Third Sector’s Got Talent

VAL’s Interim Supporting Organisations Manager Laura Elson talks about a new talent development scheme at VAL, and how your organisation can reap the benefits of similar schemes.

Woman holding up arm with #VolunteerSelfie printed on it

The people who work and volunteer in the Third Sector are a seriously talented bunch. Committed, passionate and flexible, often with weird and wonderful skills we give our all in the aid of causes we care about.  When funding is squeezed, as managers we may not think we have the resources for workforce development but the long-term benefit of nurturing talent  far outstrips the initial costs, which could be very little with some creative thinking.

I’m lucky enough to be supported by my charity to study for an MSc at the Centre for Charity Effectiveness. VAL has supported me through a significant tuition fee contribution and regular days off work for lectures and placements. In return for this investment, I have learned enough to step into a senior management role helping VAL keep delivering as normal during a recruitment cycle.  As a direct result of my studies I have been able to work with staff to pilot new HR processes, include staff in income generation and provide strategic support to our changing marketing service.

For me there are two crucial phases of talent development. The first is investing in people early in their careers, recruiting bright stars with huge potential. Schemes like Charity Works and Cancer Research UK offer opportunities to people of all ages who are new to the sector, investing in them early and helping them build up their skills. Bringing in new talent from different sectors and young people at the start of their careers creates lots of potential, enthusiasm and diversity for the sector.

Once you have recruited your talent, the development should never stop. We naturally learn throughout our lives, seeking out challenges and progression in our work. A workplace that recognises this and provides opportunities through the supervision and appraisal system will be a happier and more effective workplace. For charities like ours, the happier and more effective the workforce, the more able we are to meet our mission.

But how can we find the time and cash to do this in the current funding climate? Here at VAL we’ve implemented a new talent development scheme and staff are already benefitting:

  • Three staff members, across three different teams, have engaged with mentors and professionals in the sector whose work they aspire to and who they regularly meet for coaching, good practice and training opportunities. The only cost associated here is the meeting time.
  • Our brand new Giving Time Administrator, Siobhan Humphries was supported by Volunteer Centre Leeds to find a volunteering placement which helped her fast track her knowledge of criminal justice. This will help her develop her work with prisoners and will also achieve her long-term goal of becoming a probation worker.
  • Staff at VAL have joined a skillshare scheme, identifying, sharing and learning skills form one another. For example our Finance Director helped me revise for my accounting exam, our Volunteering Adviser ran a short course on Mailchimp and we have others sharing skills ranging from LinkedIn to yoga.
  • We also gather information about opportunities for training including local courses, MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) Ted Talks and more.
  • Over the summer two of our staff members are conducting shadowing, at Oxfam International and Together Women Project.

Everything in that list is free, and costs nothing but a small time investment. We also offer support to apply for paid development opportunities to help staff grow in their roles.

Staff and volunteers have responded really well to the scheme, learning more about each other and the work they do and developing their talent together. If you want to focus more on talent development in your organisations a great place to start is the Doing Good Leeds training directory, which includes our popular course How to Get a Job in a Charity.

For more information contact Laura Elson on

Comments (1)

  1. kathy faulks:
    Jun 23, 2015 at 02:39 PM

    Not so sure about "bright stars"
    Have you read "Pedagogy of the Oppressed"?

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