How to get into charity work

Book open Reading time: 5 mins

Finding a job with a charity is the dream of a lot of graduates – both those who are looking for a socially conscious career, and those looking for a more flexible work-life balance than can usually be found in the private sector. We understand the challenge of finding a job to apply for and the task of creating an excellent application for charity. This is why in this article we give you an overview of the sector including the roles available, what you can expect to earn, what skills you need to thrive and application tips.

Join the UK's number-one graduate careers network

Becoming a Bright Network member is free and easy - sign up to get exclusive access to jobs, events, networking opportunities, advice and more.

Amanda Neylon, Head of Digital at Macmillan Cancer Support, gives her tips on getting into the sector with Bright Network members at our annual Bright Network Festival

Why work in the charity/not-for-profit sector?

You probably know that it’s not about the money – salaries for charities tend to be lower than in the private sector. There are two main benefits to charity work. Firstly, if you work for a charity that you believe in you can feel that you’re making a positive difference to the world and secondly, charities often offer more flexibility in working hours and job sharing opportunities – great if you have important outside interests or family commitments.

What jobs are available for graduates?

Because the sector is so vast, charity jobs span almost everything, from finance to logistics or media. There are also specialist roles for those with the right degree, such as surveyors and engineers. If you’re not a specialist, your first graduate job will probably be some kind of assistant role – marketing assistant, fundraising assistant, operations assistant, etc. In smaller charities, your job title might be officer or manager from the get-go, and you may well have to pitch in wherever else you’re needed.

Learn about these seven types of roles within the charity sector

Is a charity job right for you?

The charity sector particularly attracts people who are committed and motivated, and whose values include making a difference in the world. Employers also look for:

  • Flexibility and innovation
  • Multitasking ability
  • Excellent interpersonal, communication and negotiation skills
  • Organisational skills
  • Teamworking ability
  • A lively and positive personality

Learn more about the skills and qualities you need to excel in the charity sector

Getting experience

There are several ways to get the type of experience for which employers might be looking.

For example, volunteering is a boost to your CV, and a great way to network. As a volunteer, you might find out about roles at the charity that might not be widely advertised.

Some larger charities offer internship and work experience placements. You’ll gain insights into the running of the charity, which you might not get as a regular volunteer.  Mostly these placements are unpaid, so you’ll need some other way to support yourself. Check out the latest charity and social enterprise internships and their application deadlines

Running your own fundraising event will give you valuable experience, especially if you want to go into event planning, fundraising or volunteer management. You’ll also demonstrate your drive, enthusiasm and commitment.

Learn about the skills you need to excel in the Charity sector

Build your career skills with Bright Network Academy

Learn everything you need to know before you head to work with these free e-learning courses. Discover everything from how to develop your transferable and digital skills to how to smash the application process. 

Finding a job

Many graduates get into the sector by applying directly for an entry-level role. Experience is an advantage, but not an absolute necessity. It’s more important that you come across as enthusiastic, competent and likeable. Charity-specific job websites such as charityjob.co.uk can be a good resource for finding these roles.

Small charities are unlikely to advertise widely. If you keep track of nearby charities, you can send out speculative letters expressing your interest in working for them. You can also check for jobs on their websites.

Some of the larger charities run paid graduate training programmes. There are also options like the Charityworks programme, which works with various different charities to train talented candidates. However, paid graduate schemes are much rarer in the not-for-profit sector than they are in the private sector.

Read this guide to social enterprise and charity graduate schemes to find out more.

What you can expect to earn

The average salary in the charity sector is £27,000, but for graduates, this figure can start anywhere from £18,000 to £24,000 depending on your location of work, experience and charity. Moving up to a mid-level range with a minimum of three years' experience (e.g. project manager or policy manager), you can expect to earn between £25,000 - £43,000. 

Discover more about what your potential earnings could be in the charity sector

Application tips

Research is key. You should be able to show that you understand the charity’s mission and how it operates. For example, if you’re applying to be a fundraising assistant you should be able to talk about the charity’s past and upcoming fundraising events, as well as fundraising events for comparable charities. Read: Top tips on firm research

Accept that you’ll need to work your way up in any organisation. Administrative work and data entry are the price you pay to get a foot in the door.

Also, try to apply for charities you genuinely believe in. It’s hard to fake enthusiasm in an interview, and harder to work in a role where you don’t feel motivated by what you’re doing.

It's also important that you show you can be flexible, enthusiastic and positive. What extra spark could you bring to the role? What skills would let you chip in and help in other areas? Charities can be very collaborative, so it’s good to show that you’re always willing to lend a hand. As always, play close attention to the person specification. What evidence do you have to show that you tick the boxes?

Listen to this expert advice on how to impress on application forms

Discover the latest charity graduate opportunities

Browse graduate jobs in the charity sector and take the next steps towards a career you'll love today.