Seen these icons?

If we have events, jobs or news that are relevant to the page topic, you can access them by clicking on icons next to the print button.

Charities | The Careers Service Charities – Oxford University Careers Service
Oxford logo
About this sector

Are you passionate about a cause?  Working in the charity sector can be immensely rewarding, although it also has its challenges. It’s not a ‘soft option’, nor an escape from commercialism. It’s a vibrant, dynamic sector; many charities operating today are highly professional, lean and efficient organisations which are finding new ways to adapt to the changes in funding patterns they’ve faced over the last decade.

This briefing focuses on the UK charity sector (also known as ‘the third sector’, ‘non-profits’, ‘not-for-profit sector’ or ‘the voluntary sector’). In June 2016 there were 165,965 registered charities in England and Wales alone (and another 45,000 voluntary sector organisations in Scotland and 7,000 in Northern Ireland). Between them they employ over 800,000 people, with over 3 million volunteers and over 900,000 trustees. The number of charities reduced during the financial crisis, but has become reasonably stable for the last few years.

The charity sector is broad, but can be defined as tax-exempt bodies that benefit the public in a way the law agrees is charitable. They are regulated by the Charities Commission and the new Charities Act 2011.

During the financial crisis, charities changed and restructured to increase their financial stability. This coincided with new organisational structures approved in law, including in 2013 a new business structure of ‘charitable incorporated organisations’ (combining a company and a charity registration). Some charities created additional social enterprises or community interest companies to support their work.

‘The Compact’ is the policy agreement between the government and the UK charity sector, which governs important freedoms for charities and mutual paths for communication.

Charity employee survey statistics

  • 47% agree that morale at their charity is high (highest level since 2008)
  • 70% believe that their manager is a good person to work for (an increase from 57% in 2012)
  • 51% feel secure in their jobs (highest level since 2009)
  • 57% are planning to still be working for the charity in a year’s time (an ongoing improvement since a low of 45% in 2015)

Source: Charity Pulse Survey 2017

Types of job

There are a wide variety of roles in this sector, both for new graduates as well as for qualified professionals (e.g. social worker, counsellors, lawyers and accountants).

Larger charities have highly complex structures with very specific and specialist job functions comparable with those found in the commercial and public sectors. However, less than a quarter of organisations employ paid staff, and, of those, only half are full-time. Many small charities have no paid staff, and trustees undertake work on a voluntary basis.

Some of the most frequently advertised roles in this sector fall into the following groups:

  • Management and Administration staff
  • Personnel and Human Resources staff
  • Marketing, Communications and Campaign staff
  • Volunteer Managers and Coordinators
  • Researchers
  • Policy Analysts
  • Fundraising/Development Officers
  • Outreach and Education Officers
  • Finance and Accounts staff

Roles in sector-related organisations

Jobs also exist in all of those bodies supporting the sector, e.g. the public sector, Charity Commission, regional councils for voluntary organisations, as specialist training providers, website hosting services, law firms and more. Find examples at the Institute of Fundraising and Civil Society Directory.

Entry points

Direct entry

It is perfectly possible to apply directly to jobs in the charity sector with some relevant work experience. Entry-level paid roles often relate to support work, including ‘Administrative Assistant’, ‘Information Assistant’, ‘Marketing Assistant’, ‘Policy Assistant’, ‘Fundraising Assistant’ or ‘Project Assistant’, or similar titles.

Lateral hiring

Often charities seek to hire new staff who have already developed the skills that they need. It’s feasible, for example, to apply for a Marketing Manager role at a charity, having previously been a Marketing Officer in the private sector.

Similarly, it’s not unusual to hire staff ranging from frontline customer-facing roles, to Strategic Directors and CEOs who have learnt their skills outside of the charity sector, and are now seeking to combine their abilities with the desire to ‘give back’.

Graduate schemes

Paid graduate schemes are very much a rarity in the charity sector, as they take a lot of time and money to run – two things which most charities find in short supply. The few that exist (generally serving larger organisations and housing charities) are competitive, but don’t forget that lots of direct entry opportunities exist too.

