Lack of fundraising skills continues to be a challenge for small charities

Last week, The Foundation for Social Improvement (FSI) published their Skills Survey 2018-2019 report on the skills gaps of small charities with less than £1.5m income. The report highlights the different types of skills that are missing in small charities and potential reasons for those gaps, focusing in particular on IT and fundraising skills.

This blog draws out some of the report’s main findings and links them to research NCVO is currently doing on skills in the voluntary sector, which will be released in the coming months.

Fundraising continues to be a challenge

The report showed fundraising was the most challenging vacancy to recruit for with about a quarter (23%) of organisations reporting this. But it’s not just applicants; current staff also lack necessary fundraising skills. Legacy fundraising was the area that needed the most support, with around seven in ten (72%) reporting this gap in their staff. Small charities also reported that other areas of fundraising such as online (70%), major donor (69%) and corporate (67%) are also in great need of upskilling.

However, there are signs that fundraising skills are improving. For example, while fundraising is still a difficult vacancy to recruit for the number of charities that highlighted this as a problem has dropped in recent years. Similarly, 40% of small charities rated their fundraising skills as very good or excellent; an increase of five percentage points since 2016/17.

The weakest skills area is working with government

Overall, skills areas with the poorest performance ratings are working with government such as lobbying and government relations and understanding the latest HR laws.

Top three strongest skills Bottom three weakest skills
Basic IT and organisational skills (76%) Lobbying (57%)
People management (72%) Government relations (54%)
Managing deadlines (71%) Understanding the latest HR laws (52%)

Basic IT skills were reported as one of the strongest. However, more complex digital skills like specialist IT skills, social media, and website development need further improving. A significant proportion of charities (33-43%) identified these skills as missing from their workforce.

Our own research on skills in the sector confirms this. We found that the key skills employers felt applicants lacked were digital skills.

Accessing training is challenging

For current staff (see chart below) a lack of funding for training and development was cited as the most common cause for skills gaps in small charities (64%) along with a lack of time available for employees to attend training sessions (51%).

In terms of solutions, training provision was the most common action believed to address skills gaps (47%).

However, whilst training is seen as an important way of addressing skills gaps, many charities are unable to access training. This is commonly due to the cost of external training (39%) and the difficulty of finding the time to do training (29%). The report suggests that the fewer staff a charity employ, the fewer training opportunities there are.

Skills gaps affect organisations of all sizes

Data from the NCVO Almanac 2018 shows that 82% of charities have an income of under £100,000. They often work on a local level and are vital in the delivery of local services. Therefore, addressing the skills gaps they’ve reported isn’t just important for their organisation’s sustainability, but also for the community they’re working in.

Skills gaps also have implications for bigger organisations. Our research found that 14% of charities (regardless of size) identified a skills gap. Similar to the FSI’s Skills Survey report, our findings indicate that while most charities wish to invest in their training offer, many of them don’t have the time or financial resources to do so.

What’s next

We are going to continue our research on skills in the voluntary sector. This new report will provide additional data and enable us to examine the skills gap specific to smaller charities in more detail. Watch this space for our upcoming research briefing.


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Keeva Rooney Keeva is a senior researcher at NCVO. She supports the research team across a number of different projects.

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