Which Charity Size is Right for You?
The UK’s charity sector is one of the largest in the world. The size of organisations within it can vary greatly, from a small group of volunteers to thousands of paid staff. Your experience as an employee will differ depending on the size of the charity you choose to work for.
There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to answering which charity size is best. There are advantages and disadvantages to working at every size of charitable organisation. It’s up to you to decide which kind you think might suit you.
Here’s a basic introduction to the different sizes of organisations within the charity sector.
Small or local charities
Many small charities do valuable work on minimal resources, providing services that greatly benefit local communities. Working for a small charity size requires real dedication to the cause and consistently creative problem solving to overcome barriers.
There’s limited funding for paid roles in small charities, so volunteers and a small group of paid staff will likely do a lot of the tasks. There’s often an ‘all hands on deck’ culture where everyone mucks in and does a bit of everything. However, there’s plenty of room for autonomy at small charities and they often encourage flexible working.
A smaller charity size might be for you if you’re self-motivated and want a high degree of autonomy. There are fewer hoops to jump through to get your ideas approved. You’ll also be calling the shots more often than not since most small charities only have one or two people working in each field.
However, this also means you have to advocate for yourself. You’ll take the slack if things fail, and you won’t have as much support if your workload gets heavy. There are also fewer opportunities for career progression because there simply aren’t as many positions available to move into. And budget constraints mean that you’ll be frustratingly limited at times in what you can do.
Some smaller charities are a local branch of a wider organisation. They’re independent charities run by local people, but affiliated to a national or international charity. Often the head office raises awareness and leads campaigns, while the regional branches provide support directly to service users. So choosing which is right for you can depend on your location, interests and experience.
National or international charities
Most of the household names of the UK charity sector are national charities. Due to their larger charity size, their structure is closer to that of other sectors and roles are likely to be more specialised than in smaller charities.
International organisations and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) work across the globe, often tackling issues such as human rights and peace building, amongst others. Despite the tremendous amounts of practical work that goes on, these organisations require extensive administrative and strategic support, so there are plenty of office-based opportunities that don’t involve travel.
Working for the head office of a larger organisation often allows for a smoother transition if you’re switching from another sector, as the structure and positions available may be more familiar. You won’t be plunged straight into the deep end and expected to have a firm grasp of all things ‘charity’.
If you’re just starting your career, you might find that working for a larger charity is easier as you won’t have as much responsibility straight off the bat. There will also be plenty of people who you can go to if you need support. Since they have bigger budgets, larger charities are also more likely to be able to spend money on training.
It’s a commonly held belief that larger charities pay more than smaller charities, but this isn’t always the case. It depends on the organisation and the seniority of your role. The higher up the career ladder you go, the larger the disparities tend to be.
Broadening your experience
So now you know the basics about the different charity sizes. If you want to get well-rounded experience for your CV, we’d suggest you take advantage of opportunities at both large and small charities at some point in your career. That way you get the best of both worlds!
Ready to take a look at what inspiring charity opportunities are currently available? Browse jobs now.
This post was originally published in 2015. We’ve updated it to ensure relevance and to reflect the current jobseeker experience.