What is the charity and not-for-profit sector?
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 168,000 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 after a natural disaster or war.
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.
What charity and not-for-profit jobs can I do?
- Fundraisers: Raise awareness for charities and encourage people or businesses to donate money. Fundraisers can work directly with people on the street or organise major events and campaigns to raise money.
- Project managers: Make sure that projects are delivered on time and within budget. They coordinate all the people and tasks involved, so get to be involved in lots of different things including research, planning budgets and media campaigns. Learn how to improve your project management skills.
- Volunteers coordinators: Many charities rely on the support of volunteers to deliver their services. Volunteer coordinators help recruit people, provide training and oversee them as they work. Volunteering is a great way to get started working for a charity. Volunteers do a range of tasks from admin support in the office to manning helplines and planning events.
- Researchers: Investigate issues and provide data to support charities in their causes or develop new projects. Researchers talk with the public directly through focus groups and surveys as well as interviewing experts and reviewing existing reports.
- Policy advisors: Use their expertise on a particular subject to help shape projects, campaigns and define the official views of a charity on an issue. Their work can involve project management, research, writing and campaigning.
- Helpline workers: Provide information, advice or support to members of the public over the phone or online. Helplines are often set up to assist people in crisis situations and many charities provide them on a range of different issues from mental health to legal advice or to support victims of abuse.
- Frontline / support workers: Work directly with people who need the support of the charity. Many have backgrounds in social work, nursing, counselling, teaching or law as they will work with people going through difficulties with their health, home or working lives, who will need expert care, support and information. Learn about health and social care jobs and don't forget to check out our dedicated Medicine & Healthcare Career Zone.
- Communications: These roles include communications coordinators/officers, editors, writers, designers, web developers and PR managers, all of whom play a huge role developing campaigns and producing branding & advertising to raise awareness for charities. Some of the most creative campaigns come from charities as every click, view and retweet can count towards their funding and success. Check out this advice on starting a communications career.
- Administration: Like any business, there is a need for accountants, legal advisers, HR and administration roles within charities and NGOs.
Is a career in the charity and not-for-profit sector for me?
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 calm, resilient and tolerant 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 (learn more about what that means here) is also a really important skills if you want to be a charity professional.
How can I start a career in the charity and not-for-profit sector?
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 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.
- Vocational: Normally, you'll need GCSEs or A-levels which you can build on in an entry-level roles or through worked-based training. Advanced apprenticeships are available for some fundraising and communications roles as well as campaigning and volunteer management. Some support work roles might require QCF health or social care qualifications.
- Graduate: Researcher, legal adviser, project manager, some fundraising and communications roles – you won’t necessarily need a specific degree to work in a graduate role for a charity. If you are interested in research it helps to have a social science / science degree or if you want to work for an international charity, some universities offer degrees in international development.
- Postgraduate: Policy advisers tend to be experts on a subject, from deforestation to working in conflict zones. Because of this, they will usually have a master's degree or sometimes a PhD in their chosen field of work.
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.
What charity and not-for-profit qualifications are available?
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.
Did you know these charity and not-for-profit facts?
Snapchat users watch 10 billion videos every day! That's why charity fundraisers are using the platform more and more to raise money for their causes.
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 and relies on over 31,000 volunteers across the country. The service has saved over 140,000 lives since it launched in 1824.