Overview of the charity sector in the UK

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
November, 2016

There's plenty more to charity and voluntary work than fundraising and campaigning - discover what else this highly satisfying sector can offer you...

What areas can I work in?

The charity and voluntary sector is often also referred to as the 'third sector', 'not-for-profit sector', 'community sector' or 'civic sector'. It has opportunities in:

  • accountancy and finance;
  • administration;
  • advice and counselling;
  • business development and project management;
  • campaigning, lobbying and fundraising;
  • corporate social responsibility (CSR);
  • human resources (HR);
  • information technology (IT);
  • marketing and public relations (PR);
  • research and policy;
  • retail;
  • social care;
  • support services;
  • teaching, education and training;
  • volunteer management and co-ordination.

Evidently, there's a diverse range of opportunities in the charity and voluntary work sector. In a small organisation, you may need to be a jack-of-all-trades, while larger charities look for employees with specific professional skills and experience.

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

Who are the main graduate employers?

There are more than 180,000 charities in the UK, collectively employing around 800,000 people and generating approximately £10billion in annual income. This workforce is growing by approximately 10,000 employees every year.

Employers in the charity and voluntary work sector include small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), social enterprises, non-governmental organisations, and large charities such as:

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

Many charities focus on issues surrounding housing, infrastructure, human rights, community development, international development, health and medicine, and conservation and environment.

What's it like working in the sector?

You can expect:

  • a lower salary and reduced job security compared to the private sector;
  • a predominantly female workforce;
  • flexible working conditions, including the opportunity for part-time work, home working and international travel;
  • huge job satisfaction and career progression opportunities;
  • strong competition for paid employment.

To find out about typical salaries and working conditions in your chosen career, see job profiles.

What are the key issues?

While the majority of the UK's adult population donates to charity, the recent economic downturn resulted in a significant decrease in giving. This has led to an increase in graduate fundraising opportunities, especially at smaller charities that have been worst affected. The Institute of Fundraising (IoF) promotes careers in fundraising, providing numerous courses up to International Advanced Diploma level – the same standard as Masters degrees. Significant knowledge gaps also exist in IT, law, marketing, leadership, strategic planning, and health and safety.

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