Our survey results make me question whether women are avoiding the senior jobs in the mistaken belief that less seniority enables greater balance and less stress. Alternatively, is there an assumption that jobs at senior levels are inherently more inflexible and invariably full-time, which acts as a barrier to women seeking senior appointments?

The social enterprise Women Like Us specialises in bringing together employers and senior women who seek greater flexibility – I met its co-founder Karen Mattison at Voice11 – and they stress that there are options open to men and women alike who seek greater work-life balance that is coupled with stretch and challenge.

If you are an FD or CFO, consider what makes your current workforce tick and ensure that you don’t lose your good people in this time of economic pressure. Charities need great FDs – now more than ever before.

Do look out for our survey results – I hope I’ve whetted your appetite. We are launching the full findings at our members’ meeting on 19 April.

Caron Bradshaw is chief executive of the Charity Finance Directors Group

Related reading