Adeela Warley: Charities need to prioritise their workplace cultures

27 Feb 2024 Voices

CharityComms’ chief executive discusses her organisation’s latest research and how charities can create better workplace cultures…

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As the CEO of CharityComms, I have the privilege of working alongside highly motivated and talented comms professionals from across the sector. I am inspired by the enormous pride they take in their work, and the skills and passion they bring to helping their charity achieve its mission.

Our Salary and Organisational Culture Survey 2023 allows us to listen to their voices. The survey provides an insight into their working lives, their challenges and hopes for the future. It can also act as a spur for charities to remove the barriers which could potentially hold communicators back and take practical steps to create better workplace cultures. 

This year, the data reveals reasons to be cheerful but also areas for improvement.   

Ups and downs

Recognition of comms is going in the right direction but requires attention: 

  • 58% of comms professionals say comms is embedded effectively in charities, but the data also shows a slight decline in how valued it is within their organisation. 
  • Most charity comms professionals are happy at their organisations, but more can be done to support them: 77% say their job allows them to maintain a good work-life balance. However, improvements in workload, time off in lieu arrangements and time for professional development opportunities are still needed. 
  • Comms professionals are thinking about their career and salary progression: 41% of people are planning a career move in the next year, while 82% of people would change roles for a higher salary. 

Straight from the heart 

We know comms staff continue to be stretched for time – it’s why we feel a sense of responsibility to listen attentively to their voices. The human stories behind the data provide the most revealing insights and a compelling case for action. Here’s a taste, in their own words:  
“I have been too over capacity to take up much training and development.”

“I just wish the importance and value of my role was better understood by others in my organisation.”

“I feel like the sector is getting much harder to stay in. The private sector is much less responsibility for better pay and benefits. It’s a hard choice when you love the charity’s mission but it's becoming unsustainable.”

Action stations

We know the economic climate has increased pressure on resources and squeezed pay and benefits. But we do have agency over our working cultures if we truly listen and act with intent.

Let’s be transparent about our approach to setting pay and benefits so staff can see the bigger picture and feel they have an inside track. At the very least, this will help manage expectations and empower them to make informed decisions about their careers.

Proactively invest in professional development opportunities – not just setting aside the budget but ensuring staff can prioritise the time to access the inspiration, insight, and networking on offer.   

Make mentoring and being mentored the norm. This not only supports the flow of knowledge and experience throughout our sector, but nurtures learning cultures where reflection is valued. 

Recruit and develop communications expertise on your board and in your senior management teams to embed communications into the strategic approach.

Think about the structural barriers and the levers you can pull. For example, removing siloed ways of working and connecting teams to a shared purpose, so they can move in the same direction. Collaboration, built over time, creates the conditions for success. No workforce can thrive in an atmosphere of internal competition or constant crisis without risking burn-out and poor morale.  

Provide clear guidelines and practical tools to manage workload, mental health, and wellbeing, and set clear boundaries for remote working – all these things can powerfully demonstrate the value and trust you place in your teams.

And regardless of how busy we are or how much pressure we face, we must not miss the opportunity to express gratitude and celebrate the work of our comms teams. 

Keeping our eyes on the prize

Recognition must also be built into the everyday experience of working for charities, hard wired into our cultures and structures. 

CharityComms is a small charity with big ambitions and modest resources, so I know getting this right is not easy – there will never be a point where I say “job done”. But I also know that investing in my team and holding them in high esteem will help them love their jobs and do their best work. 

What this report tells us is that we must focus on creating a place where communicators feel valued and where they can thrive. The success of our sector depends on it. 

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