Sector Spotlight: Evolution of the third sector interim

31 May 2017

The third sector might be battle-weary, but it is adjusting to its new environment. A relentless drive to cut costs and urgent need to respond to fundraising challenges has radically transformed the way that charities operate. Not least, there has been an evolution in the recruitment needs of charity leaders in response to financial demands. 

Fundamentally, charities still need access to quality, off-payroll professionals, from inside and outside of the sector, across finance, HR, sales, marketing and other functions. The volume of these short-term roles, typically for transformation projects, crisis issues or to plug skills gaps, has not changed either. Instead, the nature of the placements themselves has changed.

Over the past year, we’ve seen interim positions become more flexible. An underlying focus on efficiency and savings has seen requirements trending towards a three-day work week and for a contract length of around six months, rather than nine months. Notably, it has been finance, fundraising and digital functions that are leading the trend.

That said, the third sector still has a commitment to quality. It values strong candidates, with hands-on and relatable experience. It should be reiterated that there has not been a compromise in the quality of candidates, nor the price that management teams will pay for that expertise.

The transition simply represents a more strategic approach to recruitment, with the aim of cultivating leaner and smarter organisations.

It is encouraging that charities recognise the value of this support and are proactively seeking advice from interim managers. However, the change in contract specifications reflects a more general blur of the line between interim manager and consultancy roles. The latter focusing on relatively shorter projects and general strategic advice, rather than tactical execution and leadership.

Candidates are increasingly expected to draw on each field – interims are needed to be more flexible – often part time – while consultants are required to better imbed themselves into the business.

What does this mean for interims in the sector? Although changing work patterns may cause concern in the permanent market, interims have always been a flexible resource for charities and so can easily adapt.

With less time spent dedicated to one role, candidates may find that they must manage multiple projects simultaneously. Such a change is also an opportunity for candidates to increase the variety of businesses they work for and encourages a more open-minded approach to roles that are available in the market.

From recent placements I’ve made, candidates are happy to adjust to this new sector landscape. They are optimistic about the prospect of a more ‘portfolio’ style career.

Critically, the demand for strategic thinking from interims is testament to the pivotal role interims have played in facilitating the transformation of charities in recent years. Their value, experience and expertise is being recognised and harnessed.

Further tests for the third sector lie on the horizon. Fundraising will become more difficult as wider political and economic volatility weighs down on disposable income, competition for funds intensifies and the methods used to raise funds come under further scrutiny.

Charities must ensure they have the right skills at the heart of their organisation to survive these testing times.  Interims have long been a tool to support management teams. And now, no matter how long they spend at a desk or what their contract looks like, interims will be instrumental in helping senior management teams to navigate these challenges.  

Louise Beales is head of the Charities practice at Odgers Interim 


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