The value of working in the charities sector

Australia’s 55,000+ charities employ 1.38 million people – 10.5% of Australia’s workforce – with staffing an acute pain point across the sector. Time for charities to be included in framing more supportive and practical employment policies writes CCA CEO David Crosbie.


The value of working in the charities sector, Pro Bono News, 16 June 2022

For most charities the challenge is to survive into the future and continue making a difference. Within this broader existential challenge, the problem currently keeping charity CEOs awake at night is their capacity to attract and retain quality staff. 

Staff and volunteers are the heart and soul of most charities. The way staff and volunteers go about their tasks is a critical factor in the effectiveness of charities across Australia.

In the last 12 months, CCA has been involved in many conversations with our members and others about the multiple ways in which staff shortages and increased competition for skilled employees is restricting organisational capacity. 

Charities are not alone in facing difficulties attracting skilled staff and dealing with high levels of burnout. Staff shortages are impacting many industries and many different levels of employment. But where once the flexibility and the feel-good factor of working for a charity could be a real advantage in the employment marketplace, cost of living pressures have made higher salaries increasingly attractive and COVID has ensured many more workplaces offer flexible work options.

This week CCA wrote to both the new Treasurer Jim Chalmers and the Employment and Workplace Relations Minister Tony Burke seeking an active role in national policy making relating to employment and other critical issues. 

As CCA highlighted, there is a compelling case for charities to be strongly represented in key forums like the upcoming national employment summit.

Australia’s 55,000 charities employ over 1.38 million Australians, equivalent to 10.5 per cent of Australia’s workforce (ACNC Report – 2020 figures). When you add in Australia’s not for profits, we collectively employ around 2.5 million Australian workers (ATO data).

Despite our employment footprint being so large, charities generally do not belong to peak employer groups, are not usually seen as major employers, and tend to be excluded from conversations about employment and productivity gains, even though charities have a major contribution to make in this area.

CCA made the argument that as newly appointed ministers in the Albanese government, the treasurer and employment minister each have an opportunity to reset the way the charities sector is perceived and treated by government.

As part of a new government committed to working collaboratively, we are hoping you will display a less myopic view of employment in Australia when planning and implementing new employment initiatives, including the proposed major national summit on employment. Charities are not just seeking a seat at the table in these important discussions, we are seeking to have our experience acknowledged and factored into future planning for the sake of the 1.38 million workers we employ, and all the communities we serve.

The number one current concern for most charities is the ability to recruit, develop, and retain the skilled staff needed to ensure critical care and support services continue to operate effectively in every community across Australia.

CCA members have also raised concerns about multiple overlapping workplace award systems, the funding incentives that are driving a casualisation of the charity workforce, outsourcing of core roles to employment agencies, tax structures and payment systems that act as barriers to employment support and engagement options, the challenges of accessing skilled and experienced staff, and limited access to appropriate career development and support opportunities. We know there are no quick fixes to these issues, but we also know they are having a real impact on our productivity….

As your work unfolds over the coming months and years, we hope you will keep in mind the invaluable social and economic contributions of charities. We would like not just to be appreciated for what we do, but to be directly involved in shaping the national policies that determine how effective we can be in building flourishing communities across Australia….

We know that with the right approach and a freeing up of some constraints, we can both increase our productivity and enhance what it means to work in the charities sector. 

Workforce issues are not going away anytime soon, neither are increasing wages, inflation and cost of living pressures. 

As we saw during the pandemic, sometimes it can take a crisis to drive innovation. Already we have seen some quite bold new steps taken, like Our Community trialling a four-day working week. Other charities are restructuring, stripping back some roles and redesigning how the work is done to ensure staff with more skills and knowledge are being fully utilised and properly compensated.

At the heart of the reframing and restructuring of charity workplaces is the recognition that having an opportunity to make a difference through our work still carries some weight. We all want to feel proud about what we do. We all want new opportunities to be more effective. And for many people, including some moving to charities from for-profits, making a difference matters even more than prior to the pandemic. 

But as many charity leaders are now finding, in the current employment market making a difference might no longer be enough.

Charities clearly need to be actively engaged at a national level in framing more supportive and practical employment policies, but we also need to acknowledge that a real change is happening in employment practices right across our sector.

Have you recently asked how people feel about working or volunteering in your organisation? If you haven’t, it may be time you did.


Read in Pro Bono News: the-value-of-working-in-the-charities-sector