The Search Is On

31st May by Mark Astarita

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The last few months have been incredibly busy for the AAW Group Search team with many senior roles live on our website, several in the shortlisting process and more in the pipeline over the next few weeks.  As an agency we are not alone. After a few years of uncertainty, the job market is now booming, although recruitment, particularly in fundraising, remains difficult for charities. We talk to AAW Partner Mark Astarita for his perspective on the current interim and permanent recruitment market based on his conversation with candidates, directors and chief execs on a daily basis, as well as advice if you are hiring right now.

Man with magnifying glass

Can you give us some context for the impact on recruitment from the pandemic?

The first reaction of trustees and executive teams to the pandemic was understandably to furlough significant staff numbers, freeze recruitment and rapidly reduce costs, leading to an inevitable huge downturn in external recruitment. This was combined with senior staff choosing not to move on from secure jobs and sitting tight to ride out the storm, meaning that organisations had very strong levels of employee retention.

While many headlines and sector bodies predicted a doomsday scenario for charities, Covid’s arrival brought an outpouring of generosity and, for many of our clients, record-breaking fundraising years. The vast majority of fundraisers had never been so busy, pivoting the workforce to virtual, pivoting fundraising activities to accommodate the new environment, and trailing activities that had never been done before to maximise energy and effort.

We saw much resilience and passion from leaders to ensure their organisations survived and thrived, and beneficiaries continued to be supported.

Prior to Covid there was always an issue with turnover with fundraising roles (often because charities don’t offer enough internal development or progression to their staff), but the impacts of the pandemic and increase in workload meant that people didn’t have time or energy to reflect on their next career move.

What has happened in the interim market?

Early on, we were concerned about what might happen to the interims working for us. But many of our candidates were in senor fundraising roles that were absolutely critical when the pandemic hit and we are now have around 40 interim staff working for us (up from 25 just before Covid arrived), out of a pool of over 100 candidates available for work at any given time. Because people weren’t leaving their jobs it became even harder to recruit, with search campaigns failing and interim solutions became the next port of call.

Why are we seeing a big boom in recruitment right now?

April 2021 brought a new financial year with new budgets off the back of record-breaking years and it was at this point, over 12 months on from the first lock down, that many organisations felt more confident about regrowing their fundraising activities.

Fast forward a year and we’ve never been so busy as organisations look to implement ambitious strategies and plans.  However, the challenge and crisis of recruiting well and obtaining talent remains a massive issue for voluntary organisations up and down the country and it’s a conversation we are having with all our clients. It’s one of the reason recruitment agencies like AAW exist in this space.

It means that organisations have to put a lot of effort into retention and personal development; it’s much easier and cheaper to retain great talent than to rehire. The main conversation we are having right now with candidates is around flexibility, hybrid working, job shares and consolidated hours.  Organisations that can be flexible and less controlling will be much more attractive to candidates.

Are they any other key issues around recruitment for clients currently?

Another key focus, and rightly so, for our clients is diversity and inclusion. At the AAW Group we work with the brilliant Friday Promotions, whose founders Basit Kahn and Adil Husseini specialise in connecting brands to ethnically diverse markets by building deep meaningful links that form lasting relationships. They support AAW by leveraging their unique connections and networks to ensure that roles are visible and introduced to diverse candidates who may not feel initially that they can apply.  But as a sector overall, we need to put more effort and energy into removing obstacles that make jobs look impossible to apply for, i.e. years of experience or further education and into bringing people into the sector at entry and secondary levels and making a career in the third sector more attractive to those from diverse communities.

To find out more about AAW Search visit AAW’s Executive Search and Interim service or email Jane Medley at