Defining ‘charity’ and decoding the jargon

25 Jan 2023, 13:35

Discovering the definition of a charity and the keywords used by recruiters should help you to respond confidently to interview questions.

Woman shouting with letters flying out of her mouth, symbolizing communication.

Whether or not you work for a charity, your employer may provide opportunities for you to help others. However, these might be concealed in acronyms.

Do you know your NFP from your NGO or TSO? Would you trust yourself to explain what’s meant by ‘trustee’? If your answer to either of these questions is ‘no’, you should brush up on your understanding of charity jargon before an interview. This will make sure you understand recruiters’ questions and can give informed answers.

What is a charity?

In order to gain the legal status of ‘charity’ in England and Wales, an organisation must:

  • Work for the public benefit. This means its work is beneficial (and any harm it causes does not outweigh the positive impact) and affects at least a significant section of the public. It also means individual gain – eg managers' pay – is secondary to the public benefit.
  • Fulfil one of the official purposes. There are 13 examples of purposes that a registered charity might have, including ‘the prevention or relief of poverty’ and ‘the advancement of education’. A charity must be set up to fulfil one of these. One of the examples includes ‘any other purposes currently recognised as charitable’, so the actual scope is pretty wide.
  • Be subject to the control of the High Court’s charity law jurisdiction. This allows the court to have a say in the way the charity operates.

For more information, see the GOV.UK guidelines on what makes a charity.

The jargon

Having gained an understanding of what a charity is, you can now get to grips with the acronyms and terms frequently used by employees and recruiters.

Terms that overlap with ‘charity’

Large charities often work with many different organisations. Some of these may hold similar aims but not have the status of charity. So, an employer may be impressed by candidates who understand the terminology for organisations that function like charities.

  • NFP : not-for-profit – NFPs use any money they make to further the organisation’s objectives and keep it running, rather than creating profits for its owners. Charities are a type of not-for-profit organisation.
  • TSO : third sector organisation – the third sector is an alternative name for the not-for-profit sector and a third sector organisation is the same as a not-for-profit organisation.
  • VCS : voluntary and community sector – another name for the not-for-profit or third sector.
  • NGO : non-governmental organisation – a type of NFP, an NGO functions independently of the government and benefits the public by addressing specific issues. The term ‘NGO’ is usually used for an organisation addressing more widespread issues than other NFPs (eg worldwide slavery or child trafficking).
  • Social enterprise – a business that uses its profits for social benefit. A social enterprise can also be a charity, but it doesn’t have to be.

Supporters of charities

Being an enthusiastic supporter of a charity’s cause is important, but it’s not enough to get you a job. Recruiters often look for candidates who have an idea of how a charity stays functioning – including the bodies it might contact to gain funding or advice.

  • Foundation – a charity with the central purpose of funding other charities. They often support charities that have a broad focus, such as the environment.
  • NCS : National Council for Voluntary Organisations – an organisation that champions, represents and supports voluntary organisations by connecting them with people, partners and resources.
  • IoF : Institute of Fundraising – membership body for fundraising, providing support to fundraisers through means such as guidance, training and qualifications.
  • CVS : council for voluntary service – a local organisation that provides information and support for charities and voluntary organisations in the area.
  • OCS : Office for Civil Society – division within the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport that holds responsibility for policy relating to young people, volunteers, charities, social enterprises and public service mutuals (organisations that have left the public sector but continue to deliver public services). It holds both a supporting and regulatory role.

Regulators of charities

Charities want to be confident that their employees will work within the law and won’t move away from the remit of charity work. Getting to grips with the main regulatory bodies should emphasise your commitment to this.

  • The Charity Commission – the government department responsible for regulating and providing guidance for charities. It holds a register of charities, which people can view online to check that an organisation is a charity.
  • Trustees – unpaid volunteers who ensure a charity complies with the law and make changes to its strategy. A charity is overseen by its board of trustees, which holds ultimate responsibility and accountability for the organisation’s activity.
  • Fundraising regulator – independent regulator for charitable fundraising in England, Wales and Northern Ireland.

How any employer might benefit society

Whether or not you decide to work for a charity, your employer may provide opportunities for you to help others. These might be concealed in acronyms, so learn what they stand for to make sure you don’t miss out.

  • ESV : employer-supported volunteering, also known as corporate volunteering – voluntary activity organised and sometimes funded by companies.
  • CSR : corporate social responsibility – work done by some businesses to benefit society. This work may support local communities, charities and voluntary organisations.
  • IAG : information, advice and guidance – information for members of the public that helps them make decisions about their lives. It's provided by many charities and advice organisations.

targetjobs editorial advice

This describes editorially independent and impartial content, which has been written and edited by the targetjobs content team. Any external contributors featuring in the article are in line with our non-advertorial policy, by which we mean that we do not promote one organisation over another.

People reading this also searched for roles in these areas:

Related careers advice

undefined background image

We've got you

Get the latest jobs, internships, careers advice, courses and graduate events based on what's important to you. Start connecting directly with top employers today.