Professional development: what is the charity sector lacking?

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The skills possessed by charity workers help to determine the development of the sector. In October, Moderate, an organization that focuses on the development of charity workers and charitable organizations, published the Capability Development Trend of Chinese Charity Workers 2021, revealing that staff in the sector lack systematic, professional and targeted support.

Liu Xiaoxue, co-founder of Moderate, argues that the current state of professional development in the sector reveals a problem in the system.

“This report is based on our long-term observations. Often, we hear voices complaining that the charity sector is not able to attract talented workers, or that the development of workers’ professional skills is very slow. But at the same time, I have come across many organizations focusing on training, but the impact remains minimal.”

To improve professional development, Liu stressed that it is essential to first understand the current skills of charity workers. Then, solutions need to be identified in order to improve the approaches to capacity building and expanding career development opportunities for charity workers.

Nowadays, data gathered from capacity building is mostly from empirical research. The report from Moderate attempts to use statistics to measure capabilities so that the result can be as objective as possible.

Currently, Moderate has two models for measuring capabilities: a general model that can be used for everyone working in the sector, and a leadership model for those in managerial roles. The general model involves five evaluations of a worker’s capabilities: self-evaluation and evaluations from supervisors, as well as evaluations from junior team members, colleagues, and clients. Data from the general model demonstrates that in a charitable organization, in addition to supervisors, it is common to see individuals give themselves a relatively poor evaluation score compared to evaluations on them conducted by others in the organization.

Liu said that the difference is normal; but for individual workers, how to react to comments from people on their abilities and performance is something worth considering. Supervisors are prone to be demanding, but charity workers need to recognize if their requirements are reasonable, as well as to acknowledge their strengths and value.

Speaking of leadership, Liu noted that data from the other model conveys that organization leaders desperately need to improve their management skills. She stressed that cultivating good managers requires the introduction of new theories, concepts, methods and mentors to guide people and their practices. But very few charities are equipped with these tools.

According to her, poor management is one of the most important reasons for high staff turnover in the sector.

“We have done research on the reasons charity workers quit their jobs. Many feel that the sector offers only very limited career development opportunities, and they do not find their work meaningful. They sometimes lack a sense of achievement in their work. Once they think the sector offers no further room for them to grow, they often resign,” Liu said.

She pointed out that trust and respect from supervisors has a huge impact on employee engagement and retention.

“Support and encouragement from supervisors is vital for workers to gain a sense of meaning and achievement in what they do and will help organizations to retain talent. In addition, compared to the private sector, charities cannot afford to pay competitive salaries; this means that managers need to employ ‘soft skills’ to attract and retain top talent and manage teams effectively.”