Your charity career
Careers for graduates in charity or not-for-profit organisations: entry requirements, salaries, working life, career progression.
Types of work
The diversity of the charity and voluntary sector is reflected in the range of jobs available. Many charities are registered companies operating on large budgets, but the sector also includes organisations such as small community groups, colleges, places of worship, trade unions, NGOs and sports clubs. In this sector you’re likely to find all the business functions that keep any organisation running – finance, administration, communications etc – as well as more specialised jobs such as fundraising.
In a small organisation, a small number of staff might be responsible for all of the duties listed below, whereas in a large organisation there are usually separate departments for each function. The main areas of work are:
- Service delivery: actually providing the service that the charity is focused on. This could be counselling, youth work, engineering, education etc.
- Fundraising: ensuring the success of the organisation through marketing, campaigning, communications, PR, grant applications, co-ordinating donations etc.
- Policy research or strategy: keeping abreast of political developments, identifying key stakeholders in the decision-making process at European, national, regional and local government level, researching international trends etc.
- Administration: issues such as managing staff and budgets, and volunteer co-ordination (recruitment, training and co-ordination). Administrators can often be key employees within this sector and requirements include good interpersonal ability, IT expertise and administrative skills.
Other areas include HR, government liaison, project management, and logistics.
Skills and entry requirements
A large proportion of workers in this sector have higher level qualifications. A specific qualification may be required for specific jobs, such as social work, ecology/conservation or disability nursing. Smaller organisations are more likely to recruit generalists while larger organisations often have the resources to employ people in more specialist roles.
Skills required in many roles include:
- Motivation: you need to be committed to the organisation’s mission
- Administrative skills.
- Initiative and flexibility: staff numbers are often tight so you need to be flexible in your approach to work
- Organisational ability
- Interpersonal skills
- Communication skills (verbal and written): you may be representing the organisation to the public
- Language skills: may be useful in some jobs.
Training and career development
Career progression is often not clearly defined in this sector: many small or mid-sized charitable organisations have quite flat structures and it is often necessary to move between organisations in order to progress your career and to get more senior roles and increased responsibilities.
Ad hoc training will usually be provided by the organisation and in the UK there are online courses which focus on working in the voluntary sector. Charities usually offer in-house training to new staff and there are also business networks which offer pro bono training to staff working in the not-for-profit sector. This might be part of an organisation’s Corporate Social Responsibility programme or through networks such as Business in the Community.
There are numerous postgraduate courses which could be relevant, for example courses in sustainability or public health. However, these qualifications aren’t always necessary and it is probably better to get some work experience and then consider either a full or part-time postgraduate course.
Salaries tend to be slightly lower in the not-for-profit sector than other sectors: organisations use their funds as far as possible for the cause they are focused on. Large charities are usually able to offer more generous salaries than small charitable organisations. Permanency may not be guaranteed as many organisations rely on external funding sources which can change annually.
Office-based roles in this sector have similar conditions and hours to other office jobs although there may be a requirement to work extra hours during a particular campaign.
Overseas-based roles are very different in terms of living conditions as they involve longer working hours and being at the ‘coal face’ of a given situation. An overseas-based role has a huge impact on your lifestyle and this is something to really consider before committing to such a job.
As well as contributing your skills, you could experience greater job satisfaction than people working in the private or public sector because there is the opportunity to do work in tune with your values and to see the results of the work you do.