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UCL Alumni Professional Networking Event: Not-For-Profit

By news editor, on 21 June 2011

Want to get into charity? Go into business…Esmé Jones (English Literature and Language, 2010) reports on the Not-For-Profit UCL Alumni Professional Networking Event.

I have never been to an event before where I have been able to talk so openly with other guests about my frustrations, expectations and hopes for my later career. It was my first event as an ‘alumni’, and I was very impressed – it was fantastic to be invited back to UCL and to network in a personal, as well as professional capacity with new graduates, more ‘experienced’ graduates and a stellar panel.

Watch the UCL Alumni Networking Panel Discussion here:

I have often been told that ‘career’ paths are not always clear – I’ve heard of English Literature grads turning to Medicine, and a Physics Professor ending up as an artist in St. Ives – the alumni panel were no different. It was heartening to hear that Polly Markandya, now Head of Communications at MSF, once worked in a hairdressers’ (which ironically planted the seed of her hunger to work with MSF…), at Marks and Spencer and even wrapped presents for week in the MSF office before landing her first job with the charity.

It was a similar story for Alison Baum, who founded her own charity, Best Beginnings, after working for over 10 years with the BBC. It was also perhaps her ability to “pick up the phone and call any old stranger”, a sense of journalistic skill, that makes her a great people person and CEO. I wondered if she would have set up her own charity if she had entered the third sector after graduating, rather than building her skills set with the media beforehand.

The overriding advice from the panel was that whatever sector you currently work in, (which, for most new graduates, any sector with a job going) try to take stock of where your skills lie – don’t worry, we all have them. Alison Baum is a great communicator and creative – these skills she picked up at the BBC have driven her passion for her cause and charity. Whatever you are trained in, whether it be law, marketing, banking or design, charities will crave your know how. In a sense, it seemed to me that the more varied your skills set, the more of a rounded person you are – and the more you could bring to working in the not-for-profit sector.

I work with non-profits at a research and networking group, so have somewhat of a background in the sector, but I also work with businesses, so have a notion of how differently charities and businesses work as organisations. It seems that increasingly, with government cuts and organisational change, charities are being forced to think more like businesses – they are actively looking for, and need, skilled work individuals from the private sector who want to move to the not-for-profit arena.

For those who really just don’t know about the sector, the advice leaned towards getting some experience as a volunteer – most of the panel noted that they at some point had worked in two jobs simultaneously, as have I – the not-for-profit world is hard to crack and it seems that working hard to break into is certainly worth it.

And what did the panel say they looked for when recruiting? It wasn’t just having a passion and a real interest for their charity, but it was honesty, and those skills – you have to be able to offer the organisation something more than just caring. The other point mentioned was that embarking on a degree in Development doesn’t give you an access all ticket to the charity world…experience in the field counts for far more. Maybe I should rethink my plans for that MSc in September…

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