Not signed up?


Overview of the charity sector in the UK

Find out essential information on working in the charity and voluntary work sector...

What areas of charity can I work in?

This sector is often referred to as the third sector, the not-for-profit sector and the voluntary and community sector (VCS).

Employment opportunities are grouped into:

  • administrative;
  • advisory;
  • animal conservation;
  • campaigning and lobbying;
  • conservation and environmental;
  • economic development and capacity building;
  • emergency and poverty alleviation;
  • environmental research;
  • financial management;
  • fundraising;
  • health education and promotion;
  • human resources management, including volunteer management;
  • human rights;
  • policy development;
  • provision of care services and carer support;
  • public relations and branding;
  • scientific and social research and development.

However, it is worth noting that many jobs that are available in businesses are also required in not-for-profit organisations, for example, marketing, IT and accounting.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see graduate jobs in charity and voluntary work.

Who are the main graduate employers?

The charity sector includes large, well-established organisations that have diverse areas of interest. Examples include:

  • Age UK;
  • Alzheimer's Society;
  • Arts Council England;
  • Barnado's;
  • British Red Cross;
  • Cancer Research UK;
  • National Trust;
  • Oxfam.

These larger organisations provide graduate training programmes, internships and structured career development opportunities.

Employers also include a range of smaller, specialised organisations. Social enterprises are businesses, not charities, with primarily social objectives. They are frequently referred to as small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). Due to their size, they may not be able provide structured graduate training schemes; however, they do provide an all-round experience that helps career progression within the sector.

Many organisations in the sector were established by individuals (social entrepreneurs) who wanted to make a difference or hoped to meet a specific need or interest. Opportunities for setting up social enterprises are currently being given particular stimulus by both specialist organisations and universities.

Self-employment is also common among professionals in other industries who provide a range of different services to the sector.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the charities and voluntary work sector can expect:

  • high levels of work satisfaction;
  • a relatively low salary compared to the private sector, although pay differs enormously depending on the job;
  • good opportunities for career progression and development;
  • competition to be high for paid employment;
  • to have to network to find opportunities.

What are the key issues in the charity sector?

Keeping up to date with changes in government and non-government policy is important. Some major changes that have taken place recently include the Charities Act, which ushered in new financial reporting arrangements for charities, and the allocation of the Lottery Fund. In addition, controversy remains over a pilot scheme that demands unemployed people, who are aged between 18 and 24 and have spent less than six months in a job, to volunteer without pay for up to three months or face losing their unemployment benefits.

Public sector cutbacks are likely to have an impact on organisations in this sector; this may lead to them having to diversify activities or develop new partnerships with private sector businesses.

The voluntary sector looks set to benefit from social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, as they enable fast, effective targeting of potential donors, volunteers and contributors for fundraising and other campaigns aimed at internet users.

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
August 2012

Spotlight on...


Sponsored links


This website is best viewed in an up-to-date web browser with CSS enabled. While you will be able to view the content of this page in your current browser, you will not be able to get the full visual experience. Please consider upgrading your browser software or enabling style sheets if you are able to do so.