Recruitment: Executives find charity begins at work: An agency specialising in non profit-makers expects great growth

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The Independent Online
MAIRI SHIRLEY has been taking a lot of calls from young professionals. They started their careers in the commercial world and have risen through the ranks, but are eager for a challenge in tune with the caring Nineties. They want to work for charity - not as volunteers, but as full-time salaried professionals.

As the founder of Execucare, a company specialising in charity recruitment, Ms Shirley is well-placed to spot trends. She began working in the sector during the late 1980s, after Bob Geldof launched Live Aid and glamorised the sector at a stroke.

But the recession has cut swathes through white-collar service jobs and competition is stiffer than ever. Those who can show trustees of charities that they offered their skills as unpaid volunteers are at an advantage when it comes to applying for full-time work. Posts in green charities and those linked with housing are particularly in demand.

'People are staying in their jobs a lot longer now,' Ms Shirley said. 'Five or six years ago there was a realisation that charities had to become more commercially minded and professional to thrive. Salaries rose to attract the right candidates.'

Though the sector is becoming increasingly professional, it seems that old attitudes die hard. 'There are trustees who resist the idea that you have to spend money to make money. If they want to raise the profile of their charity they have to get the right professionals and the right marketing strategy in place,' Ms Shirley said.

And when the National Lottery comes on stream, competition for donations will become more intense.

Ms Shirley, who is 34, founded Execucare in 1989, having been a partner in a charity recruitment company. Turnover has doubled since its inception, and the company is in the midst of expansion: a specialist PR consultancy service will be added to the core business of job placement early next year.

Placements it has made at the top level of charities include the directors of fund-raising for the Samaritans and for Shelter, head of fund-raising at the Royal Academy Trust, head of corporate affairs at the Royal National Institute for the Blind and director of operations at the Romanian Orphanage Trust. Execucare holds a database of about 1,000 potential candidates who have been interviewed and assessed. If clients believe placing a recruitment advert will secure the best candidate, Execucare will write the copy, book the space, carry out screening interviews and present a short list.

But the strongest growth has been in head-hunting, not surprisingly the most costly service it offers. It now accounts for half the work on the company's books. 'When I first started in the sector, clients were aghast at the suggestion that head-hunting could bring the best results when it came to filling key jobs,' Ms Shirley said. 'Now, more and more charities are asking for the service. It is the most successful way of recruiting because we can target people who are not on the job market but are the best candidates for the post. We have to research the job, identify the best performers and sell the job to a candidate who would not have thought of applying.'

Fund-raising promises to be a growth industry in the coming decade. Ms Shirley predicts that the National Lottery will force charities to 'look at more creative fund-raising' to ensure a steady flow of donations. Hospital trusts and housing associations will, she believes, further fuel the growth in professional fund-raising, along with public schools and universities.

MBA students sniff a trend quickly. Theses exploring the commercialisation of the charity sector and its use of marketing are being written. As competition for jobs intensifies, it should look impressive on an applicant's CV.

Ms Shirley advises those keen to work in the sector to 'make sure they get the right charity, where they will have the budget and resources to do the job'.

And yes, she has been head-hunted herself. But she has no intention of quitting the business she is building up.

(Photograph omitted)