Thinking about working with charities and NGOs?

Working with charities and NGOs (non-governmental organisations) - often referred to as the Third Sector - is an appealing career path for many Arts & Humanities students.

In June 2016, the voluntary sector workforce represented 2.7% of the total U.K. workforce. Graduates make up more than 1/3 of the UK’s charity, not-for-profit, and NGO workforce. Working with a charity or NGO allows graduates to create positive change throughout the world and provides them with an opportunity to make a difference while also being confronted with some of life’s greatest challenges. Jobs in this sector are often unrivalled in terms of job satisfaction, as the core focus of charity and NGO work is on social wealth rather than material wealth. The charity, not-for-profit, and NGO sector also boasts an attractive work-life balance with flexible working conditions and often has plenty of opportunities for travel, especially in international development. Despite an increase in graduate opportunities with charities and NGOs, it remains a competitive sector, where competition for paid roles is very high.

Despite its popularity, working in the charities and NGOs sector does have its drawbacks. Employment in this sector typically comes with a lower salary and reduced job security in comparison to the private sector. However, pay can differ enormously depending on the role. Due to the nature of the sector, a large amount of work is on a temporary contract as a result of short-term funding and work can often get stressful when resources are low.

There are many different charities operating in the UK, so it is worth thinking about where your passion lies to help you decide what kind of organisation you would like to work for.

Careers in this sector can be very versatile, with a whole multitude of opportunities available for those wanting to work with charities and NGOs. Whether you want to have a very hands-on role in this sector, or would prefer a job behind the scenes, there is a wide range of career opportunities. As with any other sector, a range of skillsets is needed and these are just some of the roles you could find work in through a charity or NGO:

  • administration
  • business development
  • project management 
  • campaigning and lobbying
  • community development
  • conservation and environment
  • corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • fundraising
  • health and medical
  • housing
  • human rights
  • international development
  • policy
  • PR and marketing
  • research
  • volunteer management

Whilst there is an array of career opportunities, there are three main roles associated with charity and NGO work:

  • Fundraising
  • Marketing & Communications
  • Community Development

Fundraising is a huge part of running a charity or NGO. It’s no secret that charities and NGOs rely on fundraising to support their work. For some people, the word ‘fundraising’ brings to mind images of people with buckets collecting money on the streets or in shops. However, as a fundraiser, there are many tasks that you could be involved with, such as: working in the media and promoting the charity in the press, designing projects or organising events to increase awareness amongst the public.

In today’s digitalised society, the charity, not-for-profit, and NGO sector is benefitting hugely from social media, and therefore marketing roles in this sector are more important than before. Effective marketing allows organisations to target potential donors and volunteers. As this sector is a saturated market, good marketing strategies is essential to ensure an organisation is able to still catch the attention of the public.

People from a diverse range of backgrounds and disciplines enter the charity, not-for-profit and NGO sector. Many graduates who enter this sector did not do a degree that directly relates to charities and NGOs, however, Arts & Humanities students often acquire the skills necessary in this sector throughout their degree. Excellent oral and written communication skills are essential and the ability to empathise and adapt to various different needs and disabilities is a must.

Employers in the not-for-profit sector look for:

  • adaptability, flexibility and the ability to multitask
  • commitment and motivation
  • good communication and negotiation skills
  • innovation
  • organisational skills
  • motivation
  • enthusiasm
  • a passion for improving society!

Main employers in the UK:

  • Age UK
  • Alzheimer's Society
  • Amnesty International
  • Barnardo's
  • British Red Cross
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Macmillan Cancer Support
  • Médecins Sans Frontières
  • National Trust
  • Oxfam GB
  • Wellcome Trust

As previously mentioned, employment in the third sector can be competitive so it is essential that you have some experience under your belt to help you stand out and impress employers. Work experience is highly sought-after by graduate employers in the charities and NGOs sector, and so it is definitely worth considering undertaking some work experience or an internship with a charity or NGO during the holidays. Not only will this show employers that you are proactive and have relevant experience, but it will also highlight your genuine enthusiasm for working with charities and NGOs and demonstrate your commitment. The importance of volunteering to land a role in this sector cannot be overstated.

It can be difficult to land yourself a graduate scheme with a charity or NGO, as they are not as common in the voluntary and not-for-profit sector as they are in the commercial sector. Due to the common financial challenges and lack of resources facing charities and NGOs, many organisations are unable to run intensive training programmes, and instead recruit employees when it is necessary in fixed jobs.

There are, however, some graduate scheme opportunities available with larger organisations in this sector, including:

Cancer Research UK: currently offer 5 streams of graduate schemes. The streams are: fundraising and marketing; finance; policy, information and communications; scientific strategy and funding; technology. Cancer Research UK is currently ranked no.2 on Guardian 300 best places for graduates to work.

CharityWorks: A great opportunity to fast-track your career in the non-profit sector. They offer paid, full-time 12-month graduate trainee positions with a partner charity or housing association.

The Wellcome Trust: They offer two-year long development programmes through two different streams, a specific investments programme and a broader general programme. Over the two years, the programme allows you to do four rotations, in areas such as: communications, public engagements, innovations and digital and technology.

Worthwhile: Their aim is place young talented individuals in small innovative organisations to help them create a positive impact in society. Their graduate schemes are typically 9-12 months and they offer high quality training throughout the programme.

Sanctuary Group: As one of the UK’s leading providers of housing, care and commercial services, Sanctuary Group’s graduate scheme allows graduates to have a positive impact on communities throughout the UK whilst completing up to four rotational placements in their core business areas: housing, care, commercial, development or central services. 

A key site to use is CareerHub, where we post a range of local (and national/international opportunities and a guide to volunteering.

NCVO and NCVO/KnowHow are good sites, whilst Volunteering Matters offers a range of voluntary opportunities.

Do-it is a searchable database of volunteering opportunities.