Background to the sector and effective organisations

An attempt to give some context for the rest of VolResource website, and associated projects. First created March 2006.

Voluntary and community organisations – Overview

Voluntary organisations can be confusing for those new to the sector, or newly given responsibility when they have previously been happily working away in the frontline. It can be difficult to know where to start – that’s what we will try to help with here. Your site editor has thirty years of baggage to put to one side first, so this may require some refinement!

Workers, managers, pundits and consultants will often refer to the voluntary sector as if it is clear what we are talking about. A quick look at our Glossary should show that is not necessarily so. Sometimes referred to as making up the third sector, voluntary organisations can be very different to those in the first two, private business and public authorities. But there are in fact few hard boundaries – small local firms can have much in common with community groups employing staff, and national charities will have similar management problems to larger companies. One way of looking at it is as a 2 dimensional continuum (courtesy of OUBS): informal groupings to institutions and bureaucracies, and social goals/public benefit via mutual benefit to private/economic goals. (See organisational management page for some more in this area.)

VolResource works on the basis that housing associations, academic institutes, trade unions and trade or professional bodies are on the edges, for one reason or another. That doesn’t mean that none of what this site covers is relevant, just that they operate in specific contexts (and their own support systems).

Sector trends and issues

Professionalisation, public services

There has been a lot of change in the sector over the last 20 or 30 years. It has grown in its range and numbers, and it is often thought to have increased in professionalism at the expense of passion, innovation and informality. While this may well be true, there are still a lot of community groups, ad-hoc campaigns and new approaches to problems out there. Some may be hidden under new labels, such as ‘social enterprise’, and others not fit government funding priorities so exist on a shoe-string. New regulations around child protection, for instance, can undoubtedly make an impact on how easy it is to set up a youth group but difficulties can be exaggerated and distorted.

Passion, innovation and informality have long been valued by those involved in voluntary groups. But they have both strengths and weaknesses. Poorly thought through ideas, inadequately managed processes or untested facilities can all result in a lot of wasted effort (and resources), and might even make things worse, rather than better. A little time and care before, during and after taking action can avoid many of the pitfalls and should lead to things going forward rather than standing still or going round in circles.

What you need to know

With increasing attention from politicians on what voluntary organisations can deliver, and a higher profile for some charities from recent natural disasters and upcoming new charity law, the ‘operating environment’ is increasingly complex. But most people in most organisations still just need to get on with establishing good practice.

We say ‘good practice’ rather than ‘best practice’ on purpose. The latter is often taken to mean referring to a checklist of policies, set ways of managing meetings or appointing trustees etc, without recognising that every organisation’s circumstances are different. Committee members/trustees with different backgrounds, and even some support organisations, seem to think that management practices they have learnt elsewhere can be applied wholesale. Claiming that your organisation has to start from scratch on everything, because it is unique, is equally a poor approach. VolResource believes that by using some thought, you can learn from commercial businesses, the public sector or other charities, but application by rote is a route to failure.

Find what you want and act on it

If approached in the wrong way the large amount of material on this site could make things worse.

There is an awful lot involved in running a successful organisation or project, whatever its size or complexity. It can be a daunting prospect. You can’t do everything at once, and trying to do too much can end up with nothing done well, and probably much having to be redone (by you or someone else after you’ve burnt out!).

Work out what is important for your particular circumstances. It can help to talk things through with someone from outside, whether from an official support body or not, as an ‘uninvolved’ view may well spot something you have taken for granted, and just by having to communicate what you are trying to do often clarifies the issues.

Don’t forget about the other issues – perhaps people with a particular interest can be found to help with them or come up with a timetable to work through them. Just don’t lose the focus.

Our approach

VolResource attempts to bring together the wealth of information and support that is available for voluntary organisations, but can be difficult to track down, or even to know that it exists. Things have improved since VolResource first appeared, in spring 1999, but there’s still reason enough for us to continue. We don’t claim to be definitive, and instead aim to be a starting point, particularly on ‘what is useful to those relatively new to the sector or a particular aspect of its work’.