Examples of charity (and related) graduate schemes include:

  • Cancer Research – a 2 year scheme, with four 6 month placements
  • CharityWorks – a 12 month scheme, involving leadership training and independent research
  • The Wellcome Trust – a 2 year scheme, with the option of choosing an investment programme or a general programme
  • gradunique – a 2 year joint scheme with Macmillan Cancer Support and the British Heart Foundation
  • Worthwhile – a 10 month scheme in the UK
  • IntoUniversity  – a graduate training scheme as an education worker
  • City Year – 1 year volunteering role in schools
  • Year Here – 1 year social enterprise study-style programme, free of charge
  • Sanctuary Group – a 2 year graduate scheme in this housing charity

Further study

There are an increasing number of postgraduate courses (and similar) available which are designed for charity sector career paths. Specific short courses are available too (e.g. those at The Institute of Fundraising). However, neither are a requirement for entry for general roles. It’s advised that you begin work in the sector before undertaking further study, as you are likely to be able to better choose a course once you’ve confirmed your interest in a specific area of work (you may also find that you learn the skills you’re seeking ‘on the job’).

Specialist roles

Many charities will also look to recruit ‘specialists’ for highly skilled roles. Depending on the charity these could be academic researchers, scientific or technically-trained personnel, accountants, lawyers, qualified teachers, psychologists and many more. The vast majority of these roles will be filled by those who trained and developed outside of the charity sector, although they may still be advertised on charity-specific sector pages, or on the pages of the individual charity itself.

Skills & experience

Applicants will be expected to have work experience, and this will often take the form of some volunteering experience or an internship.

Volunteering

Voluntary work during term-time, in vacations or in a year out provides invaluable experience.

  • Oxford Hub is the focal point for students interested in charitable and development-related activity at Oxford and advertises volunteering opportunities. Sign up for ‘The Week’ to get a regular email advertising new opportunities, or fill in their volunteering form online to be contacted with volunteering ideas relating to your areas of interest.
  • The Old Music Hall on Cowley Road is home to many locally based charities, who often advertise volunteering opportunities on their websites.
  • Oxfordshire Community and Voluntary Action is the main umbrella organisation for the voluntary and community sector in Oxfordshire. The Volunteer Centre (Oxford) is accredited by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) as a volunteer bureau, and you can drop in to talk about opportunities.
  • Volunteering Matters offers a range of voluntary opportunities.
  • Do-it is a searchable database of volunteering opportunities.
  • Vinspired connects 14-25-year-olds with volunteering opportunities.
  • TimeBank is a national charity inspiring and connecting people to volunteer in their communities, and enabling charitable organisations and businesses to develop innovative and effective volunteer recruitment programmes. On their website, you can ask a question about volunteering, read inspiring stories or register to do voluntary work.

Internships

Some charities offer structured internships, including Amnesty, Barnado’s, the British Council, the British Red Cross, Cancer Research UK, Christian Aid and Oxfam. The majority are on an expenses-only basis. Many charities are sensitive to the fact that unpaid internships may exclude some from participating. They may be willing to reduce the duration of an internship to allow the intern to take other paid work, changing the role to ‘working from home’, and may be able to help with accommodation.

There is often confusion about whether you should be paid to do an internship or work experience. It will depend on your arrangement with the employer and also the status of the employer. To find out if you are entitled to be paid when undertaking work experience or an internship, visit the Government’s webpages on the National Minimum Wage.

Internship schemes at Oxford:

  • Our Internship Programme opens for applications from Hilary Term. Internships are sourced from organisations in the UK and around the world, including many charities. Most charity places are funded through grants, and applicants choose which specific internships to apply to.
  • Oxford Hub’s Social Impact Internship Scheme usually opens for applications each year in November, and typically closes in January/February (can vary year on year). Summer interns are placed in a wide range of organisations usually for 6-8 weeks. Organisations participating are matched up with intern applicants; the organisations are encouraged to pay their interns wherever possible, but some can only offer volunteering or a small stipend. The scheme includes training sessions.

Finding individual internship opportunities

Use the same strategies for ‘getting a job’ to find internships, simply filtering for this as a category on job boards, and focusing on this in speculative approaches.

