A career in the charity sector will mean working with some of the most important issues and challenging facing the world today.
The charity sector is sometimes also known as the not-for-profit sector, third sector or voluntary and community sector. It provides support to people and animals in need, raises awareness or influences positive changes in things like government policy, the law, funding and research.
According to the Charity Commission, there are more than 169,000 charities in England & Wales (some people think there's loads more than that!). They cover a huge range of issues, from the groundbreaking medical research of Cancer Research UK, to the work of the National Trust, protecting rare plants and natural habitats.
Then there are many more you won't have heard of, tackling every issue! Other major focuses for charities include human rights, education, mental health, reducing poverty and providing support in emergencies, such as natural disasters or wars.
Not-for-profit organisations are sometimes called NGOs (non-governmental organisations). NGOs are not always officially classed as charities, but they can still work towards similar aims.
One of the best and largest examples is the United Nations, an inter-governmental organisation (partly funded by and made up of representatives from 192 countries) that works towards peace, human rights and development around the world. The UN general assembly is the closest thing we have to a "world parliament".
Like the Civil Service, the UN requires project managers, engineers, health workers, lawyers, media experts and many more administrative roles.
As you've seen above, there are loads of different roles in this sector, so it's likely you'll find something for you no matter what your strengths and interests are. One thing that does unite most charity sector workers is the drive to make a difference.
Here are a few other skills that might come in handy...
Depending on your exact role, working for a charity can involve getting the message across and encouraging the public to support your cause, so you’ll need great communication skills.
You may find yourself working with difficult or distressing issues, so you’ll need to be resilient too.
Charities are always looking for ways to make their money stretch further to help more people, so it’s important to use your initiative and be resourceful. Adaptability is also a really important skills if you want to be a charity professional.
In some cases, you will need a degree for jobs in the not-for-profit sector, but many charities will be more interested in what experience, interests and skills you have, so it’s important to do relevant volunteer work, whatever role you’re after.
It’s also important to do your research and find out what kind of charity you would like to work for.
For example, if you want to work in international development, it could be useful to speak a second or third language. If you want to work with children in the UK, it might be more important to have social care qualifications.
Lots of jobs in charities involve having good communication skills so useful subjects at GCSE and A-level include: languages, law, English, media studies, psychology and design and technology as well as GCSE maths.
As with any role, you'll usually need GCSEs at grade 4+ in English and maths.
Have you ever considered working for a charity during a gap year? Taking a year out and working abroad can be a great opportunity for students looking to pursue careers in the voluntary sector.
Check out our latest jobs (including work experience opportunities) right here on Success at School.
Working for a charity, you can study towards qualifications in project management, fundraising or campaigning.
Organisations like Bond provide training for international development charities. The Institute of Fundraising also provides training and some charities, like the Red Cross help volunteers study towards QCF qualifications in a range of subjects, including customer service or retail.
Chicken knitter, pudding chaser and astronaut twins are some of the weirdest volunteer roles out there!
The Royal National Lifeboat Association (RNLI), the UK’s 24-hour lifeboat search and rescue service, is a charity. It was set up two centuries ago in 1824.
People in the UK donated over £10 billion to charity in 2021. One in three people donated to help those affected by Russia's invasion of Ukraine.