An employment overview of the charity sector in the UK
Many people look for a career option which really makes a difference, where job satisfaction trumps salary, this can often be found in the charity sector. Our aim here is to give an overview of this wonderful sector and hopefully help with your career decision, whether that’s a first job or a career change.
What is the charity sector?
The charity sector may be a bit of loose or catch-all term, but in general, we are referring to the body of organisations in the UK that are either: registered charities, not-for-profits and other types which are not necessarily profit-seeking ventures. So—a career in the charity sector could, in reality, be anywhere from equality and human rights to youth work and education. It is a broad spectrum and many opportunities abound.
It is worth bearing in mind that the charity sector is somewhat different to the “voluntary sector” a phrase you may also see in use. Though there are many volunteer opportunities within the charity sector, there is also a significant amount of paid work—it really depends on your priorities, volunteers are highly valued, but the sector is also open to those seeking a rewarding career in paid jobs.
Culture and difference
It is nearly impossible to give a universal answer here, the charity sector is very different to the corporate world and some practices from for-profit business would draw second looks. Small local enterprises will inevitably differ from a multinational charity with a huge donor base, though there are some similarities. A charity with more resources is likely to operate in a very different way to one whose funding is not secure or must always be fought for. The uniting force is a deliberate desire to work at the organisation in question and a commitment or feeling of closeness to the cause and values of the charity.
Cause: The mission of a charity is the cause, while the mission of a limited company is to deliver a profit or to satisfy its shareholders. A charity is primarily interested in furthering its cause, regardless of size. Revenue is still important, if not more important! But the generation of revenue is not the “point” of the organisation as it ultimately is in the corporate sector. This outlook has a cultural impact, people feel attached to their cause and are often more committed to their work as they are personally invested in their organisation’s aims.
What work is available within the sector?
There are a number of roles which are unique to the charity sector, though you should never be put off. Often these positions have skillsets which are open to foundations in more conventional roles.
Could be anything from support and engagement to lobbying and outreach. The job of an advocate is to further the cause of a charitable organization, therefore increasing its visibility and widening its potential donor base. Advocacy can be much like being a brand ambassador or product evangelist, only the aim is to promote a specific cause or charity rather than a product or service.
Is essentially the public facing side of charity work, you will design, implement and even take part in campaigns to further a charities cause or even political objectives. You will find yourself creating many aspects of a specific campaign which could be anything from website copy to online video and television.
Is likely to be the one you already know about! Fundraisers will generate revenue for a charity from a number of sources, in many ways it is the fundraiser that keeps a charity running rather than frontline staff. There are many areas within fundraising such as corporate or major donor, you can read more about career options in fundraising on our guide to fundraising careers.
Our friends at Knowhow non-profit define governance as the systems and processes concerned with ensuring the overall direction, effectiveness, supervision and accountability of an organization; which I happen to think is a very good definition. You will be in charge of ensuring that the charity’s aims and objectives are on track.
Research is at the core many charities work, for medical charities, this could be lab-based work whilst a social welfare charity may be more interested in academic research on relevant issues. We’ve even produced a career guide to help those interested in research careers. Policy work sits around how a charity is influenced by legal, government and public policy.
May very well speak for itself, but it is a well-established career path in the sector. It may be no surprise that a lot of charities are volunteer-led, the role of a volunteer manager or volunteer coordinator will be to organise the volunteers and ensure they are working toward the charity’s aims and mission.
Demand is high for established professions:
By no means is the charity sector only open to the niche and specialised jobs listed above. In many ways more conventional and established career paths are more in demand in the third sector, making career change and entirely archivable goal. Such careers include:
What is the charity sector like? How does it differ to the corporate sector?
The differences may not be as profound as expected, a job in the charity sector may resemble a corporate job in a lot of ways. The role is likely to be office based and in a major city and roles such as HR, admin and finance are likely to function in a similar way. For certain roles you may see smaller salaries; though increasingly this is no longer true, contracts may run at a shorter length due to funding concerns and the workforce is predominantly female; 70% even—we’ve written a whole piece about this if you’d be interested in learning more.
Besides delivering towards their cause, funding is often the primary concern for a charity; so if you find yourself not involved in frontline delivery work, the likelihood is you will end up, in some way, working towards delivering continued funding for your charity. Negative public perception is also having an impact on certain parts of the sector as well as slow reaction to technological and social changes. Small teams and under-staffing can also be a problem at the lower end of the scale, but the positives outweigh the negative when it comes to job satisfaction and the feeling of having made a difference in the world.
The flipside is that resource constraints mean increased opportunities for career progression, this may sound strange but there is a desire for staff to take on multiple roles rather than engage in further recruitment. As such, training and development can prove to be more easily available than some corporate jobs. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the sector is very competitive and demand for certain roles can prove high.