8 Ways to Get Experience Ideal for the Charity Sector
Many people are keen to start a career that will give something back to their community. And who wouldn’t want a job where you feel satisfied at the end of each day, knowing you contributed to something greater? The charity sector certainly provides many opportunities for fulfilling work.
But if you’re coming to the charity sector from a completely different industry, you might consider building up some experience before applying. This is particularly true if you’re relatively early into your career.
Here are 8 ways to gain valuable experience for the charity sector:
Volunteering is incredibly rewarding and it’s perfect if you’re starting from scratch in terms of your career and experience. It can provide you with a greater understanding of the skills required to work for a particular organisation.
Some organisations, such as St Anne’s Centre, will even provide references for volunteers when they’ve worked with them for three months, which can be really beneficial if you’re new to the working world.
It shows to future employers that you’ve put in the effort to gain the experience you need and that you have a team of people who can provide an honest account of your performance.
So why not research your local volunteering opportunities and get started by contacting the charities whose work you’re most passionate about?
2. Work in a charity shop
If you’re interested in working for a specific charity, working in a shop is a great way to get your foot in the door and gain relevant experience that applies to the values and mission of the charity in question.
And let’s not forget, when you already work for a charity, you’re often amongst the first to hear about upcoming positions and vacancies within the organisation – jobs aren’t always posted online and organisations may prefer to hire internally, so it can be a good way to work your way up the ladder to different positions.
Working in charity shops is something you can do alongside other roles as well, on a part-time basis, so it’s a great option if you’re in the early stages of switching careers and still need to maintain your other job while you build up your skills and experience.
3. Use your network
Networking is still of great value when it comes to finding the right role in the charity sector. Begin by building up your network of contacts or followers on each social media platform by adding the people that you know in real life who work for charities that you support, and then expand your reach to also cover the relevant individuals from their networks.
The next step is to join the right groups. There are many specialised communities on LinkedIn and Facebook where candidates play an active part, trying to position themselves in their field. These are great places to seek out potential job opportunities. It’s also worth taking a look on CharityConnect to make connections with others in the sector.
4. Don’t focus just yet
You might have set your sights on a particular cause that one charity specialises in, but it’s actually more valuable to gain experience in a wide variety of charity settings before you narrow your focus.
Having experience from various areas can put you in a better place to get the position you’re working towards later on, as you’ll have a broader skill set and knowledge of how the charity sector works as a whole.
You may also find that an area (working with animals for example) you previously overlooked is actually something you’re really passionate about once you’ve worked for the charity, so it’s always worth keeping an open mind.
5. Get proactive
Don’t wait for charities to post vacancies or volunteering opportunities – approach those in your local area and ask them if they’re in need of assistance. You may be able to find out about upcoming vacancies or gain voluntary experience that will put you in a better position when paid vacancies come up in the future.
Charities, much like traditional businesses, often prioritise a proactive approach in the people they take on, as it shows initiative and tenacity which are valuable skills in the workplace. To pursue different organisations and seek out roles with them shows that you’re passionate about the cause and about building your career with them, which is a huge plus.
6. Charity fundraising
Another way to see a different side of the industry and learn about how an organisation operates is to get involved with fundraising for a certain cause. Fundraising is almost always in demand and it can give you a much more realistic way of gaining work in the sector.
This aspect of a charity encompasses a variety of jobs from which you can build your career, so it’s an incredibly valuable experience to have. There are different types of fundraising, from being out on the streets interacting with the public and raising awareness, to being based in an office or organising events.
Depending on your interests or where your skills lie, you can certainly find a fundraising opportunity that works well for you and also helps your chosen organisation.
7. Get the right qualifications
Many charity jobs require specific qualifications, which might be academic or vocational. Whether or not you get a degree depends on the type of role you want to do within the charity sector – IT and development, for example, may require certain skills and qualifications that a degree can assist you with. Likewise, medicine and science can play a huge role in the charity field. Note that other roles, such as fundraising and marketing positions are less likely to require degrees.
Some courses offer work experience or work placements as part of the course, so these can be a great way of combining first-hand experience with academic knowledge. Graduate schemes can be a great way of achieving the qualifications you need too – charities sometimes run their own graduate schemes, so these are worth exploring.
8. Get relevant experience in other sectors
The non-profit sector encompasses a host of different jobs and roles, so organisations require everything from HR specialists and accountants to fundraisers, web designers and marketing professionals.
People can sometimes have a limited view of what working for a charity entails, but the reality is that these organisations have a wide range of different departments which enable them to operate effectively.
Experience for all of these jobs can be gained from other industries first, so this is particularly useful if you’re moving into the charity sector later in life after having worked in other industries.
But don’t be afraid to showcase the skills you’ve gained from other jobs – this experience is still valuable and can be used within the charity sector.
It can also be a way of gaining a position within an organisation and then moving into a different department once you’ve worked there for some time, as you’ll then have more in-depth experience of how the charity works which can be used to your advantage. Pursuing a traditional role and combining that with plenty of volunteering can be a viable route into the sector.
Building your charity experience is easier than you think
The charity sector can be tricky to get into. But with the right experience and guidance, it’s absolutely possible to build your career in this rewarding field, both as a young graduate or someone who wants to switch career paths.
There are plenty of opportunities to make the most of, both unpaid and paid, so it’s all about utilising the skills you have, gaining as much knowledge of the charity and its values as you can, and putting your network to good use.
Daniel Groves achieved a 1st class honours degree in Business Economics. Since graduating, Daniel has collaborated with a number of online publications and charities to further develop his knowledge and share his experience with like-minded entrepreneurs, business owners and growth strategists.