It’s not a ‘soft option’, nor an escape from commercialism. It’s a vibrant, dynamic sector; many charities operating today are highly professional,  efficient organisations which are finding new ways to adapt to the changes in funding patterns and political landscape, such as the impact of Brexit and Covid-19.

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  2021 there were 170,000 registered charities in England and Wales alone (and another 45,000 voluntary sector organisations in Scotland and 7,000 in Northern Ireland).

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  Charities Act 2011. Alongside considering working for a charity, students often ask about social enterprises and what are the differences. A social enterprise uses its profits from the business to be  principally reinvested for social objectives, rather than being used to maximise owner or shareholder value.

Charities can and often do operate as social enterprises, getting some or all of their income from running a business.

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There are a wide variety of roles in this sector, both for new graduates as well as for qualified professionals (e.g. social workers, 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
  • Campaign Managers
  • 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.

Direct entry

It is perfectly possible to apply directly to jobs in the charity sector with some relevant work or volunteering 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 recruit 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’.

Trainee and Graduate schemes

There are few  graduate schemes 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. A number of organisations have also changed their selection criteria and  are no longer using degree entry as part of their selection criteria, such as CharityWorks and Cancer Research but they remain a fantastic route into the sector with structured training.

Examples of charity (and related) schemes include:

  • Cancer Research UK– The Accelerate Trainee Scheme.  Applications usually open in the Autumn.
  • CASE Graduate Trainee - Europe - a 12 month programme for those interested in fundraising and philanthropy in Higher Education,  schools  and not-for-profit.  Closing date is usually around the end of February with assessments in March.
  • CharityWorks – a 12 month scheme, involving leadership training and independent research.  Trainees undertake a real job in a placement organisation e.g. Age UK, NSPCC etc starting around Autumn time.    Applications usually open around October and close in February with assessment centres in May/June.  There is a "fast track" application system for BAME applicants.
  • The Wellcome Trust – a 2 year scheme, with the option of choosing an investment programme or a general programme. Applications usually open in September/Oct to mid Nov, interviews in January and assessment centres and final interviews in Feb/March.  
  • Gradunique – a 2 year joint scheme with Macmillan Cancer Support and the British Heart Foundation.  If the scheme runs in 2023/24 applications usually open in Autumn. 
  • IntoUniversity  – a graduate training scheme as an education worker
  • City Year – 1 year volunteering role in schools. They recruit on an ongoing basis for an August start.
  • Sanctuary Group – a 2 year graduate scheme of 4 placements in this housing charity. Applications open in October 2022 with interviews in January.  

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 or through Oxford Community and Voluntary Action )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.

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


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 volunteering in Oxford.  You can get involved from as little as one hour a week, term-time only, in programmes which include tutoring primary school pupils or helping a local resident learn English.  Sign up for "The Week" to get a regular email advertising new opportunities, or fill in a volunteering form online to find out more. 
  • 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 14-30 year-olds with volunteering opportunities.

Other ways of getting insight into the sector and experience is to become a trustee on a Charity’s Executive Board. Research such opportunities through organisations like ‘Getting on Board‘. You can register for free webinars if you are aged between 18 and 30 years old through Getting on Board Future Trustees Programme to find out what is involved in becoming a trustee and help you to decide if you would like to become  a charity trustee.


Some charities offer structured internships, including the Cancer Research UK, the Wellcome Trust Christian Aid. 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. The Careers Service Internship Office  also has a variety of Micro internships and Summer Internships based in the charity sector. Sign up for our Internship Email alerts.

Change 100 is an internship and  development programme for students and graduates who have a disability or long term health condition run by the charity Leonard Cheshire.

Internships and summer jobs are governed in the UK by National Minimum Wage law which means that if you are carrying out activities that class you as a 'worker' by the employer, then you should be paid. Full details of Employment Rights and Pay for Interns are published by the Government.

If you are undertaking a learning and development opportunity such as a micro-internship, or volunteering with a charity or statutory body, or shadowing or observing, then you may not be eligible for the National Minimum wage. The organisation may reimburse you for travel and/or lunch expenses, but they are not obliged to do so.

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. We also offer Micro-Internships which are 2-5day placements every vacation.

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

Advertised roles

Advertised opportunities from charities are unlikely to be able to afford a heavy marketing campaign. You’ll need to be proactive. The following will help:

  • 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 and 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 are  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 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
  • Read  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 database 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 okay 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

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 and 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


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

Recruiters are keen to have a diverse workforce, and many will have policies and processes that are proactive in recruiting students and graduates from diverse backgrounds. An increasing number of recruiters are offering traineeships, internships and insight events that are aimed at specific groups and many are being recognised for their approach to being inclusive employers.

Try the following to discover more about the policies and attitudes of the recruiters that you are interested in:

  • Read their equality, diversity and inclusion policy
  • Search their website to see if they have any specific staff networks
  • Look for external accreditation such as whether they are a Disability Confident employer, a Stonewall Diversity Champion or part of the Mindful Employer charter promoting mental health at work
  • Check to see if they are partnering with organisations such as Rare Recruitment, SEO London, MyPlus Students' Club, EmployAbility or one of the many other organisations that are working for specific communities for example Change 100
  • Explore what they do to celebrate diversity on their Facebook and Twitter pages
  • CharityWorks usually runs a Fast Track programme for candidates from a Black, Asian or Minority Ethnic background
  • 2027 Project is a scheme similar to CharityWorks but targets students from a widening participation background (those who self identify as being from a working class community) who want to build experience in grant-making and fundraising. You will work with one of their partner organisations such as Children in Need, Sport England or the Joseph Rowntree Foundation.

The UK Equality Act 2010 has a number of protected characteristics to prevent discrimination due to your age, disability, gender reassignment, race, religion or beliefs, sex or sexual orientation. For further information, visit the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s webpage on the Equality Act and the Government’s webpages on discrimination.

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