By signing up for the email newsletter you can be kept informed of relevant developments on specific sector issues, new advice and regulations in admin and management plus new online resources as we find them – it can take a little while for us to update relevant pages on the VolResource site.

The site can also be used as a database of contacts. See pages marked with the ‘contact list‘ category.

Fundraising has largely been left to one side, as a particular area of expertise which has plenty of coverage elsewhere – see Fundraising resources.

The site will continue to be developed and updated, as useful material is published, the sector changes or new thinking appears. VolResource aims to use developments in internet and other communication technology to further reduce barriers within the sector which has previously kept useful, hard-won knowledge within relatively small circles.

Avoid These Ten Benchmarking Mistakes

Article written by Anne Evans, Benchmarking Link-up Australia

Benchmarking has become embedded in most organisations as part of the way they stay competitive. But there are lots of opportunities for benchmarking to go wrong. Here are some of the most common mistakes organisations make when benchmarking, and how you can avoid them.

Mistake #1. Confusing benchmarking with participating in a survey.

A survey of organisations in a similar industry to yours is not really benchmarking, whatever it may be called. Such a survey will give you some interesting numbers, but benchmarking is the process of finding out what is behind the numbers. In other words, a benchmarking survey may tell you where you rank, but it won’t help you improve your position.

Mistake #2. Thinking there are pre-existing “benchmarks” to be found.

Just because some survey or study says that a cost of $2.35 is the “benchmark” cost of a particular transaction, does not mean that you must perform that transaction for that price. The so-called “benchmark” may simply not be applicable to your markets, customers or resource levels. Insist on identifying your own benchmarking partners and finding out from them what is achievable, and then whether you can achieve a similar level of performance.

Mistake #3. Forgetting about service delivery and customer satisfaction.

Benchmarking stories abound of organisations that have become so fixated on the cost of providing their product or service that they have failed to take the customer into account. Paring down the costs often rebounds in lesser service delivery, so customers go elsewhere and ultimately you don’t have a business. Take a “balanced scorecard” approach when developing your benchmarking metrics.

Mistake #4. The process is too large and complex to be manageable.

A process is a group of tasks. A system is a group of processes. Avoid trying to benchmark a total system – it will be extremely costly, take ages, and be difficult to remain focused. Better to select one or several processes that form a part of the total system, work with it initially and then move on to the next part of the system.

Mistake #5. Confusing benchmarking with research.

Benchmarking presupposes that you are working on an existing process that has been in operation long enough to have some data about its effectiveness and its resource costs. Commencing a new process, such as developing a new employee handbook by collecting other people’s handbooks and taking ideas from them, is research, not benchmarking.

Mistake #6. Misalignment.

Choosing a benchmarking topic that is not aligned with the overall strategy and goals of the business – or worse, cuts across some other initiative the organisation is already taking. A Lead Team at the strategic level needs to oversee the benchmarking project and make sure that it is in line with what is happening in the business as a whole.

Mistake #7. Picking a topic that is too intangible and difficult to measure.

“Employee communication” is probably the most slippery concept that exists in an organisation, but it is often cited as one of the worst problems, so many organisations try to benchmark it. Encourage your benchmarking team to select instead a part of the topic that can be observed and measured; for instance, the process of distributing memos around the organisation.

Mistake #8. Not establishing the baseline.

Going out to make benchmarking visits before you have analysed your own process thoroughly. Benchmarking assumes that you already know your own process and its level of performance thoroughly. After all, that information is what you have to offer to your benchmarking partners in exchange for the information you are seeking from them. Make sure your benchmarking team is very clear about what it wants to learn before you approach potential benchmarking partners.

Mistake #9. Not researching benchmarking partners thoroughly.

This is essential in selecting the right benchmarking partners, so you don’t waste their time or yours. There is a rule of benchmarking etiquette that says you should never ask a benchmarking partner a question that you should have been able to answer for yourself through researching the literature in the public domain.

Mistake #10. Not having a code of ethics and contract agreed with partners.

