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Charities and the Voluntary Sector

The charity sector employs around 900,000 paid workers in the UK, many of these in very small charities. This sector is also known as the ‘third sector’ or ‘not for profit’ sector, and can also cover social enterprises, non-governmental organisations, and small and medium enterprises (SMEs). It remains a popular sector of work with University of Exeter graduates, although the recent impact of the Covid-19 pandemic has meant a reduction in finances to many charities, with more demand for the services. Many charities and voluntary sector organisations are heavily supported by volunteers.  The sector is well known for having salaries that are lower than in the private sector, but is often characterised as offering greater job satisfaction. It remains to be seen what the long-term effects of the pandemic will mean to this sector in terms of graduate recruitment.

There are very few graduate training schemes in this field and entry into some organisations can be through volunteering in the first instance before being considered for a paid job.

Alternatively, you could consider gaining experience elsewhere in areas like finance, marketing, administration and law before moving to the voluntary sector. Charities often look for a prior commitment to their work.  Therefore, it is important to make the most of your spare time at university and gain work experience or volunteer within the sectors of most interest to you or the causes you are passionate about. Most of the overseas jobs with voluntary organisations will require prior experience. