In the charity sector, there are specific skillsets required when it comes to communicating on behalf of an organisation. Whether supplying information by email or more challenging work such as offering emotional support and counselling over the phone, there are key attributes that the people supplying these services need to possess.
So what type of skills should these team members possess?
Most importantly, charity staff must be able to communicate with service users, donors and supporters in a compassionate and sensitive way.
They must also be prepared to ‘talk’ with their users through a variety of platforms, including phone, email, SMS and - nowadays - even social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Many charities are now texting supporters to thank them, tell them about their latest campaigns, ask for opinions or update supporters on their most recent successes.
This may all seems rather simplistic. However, this is no small task and, as communicating with supporters is integral to every charity, staff must be carefully selected to ensure the organisation can offer first-class support to its donors as well as its end users.
So what skills should you look to develop?
Communication and IT skills
There are a number of skills that each employee or volunteer must possess that go beyond a polite phone manner and accurate spelling and punctuation.
Team members must be properly equipped to use Customer Relationship Management (CRM) programmes that have the ability to store and record all user and donor communication, from tweets to text messages, in one place. Understanding the importance of collecting data in real time is absolutely vital – and applicants must have the ability to ‘talk and type’ effectively; we even test this at the interview stage for all our call handlers.
Platforms such as Facebook and Twitter are now also key channels for charities to interact with their users, donors and prospective team members.
Along with being quick to reply to users’ comments and queries, employees and volunteers must also be adept at monitoring social media platforms, with experience of using social relationship management systems, that have the ability to seek out those who could benefit from services.
Furthermore, all staff members with the responsibility for using social media must be made aware of the importance of that responsibility. The charity’s reputation is quite literally at their fingertips.
Team members should offer empathetic support and advice, while building relationships with users. They must be able to listen and comprehend potentially emotionally challenging issues, and provide support and guidance to the person in need.
Often, those in need may find issues difficult to talk through over the phone with another human being, and therefore a text or an email might seem easier. Providing a warm and comforting response by email or text is not an easy task, and therefore demonstrating your caring, tactful and empathetic manner is of the upmost importance. In our experience it takes longer to craft and empathic email than answer a similar phone call, so experience of written work is an essential.
Charity staff should be prepared to go above and beyond the normal expectation. Nearly all charities do not operate on a standard 9 - 5 basis from Monday to Friday. In numerous instances, evening and weekend work may be required, and some charities are even on hand on a 24/7 basis, 365 days a year. .
Many people with caring responsibilities can often prefer to work flexibly - as is the case with a lot of my team - who regularly work from home. This allows those who cannot always leave their homes to complete the job to the same high standard while not impeding on their social responsibilities.
We are active in recruiting a diverse workforce. Charities need to meet the needs of a diverse population and having a range of staff of different ages, ethnicities and with a range of enduring health conditions makes for a stronger workforce that can better meet the needs of charity service users.
Working for a charity requires commitment and empathy, along with the skillset to communicate with users and supporters across a number of different platforms. If you have the dedication to go beyond the expectations of a ‘normal’ workplace and make a real difference to somebody truly in need, the charity sector might be the one for you. The work will be challenging, sometimes thought provoking and possibly even emotional, but one thing is for certain, it is rewarding and energising to help those in need on a daily basis.
Patrick Nash is chief executive of Connect Assist, a contact centre that provides services to charity and third sector organisations.