You might also want to consider offering your services for a specific project that you feel might benefit a charity you’re passionate about. There are good examples of Oxford students who have approached organisations to offer a self-initiated project, on the premise that the charity will give you feedback, and perhaps a reference based on your work (which they can use or not use, based on the outcome). Examples include:

  • Offering to create videos for use on the charity’s website
  • Offering to analyse the potential use of a social media platform
  • Offering to create a student-engagement or fundraising campaign

The Student Consultancy

The Student Consultancy is a learning and development programme that frequently works with clients from the non-profit sector. The scheme includes training, and involves working as a team to address a strategic ‘brief’ from your client over the course of an 8 week term.

Getting a job

Advertised roles

Advertised opportunities from charities are unlikely to be able to afford a heavy marketing campaign. You’ll need to be proactive and hunt them down:

  • Sign up for tailored email alerts from vacancy sites listed under the ‘External Resources’ section later in this Briefing
  • Save a search on CareerConnect to receive email alerts for new roles
  • Register for newsletters/emails from your favourite charities and Oxford Hub
  • Regularly check vacancy pages on your favourite charity websites

Unadvertised roles & networking

Some organisations may advertise internally (amongst current employees and volunteers), or seek to recruit someone through ‘word of mouth’. To gain access to these ‘hidden’ opportunities:

  • Volunteer with your favourite charity: you might get included on internal communications
  • If you’ve volunteered or interned in the past, let them know you’re job hunting
  • Connect with contacts from previous voluntary experience on LinkedIn; join LinkedIn groups such as Non-Profit & Charity Network
  • Use your college alumni office, the Oxford Careers Network and LinkedIn to find alumni mentors
  • Volunteer for your college alumni telethons as this can generate both skills and contacts
  • Contact your favourite charities speculatively to let them know you’re interested
  • Consult our advice on Information Interviewing

Using recruitment agencies

A quick guide to using charity recruitment agencies:

  • A list of specific recruitment agencies for the charity sector is listed in ‘External Resources’
  • Charities often use an agency for a role that might prove hard to recruit for
  • The agencies earn their fee from the employer once they have found a candidate who is awarded the job
  • Some agencies speculatively put forward jobseekers on their books for roles which are publicly advertised on job sites. If other candidates are not using an agency, the agency fee that the employer has to pay in your case will usually prove a disadvantage to your application – make sure to research the role and check you can’t apply for it independently
  • Good specialist agencies provide fantastic industry knowledge, and are incentivised to match you to their clients as well as possible, even helping you to improve your CV and applications
  • It’s fine to sign up with more than one agency (but more than 3 can prove hard to manage!)
  • Keep your agency informed when you get a job or are no longer looking

Tips for applications

  • Thoroughly research the organisation you are applying to, as well as comparable organisations
  • Consider how you meet their person specification, and map out the evidence you could cite
  • Think how you can evidence your commitment and enthusiasm for the cause concerned
  • Be humble – taking a lower-level job when you’re just getting into the industry is fine. Being ‘above’ doing certain jobs tends to be an unhelpful approach
  • Be flexible – consider what else you could contribute, above and beyond the person specification
  • Be personable and positive – how you fit with the team and contribute to the atmosphere is often important

Equality & positive action

A number of major graduate recruiters have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting graduates from diverse backgrounds. To find out the policies and attitudes of employers that you are interested in, explore their equality and diversity policies and see if they offer ‘Guaranteed Interview Schemes’ (for disabled applicants) or are recognised for their policy by such indicators as ‘Mindful Employer’ or as a ‘Stonewall’s Diversity Champion’.

