Charity & voluntary Career Pathways & Advice
If a career dedicated to helping people and improving the lives of others appeals to you, then a job in the charity sector could be very fulfilling.
As charities are non-profit organisations, independent of government or business, they have more autonomy than most other organisations and largely rely on the commitment and direction of their core workforce, giving employees a chance to really get involved and make a positive difference.
With roughly 169,000 charities in the UK employing more than 600,000 workers and countless volunteers, there is no shortage of employment opportunities in the sector. Graduates make up more than a third of the charity sector workforce.
There are many graduate jobs available in the charity sector, across all areas – from international development, to environmental, 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
As charities cover a wide range of purposes, you can choose to work in one that appeals to your passions and interests. If you’re particularly interested in conservation and nature, for example, then perhaps you’d like to 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 organisations 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.
Aside from full-time positions, there are also numerous voluntary roles available within charities. If you can afford to take time out to do it, volunteering can be great for your future career prospects – a few weeks with a charity could also set you on the right track for a job with them later. The majority of those working in charities have volunteered at some point.
Charity & voluntary Jobs
It goes without saying that compassion and a drive to put others first are both traits that are essential for those working in the charity sector.
Having knowledge of politics and the wider impact of charity work on communities is also extremely important for careers in the sector, whichever job you work in. Depending on your role, a basic knowledge of economics could also be beneficial.
Having a large amount of voluntary experience in your chosen sector will be very helpful when applying for jobs in the charity sector.
Other skills that you’ll definitely need include:
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 management 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.
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 for is a must. You will ideally have experience volunteering there (or in an organisation with a similar focus), too.
Whilst there aren’t any specific qualifications or training for the charity sector, taking short courses (maybe in the evening or online) in areas that are generally important is likely to be beneficial. Management, economics, finance or public policy might give you the extra knowledge needed to progress to higher level roles.
One example is the Management Certificate programme, which is run by the Open University Business School and is tailored to the charity and voluntary sector. The certificate can later be used as part of a Diploma or MBA. There are many other courses, both remote and on-site at colleges and universities, offering similar opportunities.
Wages in this sector are around 10% lower than in other areas, largely because the industry is non-profit and those working for charities are usually doing so out of passion rather than a desire for large salaries. The average wage across the sector is £25,000.
It is also 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 the charity.
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 honed 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 helpful. 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.
How to get there
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 organisations 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 for graduate places. 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, and be prepared for the likelihood that breaking into the sector might take a while.
Association of Volunteer Managers
National Association for Voluntary and Community Action (NAVCA)
National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO)
The Charity Commission
Institute of Fundraising
Voluntary Sector Studies Network