Want a job role which will enable you to give back to society? Working in the charity sector is the perfect way to put your skills to good use, while also helping to improve people's lives.
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What is the Charity sector?
The Charity sector, often also known as the Third Sector or not-for-profit sector, is an umbrella term referring to all organisations that are not in the Public or Private sectors – meaning they’re non-governmental and not-for-profit.
There are a huge 180,000 charities in the UK employing nearly 800,000 paid workers, but charities can vary greatly in size. While there are a number of large organisations, many of them are small. In fact, 89% of charities have an annual income of under £100,000.
While in the larger charities you might be expected to specialise in a specific role, in a smaller charity you’ll more likely be expected to get stuck in with a range of different tasks, learning new skills on the job.
Before we go any further you’re probably going to want to bust some jargon:
- Charity – An organisation set up for charitable purposes with specific legal regulations regarding its structure and accountability. Its purposes must be clearly defined and transparent, and its work must benefit the public in some way.
- Not-for-profit organisation – This is a much broader term referring to any organisation which uses its profits to further its purpose, rather than distributing to its directors or shareholders.
- Voluntary organisation – This simply refers to an organisation which uses volunteers.
- Social enterprise – This is a business set up to help people or communities.
There are a huge 180,000 charities in the UK employing nearly 800,000 paid workers
It’s important to remember that many of the job roles in the charity sector aren’t specific to the sector. Charities, just like all other businesses, have departments dedicated to accountancy and finance, HR, marketing, business development and IT. So don’t view the Third Sector as something completely isolated from the rest of the job market. If you have the specialist skills and want to put them to good use, then a job in the charity sector is a good route to go down.
Also, unlike other sectors, graduate schemes in the charity sector are few and far between, and incredibly competitive. You’re far more likely to start your career in charity with an entry level role, of which there are many more available.
However, if you don’t have that specialist experience, but are interested in the charity sector more generally, then there are a number of other roles available.
In the charity sector, a degree often isn’t seen as important as previous experience, practical skills and a passion for the charity’s missions and aims. A degree isn’t going to do you any harm, but don’t panic if you don’t think the subject you studied is relevant to the charity sector. However, if you want a specific role in charity, for example in accounting, finance or marketing, then a degree in a related subject might be considered more beneficial.
There are some degrees which might help you prepare for a career in the charity sectors such a Logistics, Social Policy or International Development, and these might be especially useful when applying for some of the more competitive graduate schemes, but they’re not essential.
In fact, many entry-level jobs in the charity sector don’t require degrees at all and are often filled by school-leavers. This doesn’t mean that a job in charity isn’t a worthwhile graduate role, but the industry places greater emphasis on skills other than academic accomplishments.
Skills you need
So what are charities looking for? Along with some solid work experience and long-term commitment to a volunteering role, there are some key skills they’ll want you to demonstrate in your application:
The Charity sector is facing a number of major challenges and it’s useful to be aware of these when considering a career in the industry, and they can also be interesting talking points for job applications and interviews.
Maintaining the necessary level of monetary donations is an issue charities are constantly striving to tackle. With the recent economic recession and the older generation – who are typically more likely to donate to charity – dying out, charities are having to think of new and creative ways to ensure a steady stream of donations. This has led to an increased fundraising budget, and charities are increasingly keen to place graduates in fundraising roles to boost this side of income.
The Lobbying Act has also had a major effect on the freedom of speech charities have in the run up to a general election. The act restricts what non-governmental organisations can say in the seven months prior to an election, to prevent any ‘undue influence’ over the election outcome. However, many charities feel like they’re being stifled, and have recommended changes. A recent review of the Bill was rejected by ministers, and charities are still working to refine the Bill.
The Lobbying Act has had a major effect on the freedom of speech charities have in the run up to a general election.
Charities are also constantly striving to keep up with the latest technological advancements, but suffer from knowledge gaps in IT, with most graduates who specialise in this area heading to the private sector. Trying to keep up with rapidly developing trends and staying relevant in the modern age is challenge for all charities. Use sites such as Third Sector and Charity Times to keep up to date with developments within the industry.
Work experience is far more important in the charity sector than in other industries. Working in charity is fundamentally hands-on and practical so being able to prove you don’t mind getting stuck in is essential, and far more important than qualifications.
Most employers will expect you to have completed some long-term volunteering within the charity or a similar organisation before offering you a paid role. This shows you have commitment and you’re dedicated to the cause – not the salary. Although some of the bigger charities might offer paid internships, expect to have to do a significant amount of unpaid work before you get your foot in the door.
Most employers will expect you to have completed some long-term volunteering within the charity or a similar organisation before offering you a paid role.
Getting work experience within the charity is relatively easy, most charities are desperate for extra hands. Send out some speculative enquiries or drop by your local food bank or charity shop to see if they need any extra help.
It’s also important to remember that volunteering can be tough and involves some serious time commitment, so pick something you’re passionate about. People are often keen to volunteer overseas in under-developed areas, but this is often quite pricey and involves doing some serious fundraising beforehand. It is often just as valuable for your CV to do some volunteering in your local neighbourhood.
There are loads of opportunities to get some work experience in charity at universities. Check to see if your uni has a Rag (Raise and Give) Society and get involved, and if not, set up your own.
Work experience with animals:
If you’re an animal-lover you might be keen to get some work experience with our furry friends. It can be quite competitive, but there are a few options available.
- Check your local animal shelter to see if they have any volunteering slots available.
- Look at charities such as Blue Cross, PDSA, RSPCA and the Wildlife Trust to see what volunteering schemes they have.
- There are a number of organisations who work to train animals for assistance roles, such as the Guide Dogs UK, and they’re often looking for volunteers to help them care for their animals.
- You can also volunteer with animals abroad, working in wildlife conservation or animal sanctuaries for example.
Pros and Cons
While working in the charity sector is an incredibly rewarding job, you do have to make some sacrifices. Here are some pros and cons to help you decide whether the industry is right for you:
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