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Overview of the charity sector in the UK

Want to use your skills to benefit society? Find out about the wide range of job roles in the charity and voluntary work sector…

What areas can I work in?

Employment opportunities in the charity and voluntary work sector can be grouped into:

  • administration;
  • advice and counselling;
  • business development and project management;
  • campaigning and lobbying;
  • community development;
  • conservation and environment;
  • corporate social responsibility (CSR);
  • fundraising;
  • health and medical;
  • housing;
  • human rights;
  • international development;
  • policy;
  • PR and events;
  • research;
  • retail;
  • social care;
  • teaching and training;
  • volunteer management.

The charity and voluntary work sector is often referred to as the 'third sector' or the 'not-for-profit sector'.

You could work in a hands-on role such as social care, or in a support or management role such as fundraising or campaigning. As in the private sector, not-for-profit organisations also have positions in marketing, finance, IT and HR. There are many opportunities in both the UK and abroad.

In September 2014 there were 164,097 charities in the UK, ranging from small voluntary organisations to large charities with big budgets. Approximately 75% of charities are small concerns with an annual income of up to £100,000 (the Charity Commission for England and Wales and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator).

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

Who are the main graduate employers?

The charity and voluntary work sector includes large, well-established organisations, such as:

  • Age UK;
  • Alzheimer's Society;
  • Amnesty International;
  • Barnardo's;
  • British Red Cross;
  • Cancer Research UK;
  • Macmillan Cancer Support;
  • Médecins Sans Frontières;
  • National Trust;
  • Oxfam GB;
  • Wellcome Trust.

Some of these organisations provide graduate training programmes and many offer internships.

Employers also include a range of small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), such as charities, voluntary organisations, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and social enterprises.

Pressure groups including Amnesty International offer graduate opportunities in research, campaigning and government lobbying. Education charities such as Teach First, IntoUniversity and City Year UK offer traineeships for those interested in working in schools or encouraging young people living in deprived areas of the UK to go to university.

What's it like working in the sector?

Graduates entering the charity and voluntary work sector can expect:

  • a relatively low salary compared to the private sector, although pay differs enormously depending on the job;
  • competition to be high for paid employment;
  • flexible working conditions, part-time work and working from home, but sometimes on short-term contracts;
  • high levels of work satisfaction;
  • opportunities for travel, especially in international development.

To find out about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see types of jobs.

What are the key issues in the charity and voluntary work sector?

In recent times, there has been an increase in graduate opportunities in fundraising. Fundraising is very important to large companies in this sector, particularly in times of recession where there is often a decrease in charitable giving. The Institute of Fundraising promotes fundraising as a career choice and provides a range of courses up to International Advanced Diploma level. It also runs the Student Fundraising Scheme which includes advice and support from participating charities on how to fundraise, as well as the opportunity for participants to obtain the Introductory Certificate in Fundraising.

An increasing emphasis on CSR has resulted in many companies investing in employee volunteering activities, creating more jobs for volunteer co-ordinators. Some large employers also recruit graduates to specific CSR roles or include CSR in commercial graduate schemes.

There is a diverse range of opportunities in this sector and you will need to decide how you can best fit in. In a small organisation you may need to be a jack of all trades, so demonstrating you have a range of skills will be important. In contrast, larger charities often look for people with specific professional skills and experience, such as teachers, doctors and lawyers.

Written by Editor, Graduate Prospects
November 2014

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