Your partners should be clear about what you are seeking to learn from them, how that information will be treated, who will have access to it and for what purposes it will be used. Ideally, this should be formally agreed. The benchmarking code of practice offered by the American Productivity and Quality Centre provides a useful model.

© Anne Evans, 1997. Reproduced with permission of the publisher. Address enquiries to Benchmarking Link-Up Australia, 76 Garton Street, North Carlton, Victoria 3054, Australia. Tel: (+61 3) 9380 5878, fax: (+61 3) 9387 4526. E-mail:

The original text is one of a number to be found at Benchmarking Link-Up Australia’s website – which seems to have moved so, sorry, we can’t give you a link!

Employing Staff


For many organisations recruiting their first paid worker after relying on volunteer effort, the positive buzz is undermined by not just having to come to terms with new management issues but also all the regulations and issues around employing staff. Some voluntary organisations think these only apply to commercial bodies and ignore, others try to apply the approach of large corporations (where trustees might work) resulting in overkill.

There are get outs on some regulations for smaller concerns, but you should always check (and also consider whether in best practice terms or because of the number of volunteers you should respect them anyway).

Workforce resources on NCVO website.

Trades Unions, Associations

Some parts of the sector are heavily unionised, while elsewhere they don’t seem to have heard of them. Employers can’t use them as information sources directly, but staff who are members can often get some useful general briefings for free. Unions with dedicated voluntary sector branches include:

  • Unison Probably the largest presence in the sector (around 50,000 members quoted early 2006). Contact National Officer for Voluntary Sector (Mike Short), 1 Mabledon Place, London, WC1H 9AJ, phone 0845 355 0845, email: There is also a Voluntary Organisations Branch based at Suite 103/4, 134-146 Curtain Road, London, EC2A 3AR, phone 020 7729 4001/5001.
  • Unite has a specialist section for community, play, youth and not-for profit workers in the UK.
  • Association of Community Workers Info about various aspects of community work. Stephenson Buildings, Elswick Rd, Newcastle, NE4 6SQ, phone 0191 272 4341 (these contact details may be out of date).
  • Community union includes branches covering specific voluntary sector areas/activities, and incorporates British Union of Social Work and National League of the Blind & Disabled (recognised in sheltered workshops). The Community Union Combined Branches in the North of England (Yorkshire & Humberside, Manchester and Lancashire) specifically organises and recruits in the Voluntary, Community Care and Housing Associations Sector.

Employment Contracts and Policies

The Policies Checklist we have compiled will flag up some issues you need to consider, such as Disciplinary and Grievance, Time Off in Lieu, Redundancy, Retirement. There are certain legal requirements to any employment contract. These include issuing a written ‘statement of employment particulars’ within 2 months of starting (sooner if working abroad), for any employee working longer than a month, with no minimum working hours. It must include names, start date, salary, hours and place of work, holidays. This or other documents must cover sick pay, pensions, length of contract if not permanent, any collective agreements.

Disciplinary and Grievance Procedures. Advisory handbook from ACAS online (or order in print) from their publications website.

NCVO will send you model standard and fixed term employment contracts if you send an sae to the Helpdesk, NCVO, Regent’s Wharf, 8 All Saints Street, London, N1 9RL (helpdesk phone 0800 2798 798).

Valuing the Voluntary Sector – Quality Conditions for Quality Services was a campaign from TGWU, September 2005, which included a charter of rights for people working in voluntary organisations. No longer running, but check Unite pages.

A Guide to Good Employment was produced by Northern Ireland sector support body NICVA, but disappeared from website in 2014 redesign. Try their HR or Resources sections for other employment help. While much of the human resources guidance will be common across the UK, do note that some legal requirements differ.

Please take legal advice or consult a support body for more guidance – we can’t give definitive information here due to the breadth of the subject and range of organisations who might be reading this.

