Written by Rachel Garman, Information & Research Officer at UCL Careers.
As part of UCL Careers’ Charities & NGOs themed week, we interviewed Jo Gibney (Head of Business Development at the Association of Volunteer Managers) about her career and her top tips to students interested in the sector.
When did you join the Association of Volunteer Managers and why?
I started at AVM in August 2019 after having volunteered from October 2017 on their board. I was volunteering as I had an interest in developing the profession of volunteer managers. I joined as an employee as this gave me the opportunity to drive and shape the direction of the group and bring them a new perspective.
What lead you to be interested in the charities sector in the first place?
I fell into it – when I was at university in the 1990s there was little information offered about the sector as a whole. I did a science-based degree, but realised that I didn’t really want to work in that field. After working in a number of jobs I didn’t enjoy, I approached an employment agency for something more challenging. They suggested a couple of charity jobs, and so I ended up in a campaigning job for a charity. I was also volunteering for St John Ambulance, and I eventually got into volunteer management. I learned that I wanted to work in a field that wasn’t sales or money-driven, and to do something satisfying and worthwhile.
What makes your role interesting and what makes it challenging?
It’s interesting because I get to see how a small business works and help to make it grow so we can support our members. I get to speak to a range of people and develop the right events for them.
What’s challenging is having to engage with the business side and see things from a different perspective (rather than being on the inside of the charity I’m working to support them). I’m seeing the day-to-day challenges of small charities after spending more of my career working for larger charities. It’s a big learning curve.
Why would you encourage students to get into the charities sector and/or volunteering?
If you’re passionate about making an impact on others and the world then this is the sector for you. You’ll get to see your impact it in action which, if you’re supportive of the cause, is very rewarding. Any skills you have will be useful in the charities sector. There are also many jobs in charities that simply don’t exist within the private sector! I’d encourage students to volunteer because you get to build on existing skills and develop new ones while really helping. It allows you to try out different avenues and opportunities and experience different (and extremely diverse) roles and working environments in a flexible way. This can often be just a few hours a week, so it’s really useful for giving an insight into the sector and knowing what you want to focus on when you graduate.
What do you think charities look for in their staff and volunteers?
They’d like you to be passionate for the cause. It’s also important to have transferrable skills. It’s important to do your research before you apply and know what you’re getting into and the challenges you will face. You will need to be collaborative and have communication skills. Charities need people who can think creatively and can constructively question the set way of doing things.
What top tips would you give to students?
Research: Investigate different types of jobs and different charities as the sector is very broad with a lot of scope, and research a charity before applying. Don’t discount working for smaller, less well-known charities as you can end up doing more, gaining more skills and having a more direct impact. The sector isn’t for everyone – you could still do a lot of good in the private sector with corporate social responsibility schemes, or move into charity work later in your career.
Be proactive: Use LinkedIn to make connections – don’t be afraid to contact people to find out more about their job or organisation, as it’s a very generous sector for sharing time and knowledge. On a practical level, https://www.charityjob.co.uk/ is a great place to search for a job.
Be flexible: Be prepared for your career to be varied with no straight line – there is a lot of moving around to different charities doing a variety of jobs using different skills in different places, so it suits people who can be flexible.
Embrace the breadth of the sector: Remember that not all jobs are on the frontline, so if you don’t feel like you’d be suited to working with service users you could be just as valuable working in research, finance, fundraising, marketing and all sorts of roles.