One of the most rewarding and diverse industries, the Charity and Non-For-Profit sector ranges from small local charities, welfare offices and community organisations to major worldwide charities, such as Oxfam, Unicef and Amnesty International.
Different charities operate in different ways - some concentrate on fundraising, others focus on carrying out funded projects, and some do both. As a result, there are a wide range of roles, career options and fields open to you within the sector. As many charities deal with global concerns, you may also have the opportunity to work and develop your skills abroad, either in the office or during hands-on projects, which could see you gain experience working with underprivileged communities or on conservation work. Varied, fulfilling and challenging, it is a great career choice for a range of graduates with different skills and attributes.
Some of the roles open to you within the charity industry include:
Major charities and not-for-profit companies include the Samaritans, Cancer Research UK, Macmillan, Save the Children, Oxfam, the Red Cross, RSPCA, NSPCC, the Donkey Sanctuary, the Arts Council of England, Christian Aid, Marie Curie Cancer Care, Disasters Emergency Committee, Tearfund, ActionAid, Help for Heroes, WaterAid, Medecins Sans Frontiers and the British Heart Foundation.
The type of degree you need depends on the role you wish to apply for. For example, if you want to be a teacher or doctor on an international project, you will need a specific degree, training and experience. For other roles, a good degree in any subject will be beneficial, although subjects that are particularly well regarded include logistics, public health, social policy, finance, management, marketing and PR. On top of your degree, employers look for skills including communication and negotiation skills, commitment, dependability, flexibility, multitasking skills and the ability to work well both individually and in a team. Relevant work experience is also highly valued - there are many internships and voluntary roles available that are a great way to gain experience and get the edge over the competition when it comes to applying for graduate roles.
This is an excellent sector for non-graduates as there are a large number of roles that do not require a degree. These include internships, fundraising and administration. Volunteering is also a popular entry route, as although you won’t get paid, you’ll get the opportunity to develop the skills and experience you need to secure a paid role and progress your career in the sector. As with graduate roles, in addition to hands-on experience employers will be looking for a range of abilities including communication and organisational skills, adaptability, motivation and enthusiasm.
In addition to internship and volunteering opportunities, throughout your career you may benefit from training courses to enhance your skills in a way that’s of benefit to the charity you work for. These may include courses in negotiation skills, charitable law and fundraising.
The application process varies depending on the role and charity you’re applying for. In general however, it will follow some or all of the steps below.
The average salary varies depending on the role and charity in question. Graduate roles will generally start at £18,000 - £20,000 per year, while entry-level starting salaries will be circa £16,000. More senior roles will range from £25,000 - £30,000 per year, with some very senior roles at major charities commanding salaries upwards of £45,000.
Aside from a fairly low starting salary compared to some other industries, there are some downsides to working in the charity industry, including dealing with legislation and bureaucracy, competition within the sector itself and the need to balance an ethical approach with strong business skills, whilst maintaining the reputation of the charity within the public eye. On an individual basis, working in charity can be stressful and can, in some cases, carry some risk, especially if you’re an aid worker sent to less-developed or war-torn areas.
A career in the charity sector can be incredibly rewarding, diverse and exciting. You’ll have the opportunity to make a real difference to your community and even the wider world, work with a range of like-minded people with different skills sets and interest, and you may even have the opportunity to work and gain experience abroad.