Charity Careers: Advice From Our Experts

Are you interested in developing your charity career? Or looking for a career change to move into the charity or not-for-profit sector? You’re in luck, CharityConnect have put together a panel of charity sector experts to answer all sorts of charity career questions. They had quite a response, and the feedback was great. The panel answered a wide range of questions from an even wider range of people.

We’ve collected the most useful questions and answers below, there’s a lot of useful information here and we hope it helps on your way to a great career in the sector.

The panel:

Bruna De Palo:professional Life Coach & Partnerships  Manager at CharityJob

Simon Beresford: Head of Marketing and Fundraising at the relief and development charity

Jamie Fraser: Senior Account Manager at CharityJob

Sue Sowerby : Search Consultant and Client Relationship Director for World Vision UKPlan International UKBritish Heart FoundationFreedom From Torture and many other charities

The answers:

Question:

I’m looking to make a career change from television into charity work, and am currently studying for a Masters. I have a wide range of voluntary work and would like advice on how to draw out transferable skills and best balance my CV letter and cover letter between my professional and voluntary roles, particularly as I have been in full-time education since September.

Answer [Bruna]:

Please check the following in your application:

  • Are your bullet points consistent?
    Are they bringing evidence of what you wrote in your statement/cover letter?
  • Do they show your achievements, or you’re just listing your duties?
    Is it clear what’s THE contribution you’ve brought in your previous experiences?
    Is your CV about you, or is it about them? It has to be about what they want to hear about you.
  • Communicate through your experience what they want to hear.
  • Check there’s the WOW factor: read it as if you were a recruiter, put yourself in their shoes.

Question:

I am looking to make a career switch from the private sector into the charity sector. I have extensive experience in Account Management Internationally and obtained a degree in international development with Economics in 2008 but have not really been exposed to charity work. I believe many skills can be transferred but there is a gap in experience. Any advice here would be great.

Answer [Jamie]:

I personally think that writing a paragraph on why you’re interested in the organisation is vital – charities are proud of the work they do and want their staff to be on board with their values and mission.
To explain who you are as a person – put it this way – you need to tell a story – why are you who you are? What are your values?

Question:

How would you suggest women can better overcome challenges to maintain their careers in international development, especially in conflict zones after having children?

Anwser [SUE]:

From my own experience of working in the international development sector, it’s all about flexibility, planning and making sure the hiring organisation understands from the outset about your personal circumstances. I had a candidate recently who ticked all the boxes of a job in international development. She was prepared to work in fragile states across the world, then at the last minute of relocation she said “what shall I do about my children?” Some positions are ideal for women to work interim or on a contract basis which means you can enhance your work/life balance. I appreciate it isn’t always easy but providing you have a good support network who are there for you and your children, everything else should fall nicely into place.  Good luck!

Question:

I’ve been working in the third sector for more than twelve years, having worked my way up over that time to the point I’m at now (first management role). Currently working as a sole fundraiser, however, I’m not getting ‘management’ experience in terms of looking after staff. What would you recommend in terms of next steps in continuing my career progression? Should I’m looking to change roles so that I’m looking after team members, or would a study course be beneficial so that I know more ‘theory’ of management at a more senior level? If the latter, which course might you recommend, please? Many thanks…

 

Anwser[Simon]:

I benefited massively from doing a masters in NGO Management with Cass Business School that gave me a lot of the theory behind managing as I started to enter larger line management roles. That said, I’m not sure I needed that to take on line management in the first place. I think, given your experience, you should be able to find a role that gives line management of 1-2 people as a starting point. Hopefully in such a role you would also be able to make the case for some personal development budget for some basic management training. Hope that helps! Best of luck!

Question:

I have heard so many stories lately from people who are really keen to get into the sector, but are struggling. Do you think charities are really open to so-called career shifters? What are the best ways for someone from a corporate background to show how their skills are genuinely transferable. How could they stand out against people who have charity experience?

Anwser [Bruna]:

Firstly, people need to look at themselves in a different way and learn all they have to offer, that’s always waaaaaaaaaay more than their skills. Some personal characteristics might be excellent assets in certain jobs, but if they don’t recognise them themselves, they cannot “sell” them to potential employers.

Young people, for example, are very likely to be great with social media and in general digital skills – I mean they probably use them on a daily basis and understand their dynamics way more than adults who maybe founded a charity years ago. Digital skills are the most needed in the sector but if young people don’t recognise their ability as an asset, they cannot offer that to charity employers.

The idea is learning to see ourselves from a meta-view so that we can spot many assets that we take for granted that instead could be fundamental for charities (amongst them: negotiation ability, public speaking, empathy, ability to see the bigger picture, passion for challenges and so on).