Sources of Advice

  • Personnel consultants specialising in the sector will be listed on the management consultants list. This specialism may or may not be highlighted for an entry, but its worth asking.
  • ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) As well as their well-known role of mediating in disputes, they run a variety of employment related workshops at reasonable prices. They also have short advice publications, specimen forms etc. which can be downloaded from the web site or picked up for free from their offices, on such topics as contracts of employment, discipline at work, flexible employment requirements. Contact your regional office. London office: Clifton House, 83-117 Euston Road, NW1 2RB, phone 020 7396 5121.
  • HRNet, run by the Cranfield Trust, offers charities online Human Resources advice and access to information on HR developments.
  • Institute for Employment Studies A charity connected to Sussex Uni – all aspects of employment policy and practice, do research and consultancy.
  • HRZone has a variety of online resources, some free.
  • Your rights at work: A TUC guide comes as a result of the demand from the TUC’s Know Your Rights phone line. Order from Kogan Page, phone 01903 828800 (£8-99).

Work as part of life

How far work should be allowed to dominate an individual’s life is increasing in importance as an issue in the sector. Why should relationships and social life suffer because of your work being so crucial? Isn’t it better for all (including performance at work) to strike a fair balance? These are some of the questions you can investigate further via the following links:

  • Working Families believes that implementing work-life balance practices helps the voluntary sector build capacity through flexible working and improve recruitment and retention. 1-3 Berry Street, London, EC1V 0AA, phone 020 7253 7243, email:
  • The Work Foundation did have relevant publications such as Time to go home – embracing the homeworking revolution (May 03), which includes management and legal advice, and The Work-Life Manual, ‘a practical tool … to help identify what work-life initiatives you can introduce’, but not sure that these are still available.
  • Getting It Right: Improving work-life balance in your business, jointly produced by NSPCC with Federation of Small Businesses and British Chambers of Commerce, is a free practical guide looking at how 11 different businesses (including a voluntary organisation and a housing association) have successfully introduced flexible employment patterns. However, it doesn’t appear to be available any more, Jan ’06.
  • Family and Childcare Trust Has information and advice for parents on childcare options and entitlements.

Note that certain, basic, legal requirements on flexible working were introduced from April ’03. See most of the above for details.


Employment Regulations

Useful websites

More indepth/for the professional

  • For loads of web links check out British Employment Law Information. This is a service from DiscLaw Publishing, who work with the Law Society. It also provides access to the professional Employment Law pages for £5 a day, which you can sign up for instantly (something like £120 for a year, which includes CD-ROM too).
  • Employment Law free email news service from Daniel Barnett (barrister). Only for those who really want to keep on top of legal developments as they happen – a professional approach.
  • Employment Appeal Tribunal for law reports.


We don’t claim or seek to cover everything here. Just the issues most likely to impact on voluntary sector organisations. See Useful web sites (above) for more.

Employers Liability Insurance is a requirement – check out Insurers if you haven’t got this covered, and remember to check whether it covers volunteers working for you. We understand that in addition to having to display a valid certificate proving your cover, the organisation must now keep this for 40 years!

Work Permits are administered by part of Home Office’s Border Agency. Work permit arrangements allow employers based in Great Britain to employ people who are not nationals of a European Economic Area country and are not otherwise entitled to work in this country. See Gov.Uk section ‘Check if someone can work in the UK‘.

National Minimum Wage regulations are enforced by HM Revenue & Customs. Rates are revised from time to time. If you pay more than reimbursement of expenses to volunteers, watch out! There are also implications on record keeping, especially if you pay less than £12,000 per year (£1,000 per month). The NMW information line is on 0845 8450 360.

Unfair dismissal considerations apply after one year. This means that if you have had someone on temporary contracts for more than a year, you might have a problem if that employment comes to an end (for whatever reason) unless you know your employment law.

Criminal Record Checks /Barring We give the basics of this under Volunteers and the law. This mainly impacts on care and children organisations. See Disclosure and Barring Service (was Criminal Records Bureau, alternative link on In Scotland, it is Protection of Vulnerable Groups (PVG) checks – see Disclosure Scotland or Volunteer Scotland resources.