The UK law protects you from discrimination due to your age, gender, race, religion or beliefs, disability or sexual orientation. For further information on the Equality Act and to find out where and how you are protected, and what to do if you feel you have been discriminated against, visit the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

Our resources

Online resources

Books

The following books are available to read in our Resource Centre at 56 Banbury Road:

  • The Non Nonprofit, Steve Rothschild, 2012
  • Working in Fundraising, Liza Ramrayka (ed), 2004
  • Careers in Nonprofits & Government Agencies, Wetfeet Inside Guide, 2006
  • The Major Charities – An Independent Guide, Luke FitzHerbert & Kathryn Becher, 2002
  • Nonprofit Management 101, Darian Rodriguez Heyman (ed), 2011
  • The Ethical Careers Guide, Gideon Burrows (ed), 2006/7
  • Understanding the Voluntary Sector, Jason L Powell, 2012
  • The Idealist Guide to Non Profit Careers for Sector Switchers, Steven Joiner, Meg Busse, 2008
  • The Idealist Guide to Non Profit Careers for First time Job-Seekers, Steven Joiner, Meg Busse, 2008
  • The Guardian Guide to Volunteering, Tash Banks, Liz Ford, 2007
  • The Voluntary Agencies Directory, 2013

Podcasts of past events

International Committee of the Red Cross

In this podcast from International Careers Day 2016, you can listen to the ICRC introduce themselves and discuss career opportunities.

External resources

Sector vacancies

Careers advice

  • NYA – Advice about careers in youth work
  • Third Sector: Careers – Articles on careers advice themes from user community

Specialist services

  • Mango – A recruitment register for finance jobs in charities you can join if you are an experienced and qualified accountant.

Sector news & research

  • Third Sector – Website of the weekly magazine for non-profit professionals
  • Charity Times – Website of the bi-monthly journal
  • Charity Commission – The regulator for charities in England and Wales, including advice on setting up your own
  • Charity Choice – The encyclopaedia of charities on the internet
  • Guidestar – A useful resource for researching charities in UK by keyword (also partner sites for Israel, Belgium, India)
  • Prospects – includes an overview of the charity sector with job profiles

Professional associations

Oxford

Recruitment agencies

  • Charity People – Small but browse-able current jobs board for job seekers
  • Eden Brown – Non-specialist agency, but with a similar number of charity jobs
  • Harris Hill – Specialist charity recruiter with clear and medium-sized job board
  • Prospect-us – Specialist with small job board. Provides advertising for charities
  • TPP – Larger agency, only working for non-profit clients
This information was last updated on 21 November 2017.
Loading... Please wait
Recent blogs about Charities

Careers for the “greater good”

Blogged by Abby Evans on November 7, 2017.

Many students aspire to make a difference, to “do good” with their career. Here we share a few ideas and resources to get you started, see also our key resource for Careers Beyond Profit.

What does “good” look like to you?

Think for a moment…. Is there something you’ve done already that you feel ‘did good’? Are there causes that you actively support? Which role models (celeb or real!) do you feel ‘do good’? Are there organisations that you feel ‘do good’? Identify common themes that emerge, and start to work towards your own definition of good. Struggling? Perhaps a philosophical framework might help –some basic reading on consequentialism, virtue ethics and deontology (duty-based ethics) might get you thinking.

Clarify your values

What is important to you? You are more likely to have a fulfilled career if your values align with those of the organisation that you work with. Values include things like integrity, status, respect, community, equality, independence, fairness, honesty, ambition. See our Careers Workbook for help with thinking through the values that are important to you.

Explore opportunities that match your aims

Many think of charities, the public sector or social enterprises when considering careers that make a difference, but opportunities can exist in the private sector too. Focusing on certain sectors can help your research…but it’s worth thinking about the role that suits you too.

Some key resources:

  • Linked In, particularly the career insights of 180,000+ Oxford alumni on the University of Oxford Linked In page, is a tremendous research tool – try a keyword search (CSR (corporate social responsibility), sustainability etc) to discover alumni with shared interests, and get in touch for insights.
  • Listen to alumni talk about their careers, not-for-profit sectors included.
  • Consider a public sector or charity sector graduate scheme: Think Ahead, Frontline, Teach First, Police Now, Unlocked, Civil Service Fast-stream, National Graduate Development Programme for Local Government, NHS graduate management scheme etc.
  • Explore opportunities to volunteer while you are at Oxford.

For more advice and many more links to resources to help you, see also our information on  Careers Beyond Profit.

This page displays current related blog posts. If none display, you can still stay up-to-date with our newsletter sent regularly to all Oxford students.

Older posts can be found in our archive of past blogs.