Question:

I used to work for Sue Ryder Retail, but have been a teacher most of my life, and have a wealth of experience in fundraising, event organisation and administration. Now I am a 24 hour carer for my 92 year old mum who has dementia and mobility issues, so I was wondering if there are any jobs in the charity sector where one might be able to work from home? Any advice welcome or I may end up having to call the RSPH – The Royal Society for Protection of Cruelty to Hermits!! Many thanks, Sarah Thompson

Anwser [sue]:

Hello. If you are a serious job seeker, there are lots of home-based roles available. At the moment CharityJob is displaying 23 home-based positions so it really doesn’t matter where you live, although on occasions you will need to travel to an office for meetings, etc. Please don’t be a hermit. In the days of Skype, online webinars and meetings, working from home does not need to be a lonely existence! Go onto CharityJob now and look at the home-based positions (all 23 of them), as there could be one just right for you. Good luck!

Question:

I have been in fundraising for 20 years starting as a fundraising assistant ending up as head of fundraising.  However, when my uncle was diagnosed with cancer I had to leave my job to care for him.  When he passed away, I thought I would try a different career path outside of charity work using some of my different skills.  Not easy, applied for loads of positions but all the interviewer saw was my charity skills.  A recruiter even said to me why did I want to pursue that field when I had loads of experience in the charity sector.  As a result, I am now again a head of department with a lovely charity.  So the question I would like to ask please is how does an experienced fundraising manager change their career path?

 

Anwser [Sue]:

A very short answer to this question. Many blue chip organisations (and many smaller organisations too) are very keen to enhance their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) efforts so why not look for roles in this area where you can actually capitalise on your own fundraising skills and offer these to a prospective organisation. Ad many companies are looking to engage with charities as a form of promoting their own CSR I would suggest you start looking for roles as a CSR Manager (for example) or something in that vein. I hope this is a helpful comment from the other side of the fence. Good luck!

Question:

Hello panel! I am interested in how we encourage career progression for those who want to stay in the sector but don’t want to become Head of, Directors etc? Also, many charities will ask for experience within the same role/area- what are your top tips for demonstrating transferable skills for those looking to move between areas within the sector/their own organisation?

Anwser [Jamie]:

Fab question! For those looking to demonstrate their transferable skills I think my top tip would be to tell a story!

  • What has motivated you to pursue a new role?
  • What do you have to offer that makes you different from other candidates who would normally apply?
  • How can you match your experience and achievements to a particular aspect of the Job Description?

Maybe whilst you were fundraising you had some great ideas on how to improve the messaging of the mail you’ll be sending out. Could a communications role be the next step?

  • To give you an idea, I personally had fundraising experience but no Account Management experience – by being able to show that I was comfortable working with fiscal targets, engaging potential donors and achieving success, my skills were able to be seen as transferable.

Question:

I am directing my attention to the third sector and am doing volunteering work for both Oxfam and a International Dog Rescue and feel that these experiences are much more enriching, but so far, have not find my way into a paid job in the sector… Any advice?

Anwser [Simon]:

keep plugging away! Don’t give up, with perseverance you will get there. I would say try and find roles that are a particular fit with your commercial experience so you can really make the case. Your voluntary work shows interest and willingness to engage with the sector, so well done on developing that too and keep going with your volunteering. marketing and sales often translates best into fundraising roles, so have a think and a look at which fundraising disciplines you think best match with your particular previous roles. Try getting some advice from charity recruitment agencies too.

Question:

Hi experts, if you are starting out in the sector and looking to develop, how long would you recommend staying in voluntary roles? Does commitment to a role look valuable to the sector? Or would it be better to mix things up and volunteer with other charities/in different roles?

Anwser[Simon]:

I would say having voluntary experience is good ALONGSIDE seeking to develop paid work experience as opposed to thinking about in terms of ‘how long to volunteer’ versus when to go for paid roles. I have 13 years into paid employment in the sector and have never not also been a volunteer at the same time!

Question:

I am a Biochemistry’s graduate from the University of Leeds. I am wanting to start a career in the charity sector, ideally in international development. My work experience is mostly customer service and a little bit of sales. I am really struggling to get a job in any charities at the minute and am wondering if you have any advice on how to get started. What would you recommend is the best way to get started in the industry if I am unable to get a job in a charity straight away? And in terms of voluntary experience, is any volunteering experience useful or should I look only at volunteering directly related to international development?

Anwser [Simon]:

International development can be very competitive to get into. I wanted to work in it from the start and only got their almost 10 years into my charity career. The good news is I got to work on other amazing causes as I built my experience towards it! I would be patient about getting to work on the right cause and build up experience in charities more generally first. Customer service would lend itself well to supporter relations/supporter services type roles, so maybe look out for that. That’s where I started 13 years ago! Best of luck.

If you fancy checking out the full conversion, take a look on CharityConnect. Has this advice been useful? Let us know in the comments below or on Twitter or Facebook. Armed with this great feedback, perhaps it time see what charity jobs are available right now. Or, create a job alert and let us do the work.

Sanjay Bheenuck

Content and SEO Lead here at CharityJob. Writer of obscure fiction and global wanderer in my spare time.

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