Unions, industrial action

Union recognition and ballots. Part of Employment Relations Act 1999 provisions, in force from June 2000.

BIS has published a guide for employees / trade union members who are considering taking industrial action, in pdf format ‘Industrial Action and the Law‘. Trade Unions and workers rights section.

Leave, working hours, work-life balance

Parental Leave – Maternity and Paternity leave. Improvements in entitlements from April 03. There are also rights for time off for emergencies involving dependants (but no obligation for this to be paid).

Working Time Regulations came into force October 1998. 48 hours averaged over 17 weeks is the maximum unless the employee has agreed in writing, or there is a union agreement. There are various other rights and some types of workers with other get outs. on leave and time off (England, Wales and NI).


The Equality and Human Rights Commission is the official anti-discrimination body.

Disability Discrimination Act See the disability related sites on People Resources page. Employers with 15 or more employees may not discriminate against current or prospective employees with disabilities. Small employer exemption ended Oct ’04.

Religious and sexual orientation discrimination regulations from December 2003. See ACAS guidance.

Race discrimination Under amendments brought in July 03, an exemption from the 1976 Race Relations Act that had allowed charities serving particular racial groups to recruit staff from a particular racial group has been partially repealed. ‘Genuine occupational requirements’ can still be used when recruiting staff, where the nature of the employment requires someone of a particular race, ethnic or national origin.

Induction Checklist: Sample Document

Sample documents are generally based on ones developed for particular organisations. As such, you should use them as a starting point rather than a definitive statement. Organisations differ in how they function and your circumstances (e.g. organisational structure, priority issues) should be taken into account. But better than a blank sheet!


This simple checklist was created for paid staff. While volunteers will need much of the same, some areas will need to differ. Legally, there should be some care not to use words that imply an employment contract. Clarifying mutual expectations is the suggested approach (whether there is a minimum time commitment, training needed to undertake certain roles, what roles are available). Also who they report to if providing, for example, admin help across departments can be a concern.


  • When, where to arrive, who to meet.
  • Terms and conditions, contract.
  • Job description, any further background notes.


  • Introductions to immediate colleagues (Team).
  • Office basics:
    • Office access and security
    • Health and safety.
    • Fire drill
    • First aid procedures/officers
    • General office facilities – post, copier, stationery supplies, drinks, phone answering, diaries etc.
  • Workstations, equipment
  • Clarify personnel issues – holiday arrangements, office hours and cover, dress code, sickness reporting
  • Introduction to other office staff (as available).
  • Basic structure and purpose of organisation *.
  • Clarify job, key relationships *.
  • Starting tasks *.


  • Communication channels, responsibilities *
    • – within Team
    • – outline for whole organisation.
  • General work standards *.
  • Specific facilities/resources for the job.
  • Supervisory sessions *.
  • Organisation’s history, policies, goals, structure *.


Those items marked * above will need to be revisited and developed over time.

Assessment of initial training and development needs.


First appraisal interview/probationary period review.

Creative Commons Licence
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Licence.

People Management Resources

Human resources, equal ops

Our sample documents

Equal Opportunity issues

Most of these don’t just apply to staffing matters, but it is often where you come across them first.

  • Equality and Human Rights Commission.
  • Race On The Agenda (ROTA) is a policy development information and research service for the Black voluntary sector in London.
  • Equality Commission for Northern Ireland Took over the functions of Commission for Racial Equality for Northern Ireland, the Equal Opportunities Commission for Northern Ireland, the Fair Employment Commission and the Northern Ireland Disability Council.
  • The government’s Disability pages.
  • Business Disability Forum is funded and managed by member organisations, to “make it easier to recruit and retain disabled employees and to serve disabled customers”.
  • Harassment Law UK This web site has been designed to provide practical information and relevant web links for anyone who is the victim of harassment or who has been wrongly accused of harassment, whether it is racial or sexual harassment, or bullying at work.

Websites and Facilities

Also see: Further pointers on recruitment on our Managing People page.

