Can I get into charity work without a degree?
Entry-level jobs in charity work are often open to non-graduates and do not specify that a particular degree subject is required. Typical roles could include working as a finance, administration or fundraising assistant. However, while a degree may not be necessary to get into the sector, it may be an advantage when it comes to applying for jobs, and is likely to help you progress further and faster.
Experience is likely to be a major asset, both when you are looking for a job with a charity and when you are seeking promotion and the chance to move on to leadership roles. Charities typically have relatively limited resources available for staff training and development and they often prefer to recruit employees who have already honed their skills, perhaps while working in the private or public sector.
If you’re planning to go straight into employment as a school leaver and you’re committed to a career in charity work, you could improve your prospects by finding your first job outside the sector. You might then be able to combine work with gaining professional qualifications that are in demand in the charity sector, for example in an area such as accounting, marketing or human resources.
If you decide to go on to higher education, you’ll be in a position to apply for charity graduate schemes, but there are relatively few of these and they are very competitive. You might find yourself applying for the same entry-level jobs as school leavers. However, you will have had more time to build up relevant work experience. Combined with your degree, this might put you in a stronger position to succeed in getting your first job in charity work.
Tactics to help you land a charity job as a school leaver
Volunteering is a good way to build up skills that are demand in the charity sector and could also give you useful contacts. This applies whether you are a student at school or university or already working. Check our advice on how to get into charity work for tips that will improve your chances regardless of whether you go to university.
You may find it easier to get a charity job as a school leaver if you focus your search on smaller charities, perhaps those based in your local area. These charities may have fewer vacancies than larger charities but there is also likely to be less competition for any roles that come up, as they are less high profile and will typically not have the resources to advertise widely. Use our advice to find out more about charity jobs and employers.
Career paths and progression in the charity sector as a whole are not as clearly defined as in professions such as law or accountancy. It’s possible to find employment with a charity from a range of different professional backgrounds, and our advice on types of employer and roles in charity work will give you some idea of the variety of opportunities available.
The requirements in terms of level of qualification and experience for any job with a charity will depend on the precise nature of the role. For example, charities that provide social care may stipulate that candidates need higher-level NVQs for certain roles, even if a degree is not required.
Examples of charity career paths for graduates and non-graduates
Here are some examples of career paths you might take in the charity sector as a non-graduate:
- Take on a school leaver’s role with a major engineering employer and develop technical expertise before shifting into a PR role on behalf of a science organisation. Progress to become director of fundraising for a charity that is involved in medical research.
- Take on a school leaver’s role in recruitment advertising, helping to devise campaigns that will attract the kind of candidates employers want, and progress to doing this for major clients. Move on to marketing manager roles in the private sector before becoming a director of marketing and communications for a charity.
Here are some example career paths that could be open to you as a graduate:
- Study a numerate subject at university. Train as a management accountant with a charity and progress to become a charity’s finance director. Alternatively, you might train as a chartered accountant in the finance sector, progress to executive roles in banking and take on an operating officer role in a charity.
- Study law at university and go on to qualify as a solicitor with a law firm. Move into operational roles in the charity sector and progress to become chief executive of a major charity. Alternatively, study law at university, followed by a masters in social policy and planning. Go on to work for the UK’s Department for International Development and the United Nations development programme before becoming the chief executive of a charity.
These examples are intended as illustrations of different possible paths into charity careers, and there are many other routes that you could take. Check out our advice on how to get into charity work for more ideas and tips.