A career that makes a difference
The charity sector in the UK has some big beasts doing high profile work – organisations like Oxfam, Comic Relief and Save the Children – as well as smaller outfits working locally on niche issues, and lots of operations in between. Whatever their focus, the aim is the same: to raise funds and awareness to tackle health and social problems all over the world.
People enter the charity sector from a range of backgrounds. There are sector-specific degree programmes, but general education, creative thinking and work experience are valued just as much.
About the charity sector
There are more than 180,000 charities registered in the UK, with each one aiming to help others by providing aid, health care, food, support … whatever people in their specific part of society need. The most commonly supported charities are involved in healthcare, hospitals or children’s welfare, but there are many others, with causes touching on the environment, poverty, human rights and more.
What can I do?
Chances are if you want to build a career in this sector you want to help other people. The good news is that when you’re working for a charitable organisation, in whatever role, that’s just what you’re doing: from front line staff in the community to office personnel taking care of admin, everyone is contributing to the work of the charity.
Broadly, the work of charities splits into three areas: campaigning, fundraising and volunteering. If you work in campaigning you’ll be helping to carry your particular charity’s message out into the world, raising awareness of the issues. That might mean going out on the street and engaging with members of the public, but it also means trying to get media coverage through press releases and articles; representing the charity in meetings with the business community or politicians; or perhaps travelling to protest, help people or deliver aid anywhere in the world.
None of this is possible without fundraising. Work in this area could also mean pounding the pavements looking for donations, but that’s just one aspect of it. Charitable fundraising also involves huge events (like Comic Relief or Children in Need), all of which require armies of people to work on them; or carefully-managed relationships with major donors, which means building a one-on-one relationship with them.
Charities rely on their volunteers to get anything done and making the best of use of them takes planning. Working in volunteer management you’ll be doing just that: overseeing volunteers, keeping them informed about the charity’s activities and organising their schedules; and getting involved yourself, of course.
There are many additional roles, though – the biggest charities are the same as any large organisation and will need people with social media, marketing, design, legal, business and finance skills, and a whole lot more.
Caring passionately about an issue (or issues) isn’t exactly a skill, but it’s very important in charity work all the same. Equally important is being able to channel that passion into useful work, which is where work experience (or volunteering with a charity while you study) can be helpful and give you some of the training you need. If charity work is your goal, get started with volunteering now and investigate work experience too, it will all help when you apply for jobs.
To get started in the sector you’ll need a few things on top of your enthusiasm for the work. Being a capable, confident communicator is one of them as many of the tasks involved in charity work require lots of talking to people. If you’re working in fundraising or on a campaign you’ll also need good reading and writing skills to help you prepare information and send it out to people.
The different roles available have different requirements – if you’re out on the streets campaigning you’ll need to be fairly fit, confident and even thick-skinned, with the ability to think on your feet. In admin roles you’ll need good ICT skills and a good grasp of social media (but then, you probably have both of those things already, right?).
Charity work is a team effort, so you’ll definitely need to be good at working with other people, taking direction and being flexible as the demands of the job can vary from day to day. Finally, you’ll need deep reserves of patience for the days when the work is tough.
Some of the roles available include:
- Fundraising coordinator
- Volunteer manager
- Volunteer team leader
- Campaigns officer
- Advocacy officer
Every charity operates slightly differently and recruits in its own way, so contact individual organisations to see what opportunities they have and if they offer any training. The Charity Commission has a useful search function as well as info on the sector.
Routes into the charity sector include:
– Apprenticeships (new Standard is in development, but not available yet)
– Vocational qualifications / A Levels
– National Diplomas and Certificates
– Higher National Certificates (HNCs) and Diplomas (HNDs)
– Foundation Degrees (England and Wales only)
– Bachelors Degrees
You might also want to look into Charity Apprentice , which is a foundation course run by a group of charities. It’s NOT an Apprenticeship as you don’t get paid and there are course fees, but it does offer a combination of practical experience and online learning alongside events and fundraising challenges.
Life working for a charity
The things that cause people to need help from charities – poverty, famine, disease, abuse and more – don’t keep office hours, so in many cases neither do charity workers. If you’re working on campaigns you might work in the evenings and on weekends in addition to more regular hours, for example; you might also have to travel as part of your job.
Your working day will vary according to the charity you work for. You might be helping to write a fundraising proposal; sending out information on why the charity is recommending people boycott a product; or working with a team of volunteers to organise their work schedule. Charity work behind the scenes can also involve a lot of research or meetings to try and influence people.
Charities react to developing situations but they also need long term plans, so you might spend time looking at strategy, along with things like marketing, fundraising tactics and how to manage people. ‘People’ is perhaps the key word here, as in the end, all charity work comes down to making life better for people, and also involves working with them, a lot – so you’ll need to be a people person, every day. Happily, many people in this sector love what they do and take enormous satisfaction from knowing that their work is making a difference; which is always a good thing.
The charity sector is sometimes called the ‘third sector’. The other two are the private sector, made up of independent business and companies; and the public sector, which includes taxpayer-funded things like the NHS and local government organisations. Put together, the three (very broadly) covers pretty much every kind of employer in the country.
You could work in…
- Community centres
- City centres
- Government buildings
- TV and radio studies, getting the word out
Find jobs in the charity sector near you at Careermap