A popular choice among graduates with passion for helping others, a career as a charity officer could be a perfect fit for those up to facing the challenges of working in the voluntary sector

A charity officer works for a charitable or non-profit organisation and may also be known as a charity administrator, community liaison officer or project development officer.

In larger organisations, charity officers may focus on a specific area, such as project management, business development, finance, marketing, public relations, fundraising or volunteer management. In smaller charities, they often undertake multiple tasks, working to a broader remit.

Responsibilities

As a charity officer, you'll need to:

  • carry out marketing and public relations activities to raise the profile of the organisation's services and campaigns
  • design fundraising materials such as leaflets and flyers
  • create and organise fundraising initiatives and events
  • approach potential donors and maintain donor lists
  • liaise with external agencies, including voluntary sector organisations, the media, local authorities, business contacts, trustees and other stakeholders or clients
  • recruit and coordinate the work of volunteers
  • lobby government and other policymakers on behalf of a cause or a client group
  • carry out administrative tasks such as applying for grants and other sources of funding, managing budgets, gathering data, preparing reports, database management and clerical work to meet the charity's needs.

Salary

  • Charity administrators usually earn £16,000 to £25,000 a year.
  • Salaries for specialist and professional posts range from £20,000 to £35,000.
  • At senior level, typical annual salaries range upwards from £30,000, reaching over £65,000 for senior posts in the largest charities.

Income figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

Core working hours are usually 9am to 5pm, five days a week. Though this may vary according to the requirements of the role and especially if you are involved in fundraising. Some flexibility may be required if a job involves attending events, as these may occur during evenings and weekends.

Flexible working patterns such as part-time work or job sharing may be available.

What to expect

  • Work is often office-based, but may involve travel to meet service users, deliver off-site service provision, attend promotional events and campaign for the charity. Some charity officers cover a large territory or even a whole country. Depending on the focus of the charity, overseas travel may be involved.
  • Some charities second staff to another part of the organisation or similar organisations. International charities sometimes let staff volunteer abroad to develop their knowledge of the organisation's beneficiaries. There are opportunities for paid employment overseas, but these may require specialist qualifications and experience of working abroad.
  • Job opportunities exist throughout the UK.
  • Fluctuating funding means that many jobs are on temporary contracts, typically from six months to two or three years. The lack of job security can have financial and lifestyle implications.
  • Responsible roles may be stressful, but many professionals consider their work extremely rewarding.

Qualifications

The entry requirements you need will differ according to the type of organisation you are applying to. Some expect relevant qualifications and/or considerable work experience, whereas others simply want evidence of genuine passion, commitment and relevant skills.

While this area of work is open to all graduates, a degree, HND or foundation degree in the following subjects may increase your chances:

  • business studies
  • community development
  • community studies
  • economics
  • finance/accounting
  • law
  • marketing
  • public relations
  • social policy and administration
  • sociology
  • voluntary sector management.

Several UK higher education (HE) institutions offer qualifications focusing on the voluntary/charity sector. Postgraduate qualifications are becoming desirable as the sector grows in popularity with graduates, but are rarely essential unless a job involves a great deal of research.

Entry without a degree, HND or foundation degree is possible. Employers are interested in a candidate's voluntary experience, personal qualities, commitment and knowledge of the organisation's work.

You will need to undergo some training and security vetting before an employer will allow you to work directly with service users.

Skills

You will need to show:

  • excellent oral and written communication skills
  • well-developed interpersonal skills and the ability to build successful partnerships
  • flexibility and time management
  • commitment to, passion for and belief in the organisation's aims
  • good understanding of the charity and voluntary work sector, and its relationship with other sectors
  • appreciation of marketing and PR methods along with commercial understanding
  • strong administrative skills, possibly including numeracy
  • initiative, creativity and ability to be forward-thinking
  • research, analysis and planning skills
  • the ability to multi-task and prioritise
  • understanding of the important role of volunteers
  • the ability to learn quickly and adapt.

Work experience

Charity work is a popular career choice and is, therefore, competitive. Voluntary experience is an advantage as it demonstrates to potential employers your commitment to, and understanding of, the sector and individual charities. It also shows that you have initiative, are developing relevant skills and are not solely motivated by money.

Work shadowing, setting up a community group or student society, or organising fundraising activities will impress employers and give you something extra to discuss at interview.

Volunteering opportunities can be found at:

Employers

Charitable organisations are the largest employers of charity officers. These include local, regional, national and international charities, ranging from small-scale groups with a few paid staff and volunteers to large, prestigious, international charities with thousands of employees and volunteers.

The charity sector also includes:

  • philanthropic organisations
  • housing associations
  • trade unions
  • educational institutions
  • think tanks
  • NGOs with charitable status.

For details of more than 2,000 charitable organisations, see:

  • Charity Digest - printed publication.
  • Charities Directory
  • The Voluntary Agencies Directory - printed publication.

Increasingly, large and multinational commercial companies are fulfilling their corporate social responsibility by having at least one designated person to liaise with local charities and community groups. Their role is often to advise on internal fundraising activities and staff volunteering, and to deal with media enquiries on community-focused initiatives.

Look for job vacancies at:

Temporary and permanent charity positions are advertised through specialist recruitment agencies such as:

Voluntary sector exhibitions and recruitment fairs are a useful way of learning about organisations and available positions and some of the larger voluntary sector organisations recruit at fairs organised by careers services.

Volunteering is a good way to gain some experience and create networking opportunities.

Professional development

You will usually receive a mixture of on-the-job training and training through external courses.

Keep up with developments in the sector by joining professional associations, registering with local, regional or national networks, attending training courses and conferences, and networking with people in similar roles.

Your employer may encourage you to embark upon a relevant professional qualification by funding study and allowing study leave. Some organisations specialise in training courses for charity and voluntary sector workers. These range from one or two-day programmes, to courses consisting of several modules; and are delivered either at centres throughout the country or by distance learning, through the following providers:

  • Directory of Social Change (DSC) - short training courses, typically lasting one to two days, covering areas such as organisational development, management, fundraising, finance, law, and skills development.
  • Institute of Fundraising - relevant training, including the Certificate and the Diploma in Fundraising.
  • National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) - courses on all aspects of charities management.
  • SCVO (Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations) - one-day courses and longer accredited courses for Scottish Vocational Qualifications and counselling qualifications.
  • Skills for Health - delivers a range of training and development courses in partnership with the National Skills Academy for Health.
  • Volunteering Matters - courses and opportunities for practical experience.

VolResource provides useful information about starting up and running a voluntary organisation.

Some HE institutions offer qualifications related to the charity and voluntary sector and these are often available as flexible part-time study and distance learning options.

Career prospects

Opportunities for career development vary according to the size and aims of the charity you work for and the budget available for staff training and development. It will also depend on your own personal aims and determination.

In larger charities and voluntary sector organisations, there is usually a structured route of promotion, and bigger budgets and larger remits often mean more travel, training and professional qualification opportunities.

Although smaller charities and voluntary sector organisations often lack the same level of structure and resources, being exposed to more aspects of the organisation's work and often being given a greater degree of responsibility may mean you can develop a greater range of skills and experience.

You may be able to move into a more senior role related to the fundraising activities of the charity.