If you're looking for a socially-conscious career that has a positive impact on people and communities, the third sector is a good place to start. Discover what this highly rewarding industry has to offer

The charity and voluntary sector, often referred to as the 'third sector', 'not-for-profit sector', 'community sector' or 'civic sector', aims to create social rather than material wealth.

What areas of the third sector can I work in?

There's more to the charity sector than raising money but one thing is for certain - you'll need a genuine passion to improve and enrich society to succeed. If you'd like to make the world a better place the charity and voluntary sector gives you plenty of opportunity to do so. The industry needs a range of skillsets and you could find work 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.

When researching potential third sector careers it's likely you’ll discover some overlap with a number of other sectors such as:

Charity employers still need accountants, project managers, IT support officers, marketing executives, HR officers, retail managers and social workers.

There's a diverse range of opportunities in the third 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?

The voluntary sector currently employs 853,000 people in paid positions and contributes approximately £12.2billion to the UK economy. There are 167,000 charities in England and Wales but the majority (80%) of UK charities are based in England. The South East has the highest proportion of charities, while the North East has the lowest.

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

  • Age UK
  • Alzheimer's Society
  • Barnardo's
  • British Heart Foundation
  • Childline
  • Macmillan Cancer Support
  • MSF (Médecins Sans Frontières)
  • RSPCA (Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals)
  • The Princes Trust
  • The Salvation Army
  • UNICEF
  • Wellcome Trust.

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

Popular graduate charity employers include:

  • Amnesty International
  • British Red Cross
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Mind
  • National Trust
  • NSPCC (National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children)
  • Oxfam
  • Save the Children
  • WaterAid
  • WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature).

What's it like working in the third sector?

You can expect:

  • the majority of jobs to be based in towns and cities in office environments
  • a lower salary and reduced job security compared with the private sector
  • to work on temporary contracts due to short-term funding
  • a predominantly female workforce
  • flexible working conditions, including the opportunity for part-time work and home working
  • to travel during the working day for some roles. You may need to visit service users or travel between sites. International travel is also possible if the charity you work for has an international agenda
  • work to be stressful when resources are low
  • 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 in the charity sector?

Brexit, the uncertain economy and overstretched local authorities are some of the biggest political issues affecting the third sector, according to a 2017 Lloyds Bank Foundation report, Facing forward: how small and medium-sized charities can adapt to survive.

There's worry that the UK’s departure from the European Union (EU) will result in the loss of EU funding and European staff. There are also concerns that other political issues may fall off the agenda and become harder to campaign for as Brexit takes up all the political attention.

The report goes on to explain how cash-strapped local authorities and increasing job instability, due to a lack of funding, are having an impact on small and medium-sized charities.

The report also identifies a distinct lack of digital or technological skills and falling public trust in charities as major issues.

Find out more about the challenges facing the third sector.