Training and Developing Your Staff on a Tight Budget

Ten years on from the financial crisis and the recession that followed, there are signs that businesses are once again investing in training programmes for future skills. That’s because an employer who isn’t focusing on learning is losing out. According to LinkedIn’s 2018 Workforce Learning Report, 93% of employees are more likely to stick around if a company invests in their career. It’s a clear sign you value their work, career development and want to support their growth within the company.

But training programmes cost money, and not every sector has the funds to put aside for employee development. Given the mounting pressures on voluntary sector organisations to do more for less, deciding how much to spend on staff training can seem like an exercise in blind faith.

And it can be a real stretch for small charities. Just the loss of a member of staff for the period of their training can have a profound impact—leave alone the hard costs of residential courses, travel or external trainers.

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Still, skimp on training and development—and risk losing your best people

Good people don’t stay in jobs as long as they once did. Often, it’s because they feel like they’ve plateaued and grown bored with the role; lack of training and development feeds into this. It’s a particular problem for charities as they’re unlikely to pay as much as the private (or public) sectors and really can’t afford to lose people through boredom or lack of career development.

So, put bluntly, if your charity fails to invest in people who show enterprise and a desire to learn, you risk losing the good ones and only holding on to less able staff.

But how do you do it on a budget? How do you make sure you accrue all the benefits that come from being able to develop your teams—like the acquisition of important new skills, improved performance, staff morale and retention—while not putting at risk the urgent work of the charity?

charity planning training program on a budget

Prioritise and build a long-term plan

When it comes to cutting back on operational spend, training budgets are often the first thing to go.

But slashing a percentage off your training budget without scrutinising how you’re allocating spend and what you’ll lose can create a false economy.

Instead, build a longer-term plan that establishes priorities over time; one based on what’s essential versus what’s desirable. To do this, you need to understand the business case for specific training so that you can then make informed decisions about what to keep, cut or postpone for another year.

This plan should also incorporate input from your team’s own training plans.

Involve your staff in creating personalised training plans/wish lists

This is another way to make sure training is prioritised. And it stops you wasting money with a one-size-fits-all approach that allocates the same training for all job functions/teams.

Kick it off by asking your staff to complete a training request form in which they outline what they think they’d gain from specific training, how they’d use it to improve their work and how, in turn, this could benefit the charity.

Since this is about budget-cutting, everyone should be encouraged to think of it as a live document; so that it’s a flexible plan to include not only paid-for courses but other options like work shadowing, mentoring, job rotations, online training, etc.

It can then be reviewed at regular, diarised, meetings and should form part of the appraisal process.

talking about mental health in the workplace

So, what are the budget-conscious training options to consider?

1. Mentoring or job shadowing

Can you offer your staff opportunities for mentoring or job-shadowing within the charity? Or, do you have a close association with another organisation that you could collaborate with on this?

Mentoring can be so effective and can really make a difference to someone’s work satisfaction and motivation. It benefits both people (the person being mentored and the mentor), but there needs to be time for it—so make sure that they’re each given the time to make it work properly.

You could also consider a scheme like the mentoring/peer support scheme offered by the membership network, Charity Comms for key members of your team.

working with mentor - charity training on a budget

2. Use your existing staff and share knowledge

Sharing knowledge within the organisation sounds so obvious but it’s often overlooked. There are lots of ways of facilitating this; through one-to-one chats, meetings with other teams or informal presentations and workshops.

If you have an employee who is an expert in a particular skill or programme, you can run monthly lunch-and-learn sessions. Not only does it celebrate their knowledge, but it also allows other members of staff to pick up a new skill.

Even if budgets were no issue at all, most organisations don’t do enough to share knowledge in this way.

Staff doing internal training at charity

3. Job rotation

This can be a good way of allowing staff to develop new, on-the-job skills that also help them learn more about how the charity works.

The more traditional way of doing this is through secondments but it doesn’t have to be that formal—it could also be about job-swapping for a day a week. Or it could mean managers making the effort to rotate responsibilities or accounts across their team.

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4. Training courses 

Review the training courses you use. It can often be cheaper to book a trainer who comes to you rather than use external training courses that can also incur travel or accommodation expenses.

Think about sending fewer people and asking those who do go to feedback to their wider team.

Also, don’t forget your contacts. You may well have ex-colleagues who work freelance now and who could be paid to do a bespoke talk or presentation that could be far more useful than more generic training options.

Classroom training - charity training budget

5. Online training and webinars

There are so many really excellent online training courses and webinars available free or for cheaper than attending a course. LinkedIn Learning (which has now incorporated all the courses previously available through has a flat fee for a yearly membership that allows employees to learn in their own time, or designated work time. You could consider setting aside one hour a week for online training like this.

Charity Job and our sister site Charity Connect have lots of information on available courses, but you can also encourage staff to do some individual research into courses that specifically address their needs.

charityjob courses hub

6. Utilise charity sector organisations

Look into the training and mentoring schemes offered by voluntary sector organisations like the Institute of Fundraising and NCVO. 

NCVO has a number of free courses, including webinars, and has staggered pricing based on the size/income of your charity.

“ Our pricing structure is based on your organisation’s gross annual income. NCVO members also receive a 30% discount off training prices. Organisations with a gross annual income of less than £30k can join NCVO for free and will then qualify for the discount. ”


And if you can’t splash out for the individual courses, the NCVO has a treasure trove of information in their online Knowhow Guides.

So, don’t panic. Training your staff doesn’t need to be expensive.

There are so many ways in which people can acquire and develop skills—from time given over to e-learning, to job rotations, to mentoring, to traditional paid-for courses.

The most important thing is that managers create personalised training plans in collaboration with each member of staff; bespoke plans that prioritise what’s most useful for their current role and for their future development at the charity.

Do this and you can retain and develop your most precious resource: talented, loyal staff—while also up-skilling those who may be struggling.

Tags: employee development, small charity budget, staff retention, supporting your team

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About the author

Jean Merrylees

Jean Merrylees is a freelance content writer and editor who has previously written for the BBC. Jean is now taking her first steps into the charity sector after spending some time writing for both Diabetes UK & CharityJob.