  • ACEVO, the chief executives body, has set up an Employee Assistance Programme service, working with Worklife Support. This provides employee (and their families) access to such things a counselling, advice services (legal, debt etc.), career and job support, management consultation and coaching.
  • Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development for professional personnel practitioners. Info on the site for non-members is restricted, but worth checking, especially their factsheets (in Knowledge section). You can also book their short courses online, but they aren’t cheap. Organisational membership could be a good way of getting access to personnel information on a regular basis. CIPD House, Camp Road, London, SW19 4UX, phone 020 8971 9000, email:
  • Croner have various materials available online but less freely available material than there used to be.
  • Fenman (Trainer Active) has a wide range of relevant training resources.
  • GetFeedback provides an online HR questionnaire facility – for appraisals, team development etc.
  • HRZone
  • Institute of Employment Rights bills itself as ‘a think tank for the labour movement’, ‘acting as a focal point for the spread of new ideas on the field of labour law’.
  • Investors in People There is a perception that signing up for IiP is only for the larger organisation, as it involves a fair bit of paper work. It is about improving peoples performance, flexibility and motivation, particularly in times of change. At Jan 01, there are some 366 charitable organisations with the standard, which has 4 key principles: commitment to develop employees to achieve business goals and targets, planning to review training and development needs required in context of the business, action assuring relevant step are taken to meet the needs, evaluation measuring the outcomes of training and development for individuals and the organisation.
  • Check your local council for voluntary service/voluntary action for any personnel and employment advice services offered. More likely for larger outfits.
  • SCVO in Scotland and the other national umbrella bodies have people management sections on their websites.
  • Trades Union Congress – TUC Their site has information on employment rights, health and safety etc. as well as the organising/joining trades union information you would expect.

Briefings, checklists, facts

NCVO will send you model standard and fixed term employment contracts if you send an sae to the Helpdesk, NCVO, Regent’s Wharf, 8 All Saints Street, London, N1 9RL (phone 0800 2798 798).

Chancellor Formecon is one of a number of commercial organisations providing a variety of Personnel Management forms, posters, manuals etc. Minimum quantities can be a pain, but quality is fairly reliable.

CIPD research (Feb 00) found an average absence rate in the voluntary sector of 1 in 20 working days (5%), compared with 1 in 30 elsewhere. 37 per cent of absences were down to ‘Monday morning blues’. (Quoted in ThirdSector, 22/3/01)

Voluntary Sector Workforce Development Plan, published Voluntary Sector National Training Organisation, Feb 01, (see Training Resources) includes a round-up of useful statistics for the sector in England/Wales/Scotland (most from Skills Matter report):

20% of staff are managers and administrators, 18% in clerical occupations.

25% are educated to degree level, compared with 23% in public sector, 10% in commercial.

A third of organisations with paid staff reported difficulties filling posts, particularly managerial.

Skills gaps identified: 44% had some amongst current employees; 50% lacked understanding of effective IT use; 40% planning and forward thinking skills missing; 38% basic IT skills; 48% fundraising.

Limited recruitment pool in rural areas.

Managing People


It is intended that most of this can be applied to volunteers as well as paid staff and covers management concepts relating to people issues. Please note, though, that you really need to do some serious reading, course work or gain experience ‘on the job’ if you want to develop people management skills properly.

Also see People Management Resources page.

Team building

Belbin is the name often bandied about here. He has developed the concept of Team Roles, with everybody having their own preferred role(s). You need a reasonable understanding of the overall idea before you can apply it fully, otherwise you will be reducing people to being pre-programmed robots. He describes 8 roles (below) which a team must fill, plus that of the subject Specialist (expert). Precise terminology can vary, but you can use these headings to consider how your team manages to cover the roles as a ‘simple’ starter.

