Would a career in charity work suit me?

Would a career in charity work suit me?
Find out how to decide if a career working for a charity or not-for-profit organisation is right for you.

Motivation is all-important in charity work. Employers will want to see that you’re keen to make a difference, but it’s not enough just to say this – you need to be able to back it up. Have you ever got involved with charity fundraising, volunteered, or come up with an idea to support a good cause? If you haven’t, and you think that a career in charity work might be for you, now’s the time to start.

Charities need a similar range of skills and competencies to employers in the private and public sector; the requirements for each vacancy depend on the precise nature of the role. Thinking about your skills will help you decide which area of charity work would suit you best. Our advice on the ten skills that will get you a job when you leave school explains the crucial competencies that employers look for across the board.

Bear in mind that charities may not be able to devote resources to training in the same way as private or public sector organisations, so you might be better off starting your working life with another type of organisation and then seeking to move to a job with a charity. Here’s a checklist of questions to ask yourself as you weigh up whether a career in charity work is right for you.

What motivates you? If you are keen to earn as much as possible as soon as possible, a job with a charity might not be your best starting-place. If you’re keen to help people, you could also consider looking for roles in public service or social work. Is there a particular good cause that draws you? If so, that might help you to focus your charity job search – though there could also be other ways for you to give support. Read our advice on how to get into charity work which includes some tips on how you don’t have to work full-time for a charity in order to make a difference.

What are your strengths? If you have very strong numeracy skills, a career in charity finance could be a good fit. If organisation is your strong suit, an administrative role might be an ideal starting point, whereas if you have excellent communication and persuasion skills, you are likely to be drawn to jobs in fundraising, marketing and communication. Read our advice on types of jobs in charities to help you decide what would suit you best.

Do you want a profession with clearly designed entry routes and steady progression? Generally speaking, career paths in charity work are not clearly structured in the way that some professions are. However, you may be able to pursue qualifications relevant to your role, for example in accounting, and progress accordingly. Structured school leaver programmes that include professional qualifications are less widely available in charity work than in areas such as finance, engineering and public service, although there is a range of graduate programmes on offer.

How important is it to you to work in an area that is relatively recession-proof? Bear in mind that charities are often heavily dependent on donations and public funding and if donations fall or grants are cut they may have little choice but to reduce their staff. Is job security crucial to you at this stage? Is it something that is likely to matter more to you in the long term? Bear in mind that the skills and experience you gain in your first job will help to make you more employable whatever the outlook for the economy, and if you are also able to gain professional qualifications you will be in an even stronger position. Read our advice on choosing your career to help you weigh up your options.

Are you up for making speculative applications and networking to get a foot in the door? You could be up against stiff competition for jobs. You’ll have a much better chance of success if you’re willing to take a proactive approach to your job search. Read our advice on CV writing to help you prepare a CV that you can send out speculatively.

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