How do I get into charity work?

How do I get into charity work?
Find out how to get a job with a charity, with tips on setting up work experience, making speculative applications and using your network.

Structured training programmes aimed specifically at school leavers are few and far between in the charity sector, so you’ll need to look for entry-level jobs to apply for. Alternatively, if you have a degree, you can apply for a place on a charity graduate scheme, though this will be highly competitive and you’ll need relevant work experience to have a decent chance of success.

Whether you’re applying for jobs as a school leaver or as a graduate, one of the best ways to get into charity work is to have relevant work experience. This will make you a stronger candidate for jobs and will also put you in a better position to find out about vacancies.

Jobs with charities may not be widely advertised, and if they are, you should expect to be up against stiff competition. Again, whether you’re applying as a school leaver or as a graduate, it’s well worth reaching out to your network of contacts – that is, anybody you know, or know of, who might be willing to help. Your contacts may well be able to help you learn more about working in the sector so you can put yourself in the best possible position to find out about vacancies.

Make the best possible use of your network

Think about the people you know and the people they know, including family and friends. Do you know anybody who works for a charity, or who could put you in touch with somebody who does? This could be a useful way to gain insights about getting work or work experience, if not about actual vacancies. Don’t expect immediate results from this approach, but you might be surprised by the benefits you reap in the long term.

Take the time to thank anyone who helps you or offers advice. A short note, card or email helps to create a good impression. You never know – that person might hear about a job vacancy, remember your thank you note and get back in touch to let you know something’s come up. Showing your appreciation makes people more inclined to want to help you.

Charity jobs: what you could do and where to find them

Charities vary in size from small local concerns to huge, household-name organisations and employ staff in many different roles, from fundraising, financial management and IT to lobbying and public relations. As there is such a range of charity jobs, you could theoretically find employment in the sector with any combination of A level subjects and from any degree background.

However, if you want to specialise in a particular area you’ll be in a better position to succeed if you have relevant qualifications. For example, if you want an accountancy or financial management role in a charity, it will help if you have studied numerate subjects. Use our advice to find out more about kinds of jobs and employers in charity work and to help you focus on what you want to do.

Keep an eye out for vacancies in the local and specialist press and online. For example, Third Sector and Charity Times provide both news and job listings. Specialist recruitment agencies such as Charity People may be able to help you in your job search; most specialist agencies are based in London but some hold information about charities all over the country. Other more general recruitment agencies may also put candidates forward for work with not-for-profit organisations, particularly people able to do short-term contracts or part-time work.

Getting into charity fundraising

Fundraising is an area that offers some decent entry-level opportunities. You don’t have to have a degree to get in, but quite a few vacancies require it. Of these, many are open to graduates who’ve studied any degree subject, though some charities require or prefer a business-related subject such as marketing or a subject that relates to the work they do.

Before you get paid work in charity fundraising you’ll need to build up relevant experience. Raising money for good causes is a good start – for example organising fundraising events in your community or at university, or being a university telephone fundraiser and calling former students to ask them to donate. Experience working with customers is very helpful, especially if it has a sales element – you could gain this in a part-time job in areas such as retail or telesales. If you can get any sort of experience working in an office this is also useful – if not, look for other ways to develop office skills such as working with databases. And good written English is needed in fundraising so activities such as working on a student newspaper will also look good on your CV.

There are quite a few opportunities to get paid casual work as a street fundraiser or door-to-door fundraiser, and some office-based entry-level roles such as fundraising assistant or fundraising coordinator. Some charities also run internships that include fundraising experience, and one or two have formal graduate programmes.

How to get work experience with a charity

You’re going to need to take a proactive approach to setting up work experience, just as you’ll have to use your initiative when applying for jobs. Do some internet research about charities that interest you and be prepared to approach them directly. Chances are it’s going to be more practical for you to stick to researching charities that are either based in your local area or have branches nearby.

You could approach charities about the possibility of work experience or arrange to volunteer for them on a basis that fits in with the demands on your time and that is also useful for them. You could also consider doing temp work for a charity as a way to gain experience and useful contacts.

If you are applying speculatively for either work experience or paid work, it’s worth ringing up in the first instance to make inquiries. At the very least, you should be able to find out who to address your application to. If you are ringing up about work experience, try to find out whether the charity has taken on school-age students for this in the past, and how long for. You could always ask if a day’s work shadowing might be a possibility if the charity is unable to accommodate you for a longer period of work experience. If you are getting in touch about employment, try to find out how the charity usually recruits its staff and ask whether you could send in your application to be kept on file in case anything suitable comes up.

Bear in mind that the person you are speaking to may not be in a position to answer all your questions, or that it may not be a convenient time; try to find out who to speak to and when, or ask whether it would be better to get in touch via email. You can then submit your CV via email with a covering letter setting out what you have to offer and the kind of work experience or job you are looking for.

Check your motives – and your options

Ask yourself why you want to work for a charity, and if there is any other way you could succeed in that goal. For example, there may be a particular good cause that you want to support, or you may want to help others in a more general way. Working for a charity is not the only way to make a difference; you could support a pressure group or political party, start your career in the public sector or in social work, or find a job with a company that is committed to supporting charities or volunteering.

You could also volunteer outside of working hours or combine volunteering with paid work. Another option is to gain skills, experience and professional qualifications in the public or private sector, then move into charity work at a later stage in your career.

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