Your graduate career options in charity work
Popular areas of work in charities for graduates: administration | fundraising | community work | environmental work | international development | lobbying | political volunteers | volunteer coordination | homelessness and housing work | corporate social responsibility
There are many career paths open to you in charity work, from lobbying, fundraising and administration to specialising in fields such as international development or homelessness. Whatever your goals, there will be tough competition for vacancies and you may find that experience of volunteering gives you an advantage in your job applications. Recruiters in this field often do not specify a particular degree subject as a requirement when hiring, but for some roles, relevant qualifications may give you an edge.
Vacancies are advertised by careers services, in newspapers, and in publications such as Community Care and Third Sector. Local charities and volunteer bureaux can often provide work experience placement; Volunteering England and other organisations can help you to find local opportunities. Check out our job descriptions for more details about specific roles.
Administration isn’t just about support tasks such as arranging meetings, filing and handling financial accounts. Administrators are often key employees within charitable and non-profit making organisations, linking the organisation, the public and the media.
A business studies, management or social administration qualification may be helpful, though voluntary and administrative work experience is often more important than academic qualifications. You may need to be willing to tackle some fairly mundane or menial duties in the early stages of your career.
Fundraisers seek to raise money for charities and voluntary or non-profit organisations by increasing personal and corporate giving. They organise and help with traditional fundraising activities such as raffles and sponsored events, and also develop new ideas and activities to attract financial support for their organisations. They approach individuals and organisations for sponsorship and donations, and may also recruit and coordinate the work of volunteers.
A financial, business studies, management, marketing or public relations qualification may be helpful. You’ll also need excellent sales and negotiation skills.
Community workers help to improve the lives of disadvantaged individuals and groups by facilitating change and providing the means for self-help within community settings. Typical employers include local authorities, self-help organisations and charities and voluntary organisations.
The work is varied and can include facilitating community groups and establishing new community services, providing advocacy to individuals and groups, raising funds and managing budgets. Qualifications in law, social work, politics, public administration or social sciences can be an advantage, and a relevant postgraduate diploma/degree can also be helpful.
If you are keen to specialise in environmental issues, the career paths open to you include becoming an environmental education officer or nature conservation officer, or environmental consultant. Alternatively, you could work for an environmental charity or NGO as a fundraiser, administrator or in some other role.
If you find work as an environmental education officer, you’ll promote the importance of conservation work through a range of marketing activities. This job role typically involves building strong relationships with community groups, schools and businesses, and taking a lead role in activities such as producing educational material, giving talks and presentations, and leading nature walks and other outdoor expeditions.
Graduates working in international development seek to increase the security and living standards of communities around the world while reducing poverty and dependence upon foreign aid and loans. Roles are likely to involve project planning, financial analysis and international coordination.
International development jobs are particularly likely to focus on education, public health, agriculture or business. Workers will seek to transfer skills and knowledge to local communities and residents, and aim to support economic, environmental and social sustainability. You could also pursue a career with a charity or NGO that works to provide humanitarian relief to communities at times of crisis.
Lobby and pressure groups such as Amnesty International and the NSPCC petition the government on issues of importance and seek to raise public awareness. A pressure group can be a huge organisation offering opportunities to work around the globe or a single-issue locally based organisation, offering graduates opportunities to work in areas such as research, campaigning, public affairs consultancy, lobbying, membership and legal work. There is typically a great deal of competition for jobs.
If you pursue a career as a public affairs consultant, you’ll provide public or private sector clients with political and public policy advice based on your analysis of information from your personal contacts, political intelligence or media sources.
There are many ways for graduates to make an impact on politics. You could work for a political party or volunteer to support their election campaign. There are opportunities at Westminster and also in local constituencies and councils.
Most of the staff in constituency offices are caseworkers, but there may also be staff who are responsible for organising local events and managing the local media. Try contacting your local MP and offering to work part time, or participate in political activity at university.
Some internships are available within political parties, especially around election time, or you could try the House of Commons. The Speaker's Parliamentary Placements Scheme offers ten paid internships a year to individuals from diverse backgrounds and is intended to make those with access to Parliament more representative of the general population. Interns are assigned to individual MPs and spend most of their time working in the MP's offices.
Career paths in this area include the role of political party research officer, which involves supporting the development of new policies in response to changing conditions. Political party research officers are also responsible for carrying out research and analysis that will enable the party to respond to criticism of its policies or performance.
Volunteer coordinators recruit, train and manage voluntary workers. They are employed by charities, local authorities, voluntary and non-profit making organisations, including private trusts and foundations. Typical responsibilities include interviewing and selecting volunteers, supporting and coordinating their work and helping with fundraising activities.
It’s important to have relevant work experience and good knowledge of the voluntary sector if you’re looking for a job in this area. Any degree background is acceptable, but a business studies, management or social administration qualification may be helpful.
Homelessness workers are volunteers or paid employees of charities and non-profit making organisations such as Crisis and Shelter that provide help for people that are homeless or who have housing problems. In larger organisations staff can be mostly office-based, whereas those working for smaller employers may have frequent contact with the homeless.
Typical responsibilities include updating and providing information on hostel vacancies and housing rights, making referrals, liaising with voluntary and statutory agencies and assessing clients for any statutory rights they have.
Relevant work experience is important when job hunting in this area. It will also help if you can show that you are motivated by a genuine commitment to the issues surrounding homelessness. Qualifications in finance, business studies, management, marketing, public relations or social administration may be an advantage.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is a relatively new area of work that has developed in response to growing concerns about business ethics and the human impact on the environment and society. It typically involves limiting the negative impact of business activity on the wider world, from local communities and individuals to suppliers, producers and the environment. This can include implementing fair trade practices, making use of green energy and ensuring business growth and development is sustainable.
Being seen as socially responsible has become important to many businesses as customers increasingly demand ‘green’ products and ethical business practices. CSR managers can be employed by local and central government, private businesses, NGOs and the voluntary sector.
CSR is an attractive area of work for graduates in the long term, as salaries tend to be generous compared with others in the charity sector. However, while some graduate programmes now offer CSR rotations, specific graduate entry roles in CSR can be hard to come by. It may be necessary to gain experience of related areas, such as dealing with sustainability issues and providing consultancy, before moving into a CSR job. As CSR is a new specialism, there are few specific qualifications, though several universities have introduced masters degrees in the subject.