Careers in Charities and the Voluntary Sector

 

In brief

The charity and voluntary sector, also referred to as the 'third sector', 'not-for-profit sector', 'community sector' or 'civic sector', aims to create social rather than material wealth.

Many charities are run as professional businesses and carry out functions including research, lobbying and the raising and redistribution of funds, so you may work in operations, fundraising, policy, communications and marketing, events, administration or research.

Issues that charities campaign on include social services, housing, education, human rights, community development, international development, health and medicine, and conservation and environment.

In a small organisation, you may need to be a jack-of-all-trades, while larger charities look for employees with specific professional skills and experience.

Where can you work?

  • Social enterprises – by selling goods and services in the open market, social enterprises reinvest the money they make back into their business or the local community. This allows them to tackle social problems, improve people’s life chances, support communities and help the environment. Social Enterprise UK explains further.
  • Non-governmental organisations – voluntary groups or institutions with a social mission, which operate independently from government. The World Association of Non-Governmental Organisations provides alist of NGO’s, searchable by geographical and policy interest.
  • Charities – in the UK, familiar names include health charities, such as Cancer Research UK, Macmillan and the Wellcome Trust; global development groups, including Save the Children, Oxfam and the British Red Cross; and animal charities such as the RSPCA and the RSPB. Charity Choice provides a useful directory of charities in the UK, searchable by specialism and region. Wikipedia provides a list of international charities, including Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), UNICEF and CARE. To find out more about international development charities, visit our Careers in International Development page.
  • Small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) –organisations with fewer than 250 employees. Often routed in the local community and regularly involving staff in CSR activities.

What’s changing in the sector?

The sector is benefitting hugely from social media, as it enables fast, effective targeting of potential donors, volunteers and contributors, for fundraising and other campaigns aimed at internet users. This area is growing all the time and there are now dedicated digital jobs available.

Following some major scandals and negative press coverage, charities are under intense public scrutiny for their ethics and how they deliver their charitable purpose. To re-build public confidence, they increasingly need to demonstrate that they are using funds in the best way to support the people on whose behalf they operate. Effective monitoring and evaluation mechanisms are key to being able to show return on investment.

There is also a shift to greater focus on innovation and a growth of the ‘challenger brand’; fundraising will become more competitive as the market becomes more diversified and will centre on personalising messages to prospective audiences and supporters.

Useful Websites

Recruitment

CareerHub – jobs board targeting LSE students, including events and networking opportunities.

CharityJob – a well-known charity vacancy website.

Charity People – specialist recruiters for the sector.

Third Sector Jobs – charity jobs in the UK.

Global Charity Jobs – charity jobs worldwide.

Guardianjobs – a key recruitment site in the UK.

Building your experience

Moving from corporate to charity sector – 7 tips from charity recruiter Charity People.

Becoming a charity trustee – advice from CharityJob on how to secure a trusteeship.

From volunteer to employee – advice from CharityJob on how to convert your volunteering experience into a paid role.

LSE Volunteer Centre – advice and support for LSE volunteers.

Tips for getting into the charity sector – blog from LSE Volunteer Centre Manager David Coles.

Getting your first role in the charity sector – blog from LSE Careers Consultant Garcia Williamson.

Useful Information

Routes in

Introduction

Internships or work placements are almost always unpaid and will be viewed as voluntary placements, though some offer daily stipends for travel and lunch. Most charities only advertise when they have a need for student volunteers, so there is no set time for applications. It may be possible to undertake a placement as a graduate internship when you have completed university.  

If you’re looking to gain experience

Volunteering or interning is an excellent way to move into the sector. There are very few graduate schemes available, outlined in the TARGETjobs overview of graduate schemes and internships, but many charities employ previous interns in paid positions. While working as an intern or volunteer, you may also gain access to internal vacancy boards or hear about permanent vacancies through your new network of colleagues. 

If you’re early on in your career

Charities need to raise and distribute funds – therefore entry level roles are generally found in their fundraising and operational departments. Both can provide an excellent and well recognised launch pad into other functions.

If you have more experience

More seasoned professionals can expect to go in at a more senior or managerial level across the range of disciplines. 

If you’re changing career

Volunteering gives recruiters confidence that you are committed to switching sector and have a first-hand understanding of the differences between the private and charity sectors. It is essential to do your research, identify relevant transferable skills, develop relationships with recruitment specialists and build your network of contacts.

Also, consider upskilling where necessary - The Institute of Fundraising offers a variety of fundraising courses, and the Directory of Social Change runs courses in a range of areas including campaigning and lobbying.

Not sure what to do next?

We’re here to talk over your career plans with you. It doesn’t matter what stage you’re at, so don’t feel you have to have it all worked out. You can book a one-to-one appointment with a careers consultant on CareerHub.

Job roles

There are a huge number of different roles and functions in the charity sector. We've outlined some of the ones likely to be of most interest to LSE students with links to where you can find more information. If you can, try and talk to someone who’s doing the job you’re interested in, so you get a real flavour of what it’s like.

  • Policy and Research – involves gathering evidence and generating insights and analysis.
  • Programmes and Operations – implements and manages the logistics of activities and schemes relating to the charity’s cause.
  • Advocacy and Lobbying – uses the findings from research and reports to lobby governments, organisations and others to influence policy changes.
  • Marketing, media and communications – develops strategies and campaigns to communicate the charity’s goals to internal and external audiences. Visit our Careers in Media and Communications page to explore further.
  • Fundraising –offers a comparatively large number of vacancies compared to other roles. Specialist roles include community, corporate, direct marketing, events, legacy, major donor, regional, statutory, and trust. The Prospects Charity fundraiser profile provides further details.
  • Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning – conducts research into programme effectiveness and impact. Mande is a good source of news and information.
  • Corporate functions (HR, IT, Finance) – ensures organisations are governed efficiently. Not unusual to gain experience in other sectors doing these roles and then transfer in.

The Bright Network's 7 types of roles within the charity sector, and the Prospects overview of Charity and voluntary work provide further details about a range of roles and other related topics. 

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