Working in the Charity sector: A few tips and insights
By UCL Careers, on 11 April 2018
So it would certainly be “nice” if this was something we enjoyed and it had a social mission attached to it. Traditionally, this falls within the realms of charities/ NGOs/ non-profits. Commonly referred to as the “third sector” – the other two being the private sector and public (government) sector.
However, ultimately, all sectors are serving society and communities in one-way or the other. With the advent of business models of social entrepreneurship the lines between sectors is getting blurry. Therefore deciding our role as a contributing member of society often gets more difficult. Below I share some tips on how to make this easier.
What concerns me?
The time spent at university is formative. We join societies, take various academic courses and can (hopefully) begin to see what is the difference we want to make in the world. Is it environmental?, Perhaps race-related issues? Or maybe, animal-welfare?, Or a little bit of both. Studying geography during my undergraduate I began to see my main concern was the interaction of humans and nature and, more precisely, the role we play in shaping nature.
Be part of the discussion
A great way to transition from academic to the practical is by attending events and seminars. Maybe even engaging in debate and to see what is being said and challenging viewpoints. For me, joining Twitter (in 2010) was quite a game changer. I was able to follow organisations and people around the globe and navigate my way around conflicting schools of thought. Particularly when it came to overseas work, environmental impact and efficiency (or lack of) within the charity sector.
A few highly recommended accounts to follow would be:
@whydev https://twitter.com/whydev?lang=en committed to getting aid and development work right
@NPRGoatsandSoda https://twitter.com/NPRGoatsandSoda Global Health and development blog
@ThirdSector_Hub https://twitter.com/ThirdSector_Hub Information and think pieces about the UK Charity Sector
@CharityClarity https://twitter.com/CharityClarity_ for information and think pieces about the UK Charity Sector
So you have attended seminars, actively followed and tweeted, maybe even engaged in an online discussion. What now? How to get some hands-on experience? If the summer holidays are coming up- your best bet would be to volunteer.
Yes, It can be a classic chicken and egg scenario (we need a better analogy for these vegan times). But you might feel your CV seems like it is lacking some experience, so who is going to take you on? Here is where approaching smaller charities directly will help. You can even start by volunteering at your local charity shop. Most of them are run 100% by volunteers.
By approaching small charities you (1) ease their burden by committing a few months (2) can see a project to completion and build up your CV. What is imperative here is commitment. Small charities make up 82% of all voluntary organisations in the UK. However; they have few resources at hand and trustworthy, local individuals are invaluable to them.
Here is a great report showing how small charities are more adaptable and instrumental in localised change. (access the report)
After I completed my degree I volunteered and did a various freelance projects at a number of organisations. I picked up skills on: fundraising, donor-database management, filming and editing videos and lastly, writing impact reports.
What am I good at? What now?
Which brings me back to being a bit introspective- figuring out what you are good at? What did you enjoy most from the volunteering and actively pursing that.
I realised two things (1) I wanted to do something within the NGO sector and (2) I wanted it to be related to what I had studied- primarily agriculture and climate change. However, I was also interested in NGO accountability and transparency. So I needed an organisation committed to this.
I was warned this is quite niche and perhaps difficult in terms of professional mobility. However, to stick by my choices, I moved back to my parents’ home to save on rent and also did various retail jobs and paid freelance work to support me. Through twitter I found an excellent book project to work on and in 2014 our book, Sustainable [R]evolutions was published by North Atlantic Books.
Keeping yourself challenged?
Since working at Green Shoots, my role has evolved. Besides working on an agriculture skills project, I now also manage a healthcare program in Myanmar. Working in charities, especially small charities, offers flexibility and we are able to stay challenged by taking on new things.
That should be a relief if we are going to spend 90,000 hours working!