Getting a graduate charity job

Jemma Smith, Editor
November, 2017

Find out how to kick-start your career in the third sector with relevant qualifications, charity internships and graduate schemes

Do I need a degree?

For some charity jobs, such as charity fundraiser, volunteer coordinator and charity officer, there are no specific degree requirements. The subject you studied isn't as important as practical skills and passion for the charity's cause. However, the majority of people joining the sector do have a degree at either undergraduate or Masters level.

In general studying the following subjects may improve your chances of securing a charity job:

  • business studies
  • community development/studies
  • social policy and administration
  • sociology
  • voluntary sector management
  • youth work.

For specific roles in accounting and finance, HR, IT and marketing, advertising and PR, charity employers may ask for undergraduate qualifications in specific subjects such as accountancy, business, consulting and management, human resource management, IT, marketing and social work.

Careers in international development are a popular choice and a Bachelors in international development is typically required. A postgraduate degree in the subject may increase your chances of entry in this competitive field.

Search postgraduate courses.

What skills do charity employers want?

You will need to show:

  • Adaptability and flexibility - working for a charity, you'll need to be able to perform in multiple functions and work with a variety of people. You'll also need to adapt to fluctuating funding and resources and be flexible enough to work on temporary contracts when needed.
  • Commitment and motivation - being passionate about the cause that you're championing is arguably the most important factor of all. This is at your job's core, and it's important that you can work with similarly-minded colleagues to achieve a common goal.
  • Communication skills - being able to effectively communicate with a range of people including colleagues, service users, the public, and the media is essential when it comes to charity jobs.
  • Creativity and innovation - whichever charitable organisation you work for, creativity and innovation will be central to your role. You need to be able to offer new perspectives and come up with new ideas and ways of doing things such as fundraising.
  • Negotiation and persuasion - these skills are vital, especially for charity fundraisers and directors. You need to be able to drum up support, bid for funding and raise money and awareness for your cause.
  • Organisational skills - as previously mentioned you'll need to juggle a lot of balls as a charity employee. Particularly in smaller charities it's likely that you'll fulfill a variety of roles so organisational skills are a must.

Discover what soft skills employers want.

Which organisations run charity internships?

Work experience is highly sought-after by graduate employers in this sector, and many employees volunteer before gaining paid contracts.

Paid internships in the third sector are hard to find and rarely advertised. The Wellcome Trust runs a Summer Internship Programme, which offers participants the chance to work alongside experienced staff in an area of their choice. Over eight weeks interns earn a salary of £2,730. The National Trust also pay interns on their Community Learning and Volunteer scheme.

However, the majority of charity internships are voluntary and operate on a part-time, flexible basis (usually a couple of days a week), meaning that volunteers can work alongside their placement. Voluntary, third sector internships are mainly offered by large charities such as:

  • Barnardo's
  • British Red Cross
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Child Bereavement UK
  • CLIC Sargent
  • Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Marie Curie
  • Oxfam
  • The Children's Trust.

Schemes can last from one month to a year, although on average take 12 weeks to complete. Participants can gain experience in a number of fields such as marketing and events, fundraising, project management, accounting, HR, IT, volunteer recruitment and digital media.

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 search on websites such as Do-it. Also, learn more about volunteering with animals and discover 10 opportunities to volunteer with children.

There are numerous organisations that can help you find volunteering projects abroad, but you must be aware of the high costs that may be involved. Voluntary Service Overseas (VSO) offers the International Citizen Service (ICS) Volunteering Programme, where 18 to 25-year-olds travel to Africa or Asia on three-month development projects, but you would need to do a little fundraising yourself to cover some of the costs.

You can also develop useful skills while at university by, for example, setting up a student society or organising fundraising activities for events such as Children in Need or Comic Relief.

To find placements and internships, search for work experience in the charity and voluntary work sector.

What charity graduate schemes are on offer?

Like paid internships, charity graduate schemes are rare. However, opportunities can be uncovered with tenacity and research.

Large organisations are more likely to offer formal graduate opportunities. For example, Cancer Research UK offers a number of programmes in areas such as fundraising and marketing, finance, policy, information and communications, scientific strategy and funding and technology. Schemes last between two and three years.

The Charityworks Graduate Trainee Scheme is a 12-month programme, which sees graduates working a full-time job in a partner charity (such as Age UK or the NSPCC) or a housing association. You'll also take part in a leadership programme. Each Charityworks graduate will earn a salary of £18,000 (UK-wide) or £20,000 (in London).

Charity graduate schemes are extremely competitive, made even more so by their scarcity. You'll typically need a 2:1 undergraduate degree and a specific number of UCAS points to be eligible.

General employment opportunities are usually advertised by sector-specific recruitment agencies such as Charity People or specialist websites including:

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, you're more likely to receive a reply.

You could also attend recruitment events such as the Charity Fair, which is organised by the DSC (Directory for Social Change).

Another option is to set up your own charity but this requires a lot of hard work and big decision-making. The Knowhow Nonprofit site contains information on how to start your own charity but advises that you first think if your cause and aims are covered by an existing organisation. If so ask yourself whether your knowledge and skills could be put to better use working for an existing charity.

Learn more about available jobs in the charity and voluntary sector.