Planning Ahead – Seasonal and Voluntary Jobs in the Charity Sector

3 minute read

Breaking into the charity sector requires a lot of hard work and perseverance. You’ve sent off countless applications, aced the interviews, and finally been offered a position in your dream charity organisation. But maybe it’s a temporary seasonal job for the summer, or it’s voluntary and unpaid. Getting your foot in the door and having first-hand experience is vital to further your career, so you take the job. But what happens when it’s over?

The Seasonal Cycle of Employment

Seasonal work is most common in the tourism and recreational industries, as they’re often tied to the summer holidays. But it’s not uncommon in the charity sector, especially when you are starting out. With many jobs being tied to specific events or projects with a finite funding pot. Equally common are voluntary positions; charities wouldn’t survive without people donating their time to assisting them, and it’s a good way to learn and show your dedication to the cause. But you still need to pay for a roof over your head. Knowing exactly what constitutes “unemployed” in terms of seasonal and voluntary roles, and getting to grips with your rights, is important for your career in the charity sector.

What Type of Unemployment is it?

Understanding the difference between regular unemployment and seasonal unemployment can take time, but can have a huge effect on the rights and benefits you’re entitled to when you’re out of work. Seasonal unemployment is a lack of work caused by a predictable trend in the industry, and as the jobs will return with the next season, the workers may not be considered as “unemployed” in the traditional sense. For example, charity jobs such as membership booths at fairs and shows, or events staff for summer fundraisers may fall into this category. In comparison, a worker at a construction site who is made redundant because of disruptive weather (storms or snow, perhaps) would be considered unemployed.

Worker or Employee?


It’s also important to understand what your relationship is with the organisation that you’re working for – there is a difference between being an “employee” and a “worker”.

  • An employee works for an organisation under the terms of a contract of employment, which should state the terms and conditions of their employment, and rights such as maternity or paternity leave, notice period, hours of work, and paid annual leave.
  • A worker is an independent person providing a service or work for a company, under a contract for services (not necessarily an employment contract), but who is not self-employed. For example, agency workers or freelancers may fall in this category – both of which can be common in the charity sector.

While there are some rights which both employees and workers share – such as the national minimum wage, working time and leave regulations and rights against unlawful discrimination – unemployment rights will differ.

Volunteering your time

When it comes to voluntary work, the path is a bit clearer. You are giving back to the community with your work and helping charities to make a difference. In most cases, it’s seen in a positive light, as you are proactively engaging in an organisation which may help you to transition into a paid role. Make sure that your voluntary placement meets the criteria defined by the government, and that you still meet the standard conditions for Jobseeker’s Allowance. Charities may pay for your expenses when you’re volunteering for them, to cover costs such as transport or special equipment you need so it’s good to keep a record of them for future information. Things may well be different if your voluntary work takes place overseas, so if you are going abroad, but we also have some advice on that.

Taking the next step

With seasonal and voluntary work being so common in the charity sector, it’s likely that you’ll do some of either during your career. But it’s still incredibly important to know what your rights so make sure to do your research beforehand and find out what type of contract you’re signing up for.

Have anything to add or share? Let us know by commenting below!


After taking a career sabbatical to become a mother, Jackie now writes full time on topics ranging from health and wellness, right through to news and current affairs. She has, in the past battled problems with anxiety and panic, and in her spare time she volunteers for a number of local charities that support people with mental health issues.

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