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Choosing the right employer for your graduate career in the charity sector

Your choice of employer affects the kind of work you do and the impact you make. Consider the different types of charities, roles and entry routes to help you make the best decision.

Graduate jobs in charities are different from jobs in many other sectors. There are just a few charity graduate schemes available, and entry-level jobs tend to be admin-focused. However, the skills you build will be highly transferable.

If you're committed to working in the charity and not-for-profit sector, it's likely that you'll work for a variety of organisations over the course of your career. However, choosing your first employer can be daunting. Think about the answers to these questions – they'll help make the selection easier.

What type of charity should I work for?

If you want to work in the charity sector, you probably want to make a difference – so you'll want to align your hard work and commitment with a cause that suits your passion.

Start by thinking carefully about what matters most to you. Would you rather your work made an impact abroad or closer to home? Do you have strong ideas about the approach an organisation should take – for example, towards humanitarian aid? Do you want to:

  • fight poverty?
  • campaign for rights?
  • provide education?
  • improve healthcare?
  • save the environment?
  • or make an impact on another worthwhile cause?

Think about the size of the organisation as well. Larger organisations may have a number of locations and roles; smaller ones may offer more varied roles and the chance to work on local projects.

What sort of jobs will be available in the charity?

There is a wide range of roles available within charities. In addition to project work, retail and fundraising, there are support roles in areas such as administration, human resources, graphic design, communications, IT, marketing, finance and research.

Use your specialist skills

The huge range of roles available in the charity sector also provides plenty of scope for putting your particular qualifications to use.

Charities and not-for-profit organisations are so diverse that you can work for them in just about any capacity – whether your background is in science, education, health, administration, publishing, property, law or another specialism.

  • Cancer Research UK, for example, runs a range of funding schemes that support scientists carrying out cancer research in different specialist fields and at different stages in their careers.
  • Médecins Sans Frontières, in addition to office roles, employs qualified doctors and midwives.
  • Engineers and technicians are also employed by many charities, such as Action Against Hunger.
  • Most charities will employ IT staff to keep their technology running smoothly.

Do I want a graduate scheme or a graduate job in the charity sector?

There aren't many graduate schemes in the charity sector, although the number is increasing. Even well-known names in this sector, such as those featured in the UK 300, don't run graduate programmes.

However, if you think the benefits of a scheme would help you launch your charity career, explore these options:

  • Cancer Research UK and the Wellcome Trust run graduate programmes in numerous business areas, including research, finance and marketing.
  • Charityworks runs a graduate development programme for people wanting to work in the voluntary sector. Trainees receive a salary and undertake placements working for partner charities.
  • IntoUniversity is a charity that encourages young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university. It runs a graduate scheme as well as voluntary internships at its offices around the country.
  • Worthwhile is another scheme that offers jobs in not-for-profit organisations – often small or locally focused ones. The scheme also provides training.

Teach First is a charity that offers two-year development programmes that focus on teaching in schools in disadvantaged areas. Trainees work while studying for a postgraduate education qualification.

There are similar schemes that focus on social work, including Frontline and Think Ahead.

Schemes like these can be stimulating and structured career entry routes, but they're not the only way to start your career in the charity sector. It's common to start your career in an entry-level job and build skills by working on new projects as they arise.

Some employers to consider for your graduate career in the charity sector

  • ActionAid
  • Action Against Hunger
  • Barnardo’s
  • Cancer Research UK
  • Charityworks
  • City Year
  • Comic Relief
  • Crisis
  • Frontline
  • Oxfam
  • People and Planet
  • Save the Children
  • Stonewall
  • Teach First
  • Wellcome Trust
  • Worthwhile
  • WWF