World NGO Day and the Importance of Staff Development
“The only thing worse than training your employees and having them leave is not training them and having them stay” Henry Ford.
NGO impact is undeniable
World NGO Day is celebrated annually on the 27th February. There are over 10 million NGOs globally, with 96 countries around the world celebrating World NGO Day in different ways. The key objectives of the day are to celebrate (honour NGOs and volunteers who give up their time so they can make a difference), commemorate (acknowledge the hard work done by NGOs to create positive change) and collaborate (create networks between NGOs, the private and public sectors). NGOs and the third sector are made up of a wide range of different organisations that tackle problems in different sectors such as health, education, humanitarian crises, infrastructure, economic development, governance and more. However, there are certain skills that cut across these sectoral differences.
The importance of NGO staff development
There are many different reasons to provide training and development for staff in the NGO sector. One of the key reasons to ensure staff development and skills strengthening is the fact that the NGO sector has such a significant impact globally which impacts communities, beneficiaries and donors. In fact, the number of people expected to donate to charities by 2030 is 2.5 billion, and 80% of the global population believe that NGOs make it easy to be involved in positive social change. The scale of the sector is clear when you consider that “if NGOs were a country, they would have the 5th largest economy in the world”. With that kind of power comes great responsibility, and the importance of staff development is thus undeniable.
Building safeguarding practices
Another key reason for staff development is the building of safeguarding practices. Following the revelations in 2018 of widespread abuse by certain INGOs of both beneficiaries and internal staff, there has been growing reflection within the sector about what can be done to better promote safeguarding. Safeguarding is defined here as “all actions taken by organisations to protect their personnel from harm and from harming others”. While many organisations could simply require staff to undertake mandatory online courses (where they complete a multiple choice test to attain a safeguarding certificate), there has been recognition instead that serious shifts in practice are required to protect beneficiaries, staff and the sectors reputation – and thus its ability to make positive change at a global and local level.
Building organisational capacity
It may seem that building the talent of your staff could lead only to their individual capacity, but research has shown that promoting staff development leads to more loyal staff, who are willing to stay within an organisation and in doing so build organisational capacity. “If talented staff (and volunteers) feel unappreciated, they will move to another job, taking their skills and knowledge capital away from your organisation”. One way to ensure staff feel appreciated is to spend time and money on building their skills, and strengthening their capacity to make good decisions, engage effectively and promote positive change within the sector.
Building better leaders
Arora argued in 2012 that “it is estimated that in India alone, over half a million new senior managers will have to be developed for leadership positions … what is also apparent, is that many of these jobs will be filled by individuals recruited from outside the sector who will have had limited experience of running non-profits at senior level”. What better way to ensure the sector thrives than to develop the future leaders of the NGO sector from within the sector? This means actively and consciously working with current staff to strengthen their skills, develop their leadership and managerial knowledge and expertise, and, in doing so, promote a participatory organisational culture.
“Leadership should be inspirational and very visible. Leadership builds on the strength of an organisation, their beliefs, philosophy and approaches. If robust enough, then good leadership can add value” (The Business of NGO Leadership).
The practice of NGO staff development
What can NGOs do at a practical level to build and strengthen the capacity of their staff? The following list focuses on interventions that go beyond the traditional training courses, webinars and seminars, etc.
Build a mentoring culture: Often NGOs look outside of the organisation for training and support in staff development, when they could be drawing on the skills and expertise within their organisation. This means creating mentoring or coaching programmes for new staff, and mentoring mid-career professionals who want to take on management level roles in the future. Darrell Foster, Head of Learning & Development, recently wrote “good leaders always have a vision and purpose. They not only visualise the future themselves but share their vision”. This is what mentoring is able to promote – a shared vision, shared skills and shared learning.
Build your box: When I first started working in the NGO sector, I was given some great advice – keep a box that you fill with important information, highlights, experiences which you will be willing to give to the person who eventually takes over your role. I think this advice can be extended to capacity strengthening so that we should each keep a box of lessons, highlights, notes and anecdotes, which we can share with colleagues or reflect on in our own time. This box should be a reminder of where we’ve come from and what we’ve learnt, how we’ve developed and where we want to go. It should also be a reminder of what we still want to learn and skills we think would be useful in helping us be the best we can be. This should be shared with your manager, so they know how they can help you build your capacity.
“Ensuring that knowledge flows throughout an organization, informing the quality of service to clients whose lives depend on it, takes hard work. But the steps required of leaders are pretty clear…They need to set learning goals that resonate because they advance the organization’s mission; they need to reinforce a culture that rewards knowledge capture and sharing; and they need to engage staff in creating intuitive processes for making it all happen” (Milway & Saxton).