Find out what skills, qualifications and work experience you'll need to get started in the charity and voluntary sector...
Do I need a related degree?
That depends on the job you want to do. For some roles, such as fundraising, the subject of your degree is not as important as your passion for the aims of the charity and your practical skills. Experience in areas such as marketing, PR, events, sales and finance is sought after by charities and can make you very useful to the organisation.
For some areas, including international development, there are specific roles for people with professional qualifications, such as doctors, midwives, nurses and teachers. Bachelors degrees in logistics, public health or social policy may also be useful, while having a Masters in international development or a related area may give you the edge.
Degrees in business-related areas such as finance, management, marketing, PR or media may be beneficial for a range of organisations in this sector.
For community development and volunteer co-ordinator roles, degrees in social work or youth and community may be useful.
What skills do employers want?
Graduate employers look for:
- adaptability, flexibility and the ability to multitask;
- commitment and motivation;
- good communication and negotiation skills;
- organisational skills.
Where can I look for work experience?
Work experience is highly sought after by graduate employers and therefore particularly important in this sector.
Large charities, such as the National Trust, Oxfam GB, Macmillan Cancer Support, British Red Cross and Age UK, provide work placements and internships for students and graduates. For example, Barnardo's offers internships in events, marketing, finance, campaigns, children's services, retail, and research and policy. The British Red Cross provides opportunities to gain experience in developing a project, conducting research or planning events across a wide range of sectors.
Most internships in this sector are on a voluntary basis, where you won't receive a salary but will receive expenses. There are, however, some organisations that offer paid internships, such as People & Planet and the Wellcome Trust.
The charity sector has a long-established tradition of offering relevant work experience through volunteering, so smaller organisations will also have opportunities that can provide valuable experience. You can make speculative enquiries or look for volunteering opportunities on websites such as Do-it.
There are also numerous organisations that can help you find volunteering projects abroad, but be aware of the costs involved. For example, Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) offers International Citizen Service (ICS), where 18-25-year-olds travel to Africa or Asia on three-month development projects. You would need to do some fundraising yourself to cover some of the costs, however.
You can also develop useful skills while at university by, for example, setting up a student society or organising fundraising activities.
To find work placements and internships in the charity and voluntary work sector, search for work experience.
How do I find a graduate job in the charity and voluntary work sector?
Some large organisations in this sector offer graduate schemes, such as Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust and IntoUniversity. However these are very competitive and you may need a 2:1 and a specific number of UCAS points to be successful.
The Charityworks Graduate Programme offers a one-year, full-time paid job in a non-profit organisation. You are also given a professional development programme and opportunities to conduct research assignments. You could be in an operational role working with service users or in a corporate role in business development, fundraising, campaigns or research. Alternatively, you could enjoy a mix of experiences.
Employment opportunities are also advertised on specialist websites, including:
You can find jobs on the Institute of Fundraising website. Smaller organisations may advertise on their own websites or in local newspapers. You could make speculative applications, sending prospective employers a CV and cover letter. If you take the trouble to find a named contact who you can send your CV to, you are more likely to receive a reply.
You can also search graduate jobs in charity and voluntary work.