– Chair (co-ordinator and social leader)
– Shaper (gives drive and impetus)
– Plant/Innovator (ideas person)
– Monitor/evaluator (stopping over enthusiasm, missing key points)
– Resource investigator (delicate external negotiations)
– Organiser/company worker (implementer – turns ideas into practical action)
– Team worker (diffuses friction)
– Completer/Finisher (progress chaser)

Lifecycle of teams A real team (rather than just a group of individuals) will go through 4 identifiable stages:
– Forming. Often initially seemingly a very straightforward, uneventful activity. But sooner or later, any team which is going anywhere much has to address:
– Storming. Getting all the differences out in the open, leading to:
– Norming. Agreeing who is doing what, modes of behaviour etc., leading to:
– Performing
For a project team which performs well, there is likely to be another stage – mourning – when it comes to an end.

What is perhaps worst to realise is that in a typical small to medium you will not get much choice in team membership, and each time a member changes (leaves, gets promoted or has job re-defined) the team lifecycle is likely to get knocked back a stage (or thereabouts).

These concepts help you appreciate the problems, but don’t lose sight of the power of good teams or the fact that everything doesn’t have to be perfect. Just remember some attention to how the team operates is as important as being clear on what its real tasks are.


Herzberg splits motivation into 2 key areas:

1. Hygiene factors. These don’t motivate, but inadequate fulfilment here could be de-motivating. Includes working conditions, working relations, pay, technical supervision, company policy. Good hygiene can help prevent illness, but doesn’t improve your health!

2. Satisfiers/motivators. Achievement, responsibility, recognition, advancement, work itself.

Appraisal and Supervision

Appraisal ideally contributes to both organisational and personal learning, plus achieving the organisation’s objectives.

It works best if there are regular supervision sessions during the year, picking up and dealing with minor issues on both sides, and establishing a level of understanding between the superviser and supervisee. How and when supervision happens will vary immensely between and within different organisations – for instance residential care staff working with ‘challenging’ clients will need greater support and guidance than office staff dealing with more predictable duties.

Our sample Appraisal Form/Checklist rather assumes that positive relationships and attitudes are the norm. Questions on ‘why things didn’t work out’ will need to be expressed more diplomatically if this is not generally the case in your organisation, otherwise there is a tendency to get into apportioning blame rather than being focused on ways forward.

Most small to medium size voluntary organisations will want to keep things simple, but it is possible to have very sophisticated performance assessment models developed, which at least in theory take away some of the subjective value judgements which tend to creep in.

If a lot of work is done in teams, has this been taken into account when appraising an individual? How well have they contributed to the team’s goals, is it actually impossible with current management style to tell?

Job design, Person Spec

Job descriptions and recruitment

Before recruiting to a post, you need to (re-)design the job! A checklist :

  • what, why, when, where, how is it done?
  • what are the responsibilities (people, budgets, resources)
  • define working relationships
  • requirements for the job – skills, education, motivation, level of performance expected
  • describe conditions of work
  • check whether this all stacks up (with current job-holder, line manager)

Then draw up the job description. You should be able to draw out most of the person specification too – what are the essential or desirable skills, experience, attitudes, knowledge? How will you recognise and judge these – application form (or CV), interview, written or practical test? There is a Person Specification in our collection of sample documents, but please note that this is NOT a model, but a guide for your thoughts.

Note: it is very common for recruitment to be done looking backwards, at addressing what was missing/went wrong with a previous post occupant. Try looking forwards, at current and future needs, instead.

Sample job descriptions may be found on some websites of sector support bodies, such as CharityComms for communications roles (e.g. Head of Digital Communications article, published 2012).

Institute of Fundraising published ‘Managing Fundraisers: The essential guide to recruiting, developing & retaining fundraising talent’ in 2012 – no longer online at Oct. 2018?

Providing Training

Organising and putting on your own training course is an attractive proposition for many voluntary organisations, given that they may be dealing with an unusual combination of staff, activities or clients, and not be able to afford expensive commercial trainer/consultants. Our advice would be to check out what standard and tailored training can be provided by those specialising in the voluntary sector first – see Training page. There are many pitfalls which could turn an in-house production into a negative rather than positive force for change. Here are a few ‘train the trainer’ tips – see also our Training Resources page.

