Where Can A Career In The Charity Sector Take You?
If you’re a person who wants to use your skills to help others, then a job in the charity sector could be right for you.
Charities are non-profit organisations, often with more autonomy than other organisations, relying on the commitment and direction of their core workforce. This means employees in the sector have a chance to really get involved and make a positive difference.
There are around 169,000 charities in the UK, with more than 600,000 workers and countless volunteers. Graduates make up more than a third of the charity workforce, meaning it’s a young, diverse and fun sector to work in.
As charities cover a wide range of purposes, you can choose to work in one that appeals to your particular interests. If you’re particularly interested in conservation and nature, for example, you could potentially work for the biggest charity in the UK, the National Trust. On the other hand, if issues of poverty and international development are close to your heart, then it could be worth looking into opportunities at charities such as Oxfam.
Charity workers tend to be highly motivated by their cause, and take a lot of pride in their work, so be prepared for stiff competition when applying for jobs in the better-known charities.
Types of jobs within the charity industry
There are lots of graduate jobs available in the charity sector, across all areas – from international development to environment to working with children. Depending on your area of expertise and interests you may find yourself working in:
- Youth work
- Environment/ conservation
- Animal welfare
- Child welfare
- Women’s welfare
- Third world poverty
- Human rights
- Care services
- Policy development
- Poverty alleviation
Skills & interests required
It goes without saying that compassion and a drive to put others first and make a change are essential for those working in the charity sector.
Other skills that you’ll need include:
- Crisis management
Having a knowledge of politics and the wider impact of charity work on communities are also important for careers in the sector, whichever job you work in.
Depending on your role, a basic knowledge of economics might also be helpful.
Typical Career Progression Routes for Graduates in Charity
If you are looking to move from a voluntary to a paid position within the sector, specific knowledge of the charity that you are applying to work in is a must. You will ideally have experience volunteering there, too.
Because the competition for roles within the charity sector is fierce, it’s important to leverage any skills you’ve gained either inside or outside work when looking to move up in the industry. A strategic approach is important, and making your unique skills clear is the best way to progress. Vagueness will only put employers off!
You should be aware of your weaknesses, and willing to work on them. Other areas that you should look to develop, especially if applying for higher level roles, include strategic planning, the ability to manage others, and financial awareness.
Making use of your contacts in order to build a strong network is also important, so leverage your contacts wherever you can.
Tips for getting into the field
Work experience is essential in this sector, so you should spend as much time as possible volunteering in the areas that you’re interested in. Contact voluntary organisation to see the opportunities that they have, or speak to charities directly.
As a third of the charity sector is made up of graduates, this is an industry that is used to employing people right out of university – although this does mean that there is a lot of competition. Be aware that you’ll need to start at the bottom, and be willing to work hard and be strategic in what you apply for. Also be prepared for the fact that breaking into the sector might take a while.
There are a large number of general, non-industry-related things that you can do to put yourself in a good position to start applying for jobs within the charity sector. These include:
- Tailoring your CV for each specific role, making sure you focus on previous experience and relevant skills
- Applying for internships and/or work experience – this is a no-brainer: as well as ensuring that you’ve experienced the field before you start applying for jobs within it, it’ll show that you’re committed and allow you to start acquiring the practical skills you’ll need in your future job
- Take on similar or related roles: at a lower level, in the holidays or whilst you apply for higher-level roles right after graduation
- See what the top companies in the field require: start by looking for case studies from the big charities, and note what backgrounds and skills their current employees have
- Use your contacts: university professors, those you met on work experience or during volunteering, people you can approach through social media or LinkedIn – they’re all potentially the stepping stone to your next role, and they might very well be happy to help you
Types of jobs in Charity
Wages in this sector are around 10% lower than in other areas, largely because those working for charities are doing so out of compassion rather than a desire for large salaries. The average wage across the sector is £25,000.
It is important to be aware that charities rely heavily on volunteers, who are giving away their time for free and are likely to work in placements for a few weeks or months at a time.
Average salaries for specific charity jobs, according to Pay Scale, include:
- Charity fundraising manager: £30,351
- Communications officer: £23,508
- Youth worker: £20,345
- Finance officer: £22,098
- Care worker: £13,941
- International aid worker: £19,000 - £25,000
- Marketing officer: £22,266
- PR officer: £19,000 - £28,000
Typically, salaries will rise the more progress you make within your particular charity or sector. Salaries also vary greatly depending on your location and the size of your charity – large charities in London will in most cases pay more.
Qualification requirements & subjects to study
Graduates from all disciplines can be well suited to a career in the charity sector, as soft skills such as communication and organisation should be provided by every degree subject.
However, degrees that may provide you with a good grounding for this kind of work include:
- International development
- Politics, philosophy and economics
If you want to work in a specific area, for example in an environmental charity, a degree such as geography or environmental science is likely to be of use.
Similarly if you want to work in a medical charity or in international development it would be useful to have taken courses in these areas.
Whilst there might not be specific qualifications or training for the charity sector, taking short courses (maybe in the evening or online) in areas that are generally important are likely to be beneficial. Management, economics, finance or public policy might give you the extra knowledge needed to progress to higher level roles.