If you'd like to work for an organisation that positively impacts society and influences real change a career in the charity and voluntary sector could be for you. Learn more about what's on offer

What is the third sector?

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

According to the NCVO Almanac 2021, the voluntary sector contributed £20billion (0.9% of total GDP) to the economy in 2020. It has a total income of £56billion a year, half of which comes from the public via donations, legacies, membership fees and charges for services. It spends £46 billion a year on delivering charitable objectives and its 163,000 voluntary organisations employ 950,000 people. England has the highest proportion of charities, while Northern Ireland has the lowest.

What areas of the charity 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 skills 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 accountantsproject managersIT support officersmarketing executivesHR officersretail managers and social workers.

For examples of job roles in this sector, see charity sector jobs.

Who are the main graduate employers?

Employers in the third sector include small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), social enterprises, non-governmental organisations (NGOs), and large charities. Some of the biggest charities in the UK include:

  • 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.

While the large charities are the most well known, the sector is in fact dominated by SMEs (roughly 80% of all organisations) and these usually operate at a local level and are spread evenly throughout the country. In smaller organisations you may need to be a jack-of-all-trades, taking on a number of roles to get the job done.

The NCVO Almanac identifies 59 'super-major' organisations, with an annual income of over £100million a year and another 736 'major' organisations making over a million a year. Combined these large organisations are responsible for over 80% of the sectors income. These operate at a national and international level.

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).

Read up on working for a pressure group.

What's it like working in the third sector?

You can expect:

  • the majority of jobs to take place 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?

COVID-19 has had a huge impact on the charity and voluntary sector. The pandemic has led to increased demand, financial trouble, struggles in identifying people in need, restrictions on fundraising and problems with volunteer retention. To find out more take a look at the  challenges facing the third sector.

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