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Blog

Working in Charity HR

Posted on 23/10/2018 by Bita Heffernan

HR blocks

What is HR?

The human resources department of an organisation looks after the people who make up its workforce. HR covers many different employment functions, including compliance with employment law, pay and benefits, recruitment and training, employee relations and health and safety.

Working for a charity is very similar to working in the private sector, in terms of the tasks you are likely to undertake. The main difference is that a charity’s employees usually choose to work for that organisation, as they feel a connection to its aims and values. Working in HR gives you responsibility for things such as; staff recruitment, training and development, ensuring employees align with your organisation’s objectives and contributing the success of its work.

Responsibilities for HR jobs

HR professionals cover a wide variety of different tasks. Depending on the size of the charity, you may specialise in one particular area as part of a team or you may cover the whole function by yourself.

Typical areas of work include:

  • Employee relations
    This involves setting policies for working conditions, equal opportunities, grievances etc that balance the needs of your employees and the needs of your organisation. A workforce with a good work-life balance and high levels of job satisfaction will be more productive and efficient.
     
  • Employment law
    HR is responsible for understanding the law around employment matters, such as equal opportunities hiring, dismissal or maternity leave, and ensuring your organisation is compliant. The HR team provides advice to both employees and management.
     
  • Health and safety
    Looking after the mental and physical health of employees by ensuring a safe working environment, implementing policies that prevent accidents or stress and providing support for health issues.
     
  • Pay and benefits
    Responsibility for developing an organisation’s salary structure and managing any payroll, bonuses and pay rise negotiations. It is also in HR’s remit to create and administer employee benefits, including pensions, health insurance, holidays, loans and company cars.
     
  • Recruitment
    HR may not always be solely responsible for recruitment, but usually oversee the process. Typical tasks include writing job descriptions, advertising vacancies, shortlisting candidates and issuing contracts.
     
  • Training, learning and development
    Overall responsibility for the development of the workforce, from running induction sessions for new employees, to organising or delivering internal staff training or arranging external training.

In some charities, HR is also responsible for the management of volunteers as well as paid staff. In larger not for profits this tends to be a separate department.

Getting into charity HR

A career in HR is a popular option and competition is high, so it helps to have a good degree, regardless of discipline.

If you want to stand out, you could consider studying for a qualification from the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD), the professional body for HR and people development. CIPD courses range from basic introductions, through undergraduate and postgraduate qualifications, right up to programmes for senior management.

Choosing to undertake training like this demonstrates your commitment to the industry and desire to progress your career. Some employers may even encourage you to study part time for a qualification once you start work.

When applying for a role in a charity, it really helps to have a demonstrable affinity to their cause. Having some previous volunteer experience under your belt is also a good idea, as it shows a commitment to the sector.

Skills required for HR jobs

Employers tend to look for these qualities when hiring HR staff:

  • Excellent interpersonal skills such as empathy, sensitivity, tact and discretion
  • The ability to get on with a range of people and work well in a team
  • Strong organisational and administrative skills
  • Good time management
  • Flexibility
  • IT skills, particularly if you’re interested in training, much of which is done on computers.

The key challenges of working in charity HR

HR roles in the third sector do present some unique challenges, including:

  • Charities are accountable to their funders and are often much more transparent than private sector companies. Beneficiaries need to feel confident that their donations are being spent wisely, so it’s vital to maximise the budget.
     
  • Recruitment for non-profits can often be challenging. Salaries are generally lower in the third sector, making candidate attraction trickier, and it can be difficult to build a diverse workforce. Frontline staff, especially those working with children or vulnerable people, also need strict vetting.
     
  • As charities are dependent on regular funding coming through, they sometimes have to go through dramatic periods of change, when restructuring and redundancies need to be managed while maintaining employee morale.
     
  • It is very important that HR policies and practices reflect an organisation’s mission. So charities helping families should have robust flexible working policies for working parents, and mental health charities should have good internal support for stress and other issues.

Useful resources

Charities HR Network
An organisation set up improve HR within charities

CIPD
The professional body for HR and people development

HR clinic from Third Sector magazine

Directory of Social Change
The DSC offers a range of training courses and publications designed specifically for charities.

KnowHow NonProfit
The KnowHow NonProfit website has a range of free resources on human resources topics, as well as 'how to' guides written and rated by users. They also produce cheap e-learning units and a collaborative learning space.

Free HR Advice Helpline
The social enterprise Populo offers free HR telephone advice to small charities and enterprises every Wednesday 10:00-12:00.

Roots HR
Roots HR is a specialist consultancy for human resources and health and safety services for the social sector. They operate as a social enterprise, providing high quality and affordable services to social sector organisations.

Agenda Consulting
Agenda helps charities to improve their employee and volunteer engagement