Few Chinese NGOs offer clear career paths, report finds

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While it certainly has huge potential, China’s voluntary sector still faces many hurdles — especially when it comes to retaining talent, according to a recent report.

The 2020 Research Report on Salary and Talent Management Practice in China’s Public Welfare Industry, released by A Better Community (ABC) earlier this month, explores three main issues: the current status of talent management in the voluntary sector, the work patterns of public welfare organizations in the post-pandemic era, and how these organizations attract and retain staff. ABC is a social enterprise founded in China in 2008 to provide management consulting services to social organizations.

The pandemic has exposed operational difficulties for NGOs, according to the report. Some organizations were overloaded with a large number of “incentive donations” during the pandemic, due mainly to insufficient staffing and operational loopholes. The downward pressure of the economy caused by the pandemic has forced some companies to suspend production, lay off employees or even go bankrupt, which has had an impact on corporate donations to NGOs.

In addition, the report shows that in 2020 more than 30 percent of former NGO employees went on to work for companies — far exceeding the 22 percent recorded in 2019. The report concludes that this is due to the limited resources and size of social organizations, which are at a disadvantage compared to businesses in terms of attracting skilled workers, thanks to their limited resources.

The report also found that the value appeal of many NGOs remains weak and their organizational culture is not inclusive enough, which can undermine employees’ confidence and enthusiasm. The lack of organizational cohesion is bound to impact the long-term development of the voluntary sector. In addition, the employee incentive policies adopted by most organizations are immaterial and lack lasting effectiveness. One thing the report shares with the one from 2019 is that limited career development opportunities are the most common reason that people quit their jobs.

Only 35 percent of the NGOs surveyed believe that they have established a clear career path for their employees, according to the report; most organizations are trying to change this, but there is still a long way to go.

In terms of staff development, NGOs provide employees with various types of professional training — management (project management and organizational management) and communication training are the main types of training, but project management is considered to be the most valuable training program.

With different ability requirements for junior staff and middle to senior staff, most organizations believe that junior staff need to improve their abilities to hit targets and execute plans. Compared to the 2019 report, more organizations believe that the ability to systematically summarize and reflect is an important quality for junior staff, while for middle and senior staff, strategic thinking and reasonable allocation of tasks are considered to be the abilities that need to be improved the most.

Online recruitment is the main recruitment channel for NGOs, accounting for more than 80 percent of new hires. Other common ways include recommendations from inside the organization or partners, and volunteers joining organizations as full-time employees. NGOs rarely recruit staff through job fairs or career counseling centers. Fundraising, communications and project management positions were the top three most difficult positions to recruit staff for.

The report found that 87 percent of social organizations have tried to solve the challenges of staff supply and deployment by adopting “flexible staffing methods”, with recruiting volunteers and hiring part-time staff being the most common. Among them, 56 percent use flexible methods for project management and execution positions, followed by external affairs, brand communication, volunteer management and financial management positions — the roles with the largest staff shortages.

Seventy-two percent of organizations surveyed in 2020 laid out their bonus plans, up from 59 percent in 2019. Among these organizations, 38 percent pay bonuses annually, 4 percent pay semi-annually, 12 percent pay quarterly, and 15 percent pay monthly. The influencing factors of the actual payment of bonuses are (in order of importance) individual performance, overall organization performance, and department/team/group performance. Only 18 percent provide other compensation programs for employees, including fundraising bonuses, sales bonuses, project promotion awards, employee recognition awards and project subsidies.