Online skill-building – Plugging a gap

By Todd Cohen

Online tools and professional services for nonprofits in Britain are the focus of a new portal being developed by a startup charity backed by a handful of corporate sponsors.

CharitySkills, which has been piloted last fall and this winter and will be launched in February, aims to plug a gap in continuing professional development for people working in the voluntary sector in the United Kingdom, says Meirion Harries, a co-founder of the new charity.

Other UK nonprofit trade groups — such as the National Council for Voluntary Organizations and the Charity Finance Directors’ Group — offer information and resources, but mainly in printed form and using telephone help lines, Harries says.

“The sector has been very slow to harness the Internet for training and information provision,” he says.

CharitySkills is targeting the UK’s charitable sector of about 450,000 organizations, particularly those that can’t afford specialists.

The group aims to help organizations with annual spending of less than 20 million British pounds, or about $28.8 million, reduce their overhead, particularly in the areas of personnel, real estate and professional services.

The group’s business model includes corporate sponsorships and an annual membership fee of 250 British pounds, or about $360.

A staff of 10, supported by eight to 10 people from each of the sponsors of CharitySkills, is working to develop content for the site

The site will feature an online toolkit for nonprofit professionals; online training based on the toolkit; best practices from U.S. nonprofits, particularly in the areas of leadership, governance and fundraising; information published online by government agencies; and online clinics provided by charity leaders in the U.S. and Britain.

Topics will include human resources; management; fundraising; taxes, accounting and investment policy; law; risk management and insurance; property; and technology.

Sponsor Booz-Allen & Hamilton, for example, is developing a management toolkit that provides a methodology for devising a management strategy, along with tools such as project-management training; financial-management accounting; time management; and negotiating skills.

And a human-resources toolkit, developed by CharitySkills and Nicholson Graham and Jones, its law sponsor, will include a “complete profile of materials that an established human-resources director would have in their filing cabinet,” Harries says, such as standard-form employment contracts and guides for organizing pension plans.

David Newkirk, senior vice president in London for Booz-Allen and a co-founder of CharitySkills, says Britain’s charities face big gaps in their management skills and in professional advice available to them.

“Our hope is to raise the quality of professional management,” he says.

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