What types of jobs and employers are there in charity work?
If you work for a charity you are likely to find that the culture and values of the organisation are shaped by the good cause it aims to support. Charities need to take a commercial approach to maximise their income, but unlike businesses in the private sector, making a profit is not their end goal. You’re more likely to find charity work satisfying if you are personally motivated to support the charity’s aims.
The contribution made by volunteers is very important to charities, but they also employ staff in a range of roles. However, the pay may well be lower than for similar jobs in the private sector. There are relatively few graduate schemes in this sector and school leaver programmes are also rare. Whether you have a degree or not, you may need to consider applying for entry-level jobs. Alternatively, you could build up your skills and gain qualifications in another sector before taking up a role with a charity.
Career paths in charity work are less structured than in professions such as accountancy or engineering, and your route to progression may be less clear. There can also be stiff competition for paid roles, even at entry level. Whether you apply as a school leaver or as a graduate, you could find yourself up against candidates who have built up substantial relevant work experience through volunteering.
Different types of organisations that work for the public good
There are lots of different types of organisations that work for the public good. Any of the following could offer you a stepping stone to a career in charity work, whether it’s the chance to volunteer, gain work experience or land your first paid job.
- Charity: an organisation that is set up only for charitable purposes, which must be clearly defined and for the public benefit. A charity must be set up in accordance with the law, which sets out a range of different possible structures.
- Not-for-profit: a broader term that is not defined by law. It can be used to refer to any organisation that uses surplus profits to further its purpose rather than distributing it to directors or shareholders. Charities are likely to be not-for-profit organisations, but not all not-for-profit organisations are charities. For example, a community group or membership organisation such as a sports club might be run on a not-for-profit basis without being a charity.
- Voluntary organisation: again, this is a broad term that is not strictly defined by law. It is used to refer to an organisation that draws on the efforts of volunteers either in its regular activities or for its management. It doesn’t mean that it is wholly reliant on donations or volunteers.
- Community group: draws volunteers from a particular area or neighbourhood together to cooperate for the benefit of the community, often for a particular purpose. This could include a project such as getting a zebra crossing built or setting up and running a youth group. A community group may be set up as a charity.
- Social enterprise: a social enterprise is a business set up to help people or communities.
- Third sector: this is an umbrella term used to define organisations that belong neither to the public sector or to the private sector, and could be used to refer to any of the other types of organisation listed here.
What types of jobs are there in charity work?
Charities need financial, administrative and IT support, just like other types of organisation, so if you have strengths in these areas you could look for a relevant entry-level role. Alternatively, you could aim to work towards professional qualifications in a field such as accountancy or social care while employed in the private or public sector, and then make the shift to working for a charity or not-for-profit organisation when you have qualifications, skills and experience to offer. Small charities are more likely to recruit people into wide-ranging roles that call for a broad range of skills, while bigger charities will have the resources to employ specialists.
There are some areas of work that are particularly important to charity and not-for-profit organisations:
Fundraising. This involves securing donations through initiatives and events. You might raise money from businesses, from members of the public or from organisations that have grants (sums of money) to give out to good causes that meet their criteria. Your work could involve asking for one-off donations, regular donations or promises from people to leave money to the charity in their will. If you work for a large charity you'll usually specialise in just one area; if you join a very small charity you might do a bit of everything. Many charities also raise funds by selling donated goods and there are jobs managing charity shops.
- Possible entry-level roles: street fundraiser, fundraising assistant, fundraising coordinator, volunteer coordinator
Lobbying, policy-making, campaigning. Many charities seek to raise the profile of the good causes they support and to influence policy accordingly. This involves carrying out research, formulating campaigns and pressing for changes to the law or for greater public awareness.
- Possible entry-level roles: research assistant, policy assistant, campaigns assistant
Marketing, communications, press relations. Charities need to promote their fundraising and lobbying initiatives. You may be better placed to find work in this area if you have already gained marketing or journalism experience elsewhere.
- Possible entry-level roles: marketing assistant, communications assistant
Technology. Charities need people with technological expertise both to set up and maintain their internal IT systems and to support their use of websites and social media for publicity and fundraising. Depending on the size of the charity and how well resourced it is, there could be jobs available in web development, content production, digital marketing, user testing, security and analytics.
- Possible-entry level roles: IT support assistant, data analyst
What kinds of employers are there?
There are around 170,000 charities in the UK covering just about every good cause you could think of, so there’s plenty of scope. Cancer Research UK and Mencap were both listed in The 100 Most Popular Employers for School Leavers 2015. To give you a few more ideas, the top ten most popular charity and not-for-profit employers among graduate jobseekers, as listed in The Guardian UK 300 2015/16, are as follows:
- Amnesty International
- Save the Children
- Cancer Research UK
- British Red Cross
- National Trust
- Action for Children