Last updated: 08.02.18

Are there really just three key opportunities for learning and development in charities?

In December 2011, the Leadership 20:20 Commission established by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations published a series of recommendations.

It identified specific areas for charities that provide a key opportunity for learning and development teams to approach as a focus for all their learning strategy:

  1. The proposal for 40 hours/units of professional development, which the commission said should be built into appraisals.
  2. A national directory of mentors and mentees, pairing established leaders with emerging ones.
  3. More 'cross-fertilisation of good practice' with the private and public sectors.

40 hours of professional development

Creating a figure of 40 hours is certainly a target and an aspiration, but like all goals it needs to be broken down into key objectives. What exactly should the 40 hours comprise of and how and where can this be applied – especially to the voluntary positions held?

CPD units and hours can only be counted if the response to the following three questions is ‘yes’:

  1. Was the learning activity relevant to your career?
  2. Can you explain how you applied the learning in the workplace?
  3. Can you provide evidence that you undertook the learning activity?

Many e-learning providers have CPD accredited courses and this is a great way to track and record hours when these are accessed via an LMS. Providing compliance to the hours of learning set via evaluations and reporting.

So, in isolation, setting a target of 40 hours will only work if learners are engaged and if the infrastructure is in place to support the 40 hours.

A national directory of mentors and mentees

The pairing of established leaders with emerging ones is a great way to share knowledge and share best practices in organisations, especially with new employees. As a concept, mentoring is not new to private companies, but for the public sector this can often involve a more bureaucratic process. It is important when offering a mentoring process to have a clear view of what the outcomes will be and what the learner wants to learn as part of the process.

Generally speaking, leadership and management recommendations apply to all sectors; they are no different as a set of principles to healthcare as they are to a global bank. Everyone recognises a strong leader and the skills they bring into a team or an organisation. In all instances it is important to recognise the different motivation factors of your employees or volunteers.

More cross-fertilisation and best practice

The best part of having experts and knowledge in organisations is when it can be shared, and experiences allow development in departments and teams. That’s true for any organisation of any size or sector. It also allows processes to align across an organisation.

The key to 2018 will likely be how the development of leadership skills can continue and how organisations can continue to attract and retain strong leadership skills needed to drive change and behaviours over a sustained period of time.

The outgoing chair of the Charity Commission, William Shawcross, commented in a recent article: "I hope we will see a new generation of leaders of the charitable sector – women and men with ideas, energy and fight, who make the world a better place. And can prove it."

Shawcross says the need for "effective leadership of charities – passionate and visionary – has never been more critical”.

This is a concern for any sector and business – not just a charity.


In all instances, the learner needs to be supported by their managers and surrounded by real people, within an organisation that has created a thirst for knowledge. It’s an inspirational learning culture that helps drive change and adaption to new legislation – and that, surely, is something that all charities and businesses alike can aspire to. These three areas of 40 hours, mentoring and cross-fertilisation allow for an organisation's growth, which is aligned to any organisational personal development of their staff.

The third sector commentator, John Tizard, stated: “Wherever possible, they [charities] should act collaboratively and should expect collective support from within the sector. The national sector bodies and local sector infrastructure bodies should offer cover, support and reassurance to charity leaders as the latter stand up for what is right and for their beneficiaries.”

To find out about Virtual College's solutions for charities, our leadership and management suite of courses and short videos, as well as our equality and diversity awareness courses, please contact Helen Mckay at