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Charity recruitment crisis taking its toll, study shows

Melanie May | 30 March 2023 | News

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More than half (54%) of charities have vacancies and four in five (83%) of these organisations are finding it difficult to recruit as they try to meet rising need, a study by Pro Bono Economics and Nottingham Trent University’s National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory has found.

As a result, one in four (24%) charities cite staff burnout as a cause of retention problems – as well as halting charity services. Among those charities with hard-to-fill vacancies, almost half (46%) have had to pause some operations. And 46% overall do not expect to meet demand over the next three months.

The study, Running Hot, Burning Out, found that 79% of charities have experienced an increase in demand over the last three months due to the impact of the cost-of-living crisis. At the same time, 76% said income is one of their biggest concerns and a similar proportion (73%) said rising costs were causing financial deterioration.


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Recruitment a top concern

Recruitment is one of the top three concerns for large charities – with over four in 10 (43%) saying it is one of their biggest issues as they attempt to meet demand. In response to these workforce challenges, 53% of charities have hiked salaries and 22% have increased spending on recruitment.

Toll on staff

These workforce gaps are taking a toll on charity staff.

The struggle to fill vacancies is also impacting charities’ service provision. Among those with hard-to-fill vacancies, almost half said they have had to pause some operations, one in five are struggling to meet quality standards and almost one-third are unable to meet contractual or project objectives.

Causes for recruitment issues

The tight and competitive labour market is proving challenging for charity sector recruitment. The survey found that over half of those charities struggling with recruitment cited the cause to be a lack of suitably skilled applicants, while just under half said there was a lack of people interested in the type of work required and a similar proportion blamed a low number of applicants generally.

More findings

Among its other key findings, the VCSE Sector Barometer, which is backed by over 50 social sector membership organisations and networks, found:

Recent research by PBE for the Law Family Commission on Civil Society found that charity staff in the UK are paid 7% less per hour on average than workers in other sectors. With evidence that private sector pay growth has been outstripping charity pay growth over the last two years, the study suggests that charities are likely becoming increasingly less competitive in terms of remuneration.

Matt Whittaker, CEO of Pro Bono Economics, said:

“Elevated demand for charity support is ramping up further still as the cost-of-living crisis continues to bite, alongside a doubling down of effort by an already stressed charity workforce. It is an unsustainable balance with very real consequences both now and over the longer term.


“In the here and now, critical need is going unmet across the country and many of those working for charities are coming under considerable personal strain, risking burnout and subsequent time away from work to recover. Not only is this terrible for the workforce’s wellbeing, but it poses considerable challenges for charities given the recruitment crisis identified in our study.


“Further out, we can expect to see those missing out on support today presenting more acute – and more costly – challenges. And, having operated in crisis mode for such a sustained period, many charities risk finding themselves unable to respond with full effectiveness to the new challenges that will emerge over the coming decade.”

Prof Daniel King, Director of the National VCSE Data and Insights Observatory, said:

“The charity sector is facing a severe recruitment crisis, leading to staff burnout and serious gaps in service provision at a time of soaring demand. More than half of the charities we surveyed have vacancies, and four in five of those organisations are struggling to recruit.


“The crisis is also causing workforce gaps and stopping services for half of those charities with vacancies. Our survey reveals that close to eight in 10 charities have experienced a rise in demand over the last three months, and 73% of them are facing rising costs.


“This recruitment crisis, coupled with the ongoing cost of living pressures, poses a considerable challenge to the sector’s financial resilience.”