Small and medium-sized charities account for more than a third of organisations in the sector and as such provide a wealth of opportunities for ambitious graduates. Find out how to get a job with a local charity

If we asked you to name a charity, big players such as Barnado's, Cancer Research UK or the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC) would probably spring to mind. But did you know that small and local charities comprise 97% of the overall charity and voluntary work sector?

This means that at some point in their career most graduates will likely work for a local charity.

Why work for local charities?

One big advantage of working for a small, local charity is the broader level of involvement that employees enjoy. While employees of larger organisations may be confined to one role, you'll be expected to wear a number of different hats and perform a variety of tasks.

Jen McQuistan, corporate partnership coordinator at Fresh Start, an Edinburgh-based charity that helps homeless people re-establish themselves in a new home, explains more about the range of opportunities on offer.

'In local charities there are lots of opportunities for development and you are often given more responsibility at an earlier stage. Small charities have small teams so there’s often the chance to get involved in different aspects of the organisation, from marketing and ideas development to overall strategy, so you get a better sense of the organisation as a whole. You'll be more than a small cog in a big wheel.'

While getting stuck into diverse areas of work can greatly boost your CV and broaden your career horizons, there are other advantages as well.

When you work for a local charity it's usually easier to see the impact that you as an individual have on service users and this can bring a huge sense of satisfaction. 'The feel good factor that you get from contributing to an organisation that is helping society is very rewarding,' says Jen.

Working for a local charity is also a great way to quickly gain first-hand experience of the third sector, something that may be more difficult to come by in big organisations.

However, the varied workload isn't for everyone. While many graduates love this aspect of working for a local charity, others dislike the distinct lack of focus. Employment in the charity and voluntary work sector can be challenging and working for a local charity is particularly demanding. Funds are usually limited, with budgets often extremely tight. But if you think you're up for the challenge read on to discover more about working for a small charity.

Which local charities can I work for?

This of course depends on where you live but no matter where you're based in the UK you'll be surrounded by small, local charities that need your help. In fact small charities are often at the heart of local communities and they work tirelessly to support those who need it.

If you're unaware of the organisations around you a quick online search should give you a general idea of the charities local to your area. Small, local charities deal with a range of issues from education and welfare to homelessness, medical care and the environment. Here are some of the small charities across the UK that rely on the help of employees and volunteers:

  • Fresh Start (Edinburgh)
  • Jessie May (Bristol)
  • Mustard Tree (Manchester)
  • The Renewal Trust (Nottingham)
  • Sheffield Young Carers (Sheffield)
  • SHP (London)
  • Smile for life (Newcastle)
  • The Old Enfield Charitable Trust (London)
  • 42nd Street (Manchester).

The Charity Commission offers a UK-based charity search, which you can use to find organisations of interest in your local area.

What jobs are available?

While local charities employ fewer people they still require qualified individuals to fill the same roles that are on offer at large organisations.

As a new graduate entering the third sector it's likely you'll start a role such as:

Small charities also need people to work in admin, finance, IT, marketing and HR jobs, which according to Jen means there is plenty of opportunity for graduates from a variety of degree backgrounds. Some charities, particularly those working within the field of social care and education may also need qualified social workers, youth workers, nurses and teachers.

Job titles and descriptions may vary between small and large charities so keep an open mind when looking for work. At larger, national charities it's common to start off in assistant positions and spend some time learning the trade before moving up the ladder. In smaller charities it's easier to achieve officer or manager status in a shorter amount of time.

What qualifications do I need?

A large proportion of the third sector workforce has a degree but the level of qualifications and experience required depends on the job you’re applying for. However, for many charities specific qualifications and experience are less important than possessing a genuine passion for the work that the charity carries out.

To gain an entry-level position as a charity fundraiser, charity officer or volunteer coordinator you'll typically need a degree or HND in any subject. However, certain courses may improve your chances of securing a job in these competitive roles. To get into fundraising a qualification in marketing, media or business may prove useful, while to become a charity officer subjects such as community development, economics, law, public relations and sociology will stand you in good stead.

For specific jobs in advertising, accountancy, business, HR, IT, media and public relations employers may ask for related undergraduate qualifications and professional accreditation.

How do I get a job with a local charity?

One of the best ways to stand out to charity employers is to do some voluntary work. Not only does it boost your skills, increase your contacts and look great on your CV, it also demonstrates a real enthusiasm for, and commitment to the third sector. Where possible try to gain relevant voluntary experience, for example if you're passionate about environmental issues volunteer with local environment charities. If you have ambitions to work for a particular local charity, securing a voluntary position with the organisation could open doors to paid employment.

Internships are hard to find with local charities. Small operations rarely have the resources or staff to dedicate to formal opportunities. However, the experience gained on internship programmes can give you an edge in this competitive field so it's worth looking to larger charities to see what they offer.

Discovering advertised vacancies is easily done. The charity sector has a number of dedicated jobsites such as Goodmoves and Third Sector Jobs. You can customise your job search to focus on your local area. Signing up to a recruitment agency such as Charity People, Eden Brown and TPP could also yield positive results.

Social media is a useful tool. The majority of charities, even the small ones, have a social media presence. Follow and keep an eye on the accounts of organisations of interest. Through a charity's social media activity you can find out about campaigns and events, build contacts and uncover vacancies.

Small charities operate on small budgets and therefore don't always have the money to spend on widespread recruitment campaigns. As such many jobs at local charities may go unadvertised. This is where speculative applications prove useful. Tailor your applications to each charity and explain why you want to work for them and how you'd be an asset to the organisation.

How can I progress my career?

Progression opportunities vary from organisation to organisation. 'If you are enthusiastic and prepared to work hard then there will be plenty of scope to progress your career,' says Jen.

Some graduates use their time at a local charity as a stepping-stone to a job at a larger organisation. The experience that you gain working at a small charity is invaluable. Not only does it give you a solid grounding in your chosen career and equip you with many sought-after skills, but also an overarching understanding of the third sector as a whole. After a couple of years in post some take this knowledge and experience and put it to use working for national organisations.

However, that doesn't mean that local charities don't have room for movement. 'Many small charities offer very good training and development opportunities focused on widening skill sets and allowing for further progression,' explains Jen.

While smaller teams may mean increased competition for promotion local charities offer greater responsibility at an earlier stage. Your varied workload will give you a range of skills in a number of areas and this coupled with early responsibility means that management positions are much more accessible in small organisations. You could manage a team of fundraisers or volunteers or oversee a department such as finance or marketing. Alternatively you could get more involved with the organisation's strategy.

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