I never really thought of charity as a career option when I graduated. I was interested in building communities online, connecting people and spreading useful information. But after a few pretty successful years of working to persuade old-school magazine editors to take the internet more seriously, I looked around for a career move. Charities seemed to be the organisations where people were not only managing to make money online, but also where there was massive opportunity to use the power of the internet to help and connect people for the very best of reasons.
Now I work with so many people who want to work in charity one day, what surprises me most is that people think ‘charity’ is a job. It isn’t really, it’s a sector with thousands of different types of organisations and jobs. But it’s also the best sector to work in. I love the camaraderie, the amazing people you meet, the moving stories you tell, and the impact you have on the world. Much as I enjoyed business publishing, no-one EVER cried with joy when I told them we were launching a new air conditioning suppliers website. A patient with a rare blood cancer did, when I told her we were building an online community for blood cancer patients to connect with each other. I wouldn’t go back to working in the corporate world for any money. (And actually, for the record, I’m making about the same money as I was in publishing.)
Charity jobs can be notoriously difficult to apply for. People doing Charity Apprentice often tell me they were confused about what charity jobs are available, where to apply for them and how to gain relevant experience. Many people find it impossible to get their foot on the career ladder without having to work for free in unpaid internships for months on end.
At the same time, charities often find recent graduates lack basic knowledge of how charities operate and simple skills in fundraising and communications. Our team on Charity Apprentice are passionate about bridging this knowledge and skills gap. So how do we do it? Here’s some condensed advice.
Locate what the organisation wants
Our work environment at Child.org is driven by our desire to do what works in order to make sure every child deserves an equal opportunity. Given that we are a relatively small team, it is important that each member of the team is able to think on their feet, as we have to manage varying workloads and multiple projects simultaneously. We therefore value candidates who are able to demonstrate the ability to manage projects and display good time management. Larger charities may have different priorities for their graduate recruits.
Find out what the organisation wants in an employee. Ask questions of people in positions which you aspire to: what do they actually spend their days doing? Is it a prerequisite to have regional knowledge or are practical skills (such as Excel skills or accounting skills) more important in that particular role? This approach will enable you to focus on getting across really matters in the job application
Become acquainted with how charities operate
Given that charities often have lower budgets for advertising jobs than the private sector, and fewer resources for running graduate programmes, the structure of charitable organisations is often hidden behind the scenes. As a result of this (and the low public profile of charity admin), people often underestimate how much resource is invested in departments other than campaigning or policy.
Find out what kinds of roles exist in each organisation and examine which roles would suit you.
Don’t just rely on job boards
Advertising jobs costs money. So, charities will tend to avoid extensive advertising on job boards. Instead they will recruit ‘just-in-time’ using short timescales on job listings and will often recruit from a pool of volunteers or interns that they already have experience working with. Explore offline as well as online – network, go to events, reach out to people you find inspiring and talk with friends to find out what opportunities you can find.
Get experience and hone your passion
Once you’ve narrowed down what you want to do, you’ll need to acquire the necessary experience. Make sure you look at a few job specifications which will go into more detail than job adverts as to the essential and/or desired qualities. Then think about the ways you can accumulate that experience.
For many roles, you won’t necessarily have to have worked in a charity to get the experience (though having charity experience certainly could help). For example, you could get good project management experience by running an active society at university or you could demonstrate your fundraising prowess by setting up your own initiative as part of RAG.
You should also think about the type of causes that you will want to champion. Whilst these might not be directly related to your future employment, it might be a useful way to focus your job search and gradually develop expertise within a subset of the charity sector.
What else can I do?
Yes, I’m going to plug our course, because if you’re reading this – Charity Apprentice is for you. Child.org have spent two years working with experts from across the sector to develop Charity Apprentice. It’s a year-long course that anyone can do in their spare time to gain entry-level charity skills.
Free for students and recent graduates in 2017, Charity Apprentice aims to give anyone a route into learning about charity and a way to gain the experience they need to start a rewarding career in the sector. It’s a combination of online learning and fun real-life challenges, created by charity professionals and designed to hone your charity knowledge and build the most useful experience.
The course features expert advice and content from across many large UK charities, and is delivered by Child.org. Apprentices also have the opportunity to apply for exclusive work placements at Child.org projects in Africa and in the UK. Full details can be found at charityapprentice.org. If you have further questions, feel free to give me a ring in the Child.org office on 07751768207.
– Ellie is a University of Kent alumnus (BA English and American Literature and Drama, 2007). She previously worked in a publishing house as a Production Editor before moving to work in the charity sector, as Digital Engagement Manager at Bloodwise. She now works as Content and Community Manager at the international development charity Child.org where she also manages Charity Apprentice – Child.org’s groundbreaking course in charity for people who want to start a career in the sector.