Development / Training Needs Assessment

Can be part of Appraisal process. The idea is to identify what training is needed to do the job well, and works best if the job is well-defined with specific requirements (skills etc.). This will not always be possible, as many voluntary sector jobs are very fluid, particularly in smaller organisations.

Training Needs Assessment Before signing up for courses, an assessment of what the job involves (purpose, responsibility, key activities – should have some match to job description!), what skills and knowledge this requires (essential v. desirable), assess the gap between this and the existing position.

Training Objectives

  • What are the intended learning outcome(s) of the training sessions?
  • What will the participant be able to DO as a result of the sessions?
  • What observable activity will show what ability has been gained by the trainee as a result?Additional Key questions: How have you identified this training need? Why do you think the training would be be carried out in this way?

Another issue is trying to align the potentially conflicting wishes/abilities of an individual with the demands/possibilities of the current job and also the future needs and prospects of the organisation (which may be emerging out of the mists). Perfection here is impossible – as in much of working life where people are involved (ie most of the time) a good enough or reasonableness test has to be applied.

Have you considered …….

  • on the job coaching?
  • mentoring?
  • exchange visit, placement?
  • reading?
  • talking to experts?
  • a safe environment to practice?
  • how any course learning will be re-inforced or be negated back at work, will there be a chance to consolidate the learning or is it just an isolated (wasted) exercise?
  • is training actually going to solve anything? Is it actually a mis-match between person, task and organisation, poor job design, a structural problem?
  • that volunteers may have different needs – fit the job to the person rather than otherwise? Do they really want to get training from you so they can do paid work elsewhere (this may be a fair exchange in the right circumstances)?


Tell me, and I forgot
Show me, and I remember
Involve me, and I understand

We remember: 10% of what we read, 20% of what we hear, 30% of what we see, 50% of what we see and hear together, 80% of what we say, 90% of what we say while we do it.

“PowerPoint is about presentation (showing) not involvement. It is suitable for conferences but has no place in the training room.” A slightly extreme view, perhaps, but remember that technical training aids can actually divert attention AWAY from the training material if used improperly.

(Credits for this section: OUBS B789, Peter Firkin/Continuing to Learn, Henry Stewart/Happy Computers)

Learning Styles/Organisation

Kolb and Fry learning cycle

Learning and development, according to Kolb and Fry, follows the cycle illustrated here. The names outside the boxes are the descriptors (Learning Styles) for people who have a particular preference for that part of the cycle (Honey and Mumford). There are Questionnaires around designed to evaluate what your preferred Learning Style is. This is helpful to trade on strengths and minimize weaknesses, as you are likely to learn most from your part of the cycle. But there are dangers of missing out stages.

learning cycle

Characteristics of adult learning process

– Bring (their own) package of experience and values to the learning process – start from where they are.
– Usually come with set intentions – wanting to solve a particular type of problem they have encountered or anticipate
– Bring certain expectations about how the learning process works (and their capabilities).
– There are competing interests – social, work, etc
– Have preferred learning styles (see above)
– Adults by definition – treat them as such
– Engaged in continuing process of growth. It may not seem like it, but adults dont stop growing and developing, but the pace and direction varies.

Training is usually done in short bursts, with clear aims. See Training Needs above.

What is a learning organisation?

Characteristics of a learning organisation (derived from Argyris): open, exploratory, enquiring, mistakes are puzzles to be analysed.

Some barriers to being a learning organisation (from Salaman and Butler):
– formal learning doesn’t fit with informal (what actually happens day-to-day, what gets praised or recognised)
– departments, specialists, experts defend their corners, don’t accept others comments, ideas
– a political approach to controlling information, defensive
– strong group loyalties and pressures to conform/come to a consensus.

Investors in People

This is the national standard developed by a wide partnership of interests. It ‘sets a level of good practice for training and development of people to achieve business goals’. It is based on 4 key principles of Commitment (to invest in people), Planning (team, individual and skill development), Action, Evaluating outcomes.

See Investors in People UK website for more info, and our People Management Resources page  – the IiP standard was re-launched April 2000. Croners, amongst others, have produced materials (printed and online) to support this.