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Working in the charity sector

Want to help the disadvantaged? Read on to find out more...

What is the charity or third sector?
The term ‘charity’ is a catch-all for a number of terms including voluntary, not-for-profit or community. Officially only organisations registered as charities can be called a charity however, trusts also come under this umbrella. In order to register the organisation must be independent of the government, any business and any profiteering individuals. They do not have shareholders, who may take home a percentage of their profits, and they must benefit the public.

There are thousands of charities in the UK, employing well over half a million people full-time, so there are by no means a shortage of opportunities. Most charities also operate with any number of volunteers who work for free – this might be a good place to start if there is a specific charity you would like to work for.
What sort of charities are out there?
Whatever your interests you could probably find a charity that serves it, whether it’s international development (Red Cross), human rights (Amnesty) animal welfare (RSPCA), social care (NSPCC), religion (the Salvation Army) or sport (Sport4Life). 

These are all mainstream, well-known charities but there are also scores of smaller organisations that will be looking for willing employees.
What sort of work can I do?
Every charity exists to raise money for its cause through fundraisers but there is more to charity work than rattling a tin on the high street. Fundraisers, or trust fundraisers, will have to apply for funding from large organisations by putting together funding proposals. If you started as a fundraising assistant, you might earn between £15,000 and £25,000 leading to £20,000 and £35,000 as a fundraising officer and £33,000 as a fundraising manager.

Raising awareness of the charity in the hope that more people donate to it is vital, and this can come in the form of PR and marketing, representing the organisation at events, organising major large-scale fundraisers or liaising with benefactors who will be making substantial donations.

Depending on the charity, lobbyists may also play an important role in influencing policies to bring change for the better. There may also be roles for researchers, lawyers and campaigners.

Then there are all the jobs that every company, business or organisation requires, from IT and accounts to HR, office management and admin.
What skills will I need?
This will depend hugely on the type of job you apply for. Generally, you will need training, experience or knowledge about the field which interests you, for example, fundraising, project coordination or finance.
How do I break into charity work?
If you have no prior work experience, the best starting point is to look for an assistant-style role. These tend to be entry-level jobs, which may require some specific training or qualifications. These roles are highly competitive.

The majority of people start out in the charity sector by doing voluntary work or work experience or internships. These are free or paid roles for a given period, which you must apply for like a normal job.

There is no guarantee you will receive a job at the end however, the experience gained should boost your prospects of funding permanent paid work elsewhere in the sector.
Try looking at some of the following websites for jobs or internships:
What are the advantages of working in the charity sector?
  • Experience. The experience you gain in charity work can be applied to non-charity companies so you will be perfectly employable if you decide to move over.
  • Job perks. Depending on the type of charity sector you choose there could be a lot of room for travel. International development organisations work tirelessly overseas in poorer countries, helping alleviate the impact of famine, disease and natural disasters, and many social charities aim to help disadvantaged sections of society such as orphans, women and the elderly.
  • The warm glow of doing good. You get a lot more from working in the charity sector than just a job. The knowledge that you’ve helped someone or something and are making a difference in the world can be highly rewarding.
What are the disadvantages of working in the charity sector?
On the whole people in the charity sector earn a bit less than those in a ‘normal’ business of the same size, but then most people who work for a charity don't do it for the money!
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