Oct 12 2021

By Doreen Thompson-Addo, Careers Consultant 

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think about the charity sector? Working in a charity shop? Volunteering? Boring roles? The truth is that there are a variety of exciting roles available in the sector.  If you’re looking for voluntary work or paid employment, part-time or full-time roles, in-person or remote opportunities, you can find this and much more in the charity sector! Let’s bust 5 common myths about working for charities and discover whether a career in the sector could be for you. 

Myth #1 – The charity sector isn’t significant

Whatever you choose to call it (voluntary sector, not-for-profit sector, third sector, civic sector and community sector are alternative names) the charity sector plays a vital role not only to society but to the UK economy. According to the UK Civil Society Almanac 2020 the charity sector contributed £18.2 billion to the economy in 2017/2018. There are 166,592 voluntary organisations in the UK, employing just under 1 million people, with 51% being graduates. The sector is very significant and relies on a range of talented individuals to continue to make an impact on societies biggest challenges.

Myth #2 – I’ll just work in a charity shop

There are some great benefits of getting experience in a charity shop but the range of other areas you could work in includes:

  • Disability
  • Education
  • Environment
  • Homelessness
  • Health / mental health
  • International development
  • Human rights
  • Arts and culture
  • Media
  • Young people

Myth #3 – There aren’t many roles available

There are many roles available in the charity sector, many of which are similar to other sectors.  Employers are looking for individuals to work in finance, marketing, human resources and IT.  Key roles include:

  • Fundraising and campaigning – Raising money to take action on important issues and educate the public is a key function of the sector. Opportunities range from events fundraising (as small as a cake sale to as large as the London Marathon!), corporate sponsorship, lobbying and digital campaigning.  If you are persuasive and good at influencing people, this could be for you.  Fundraising has become even more important as charities deal with the effect that Covid has had on their ability to raise funds.
  • Marketing, communications and PR – Whether it’s cancer awareness, animal welfare, poverty alleviation or educational reform, charities need to communicate to a range of audiences. This can be through their website, emails, newsletters, social media and public engagements. These roles are great if you enjoy writing and / or speaking in public.
  • Technology and IT – If there is anything that Covid has highlighted, it’s the growing importance of using technology and having a strong IT infrastructure.  Charities are looking for people who are technically and digitally savvy as they play an important role in driving more donations and increasing support. You could be maintaining websites, developing apps, managing social media platforms, troubleshooting technical issues and more.
  • Volunteer Management – Before moving to Higher Education I spent 12 years working in volunteer management. Volunteers are at the heart of the charity sector and organisations need people who can recruit, manage, support and recognise the fantastic work volunteers do. This requires strong communication and people skills and a passion for working with a diverse group of people.

In addition to these core roles there are also lots of opportunities in:

  • Finance
  • Administration
  • HR
  • Project management
  • Teaching, education and training
  • Advice and counselling
  • Events management

Myth #4 - There are no graduate level opportunities

Like other sectors the charity sector is made up of small, medium and large organisations. Employers who recruit graduates include:

  • Age UK
  • Barnados
  • British Heart Foundation
  • Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Princes Trust
  • Amnesty International
  • Oxfam
  • Save the Children
  • WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature)

Some employers even run their own graduate scheme. For example, CharityWorks is the UK’s leading graduate programme for the charity sector, matching graduates to opportunities across a range of charity organisations. If you are interested in healthcare, then the GradUnique programme brings together 2 of the UK’s leading charities (British Heart Foundation and Macmillan Cancer Support) and offers a 2 year graduate development scheme across both charities.

Myth #5 – No one makes money working for a charity

Let’s be honest - if you’re looking for a six figure salary in the charity sector you’ll probably have better luck in the private / for-profit sector.  However, the pay difference between the private and charity sector is probably less than you assume. Check out this video from CharityJob which explores how certain roles compare to the private sector. Whilst there are many voluntary roles in the sector (which are great for building skills!) talented staff are needed to help charities run efficiently, just like any other sector.

Now that myths have been busted, what’s next?

If you’re interested in finding out more about career opportunities in the charity sector, here are a few next steps you could take:

  • Get in touch with the Royal Holloway Volunteering team.  This award winning team can help you find opportunities to gain experience with a variety of charitable organisations.
  • Visit www.charityjob.co.uk for details on paid and voluntary opportunities, as well as a wealth of careers advice.
  • Visit www.prospects.co.uk and explore the range of roles within the sector
  • Book an appointment with a Careers Consultant to explore your options further and create a plan of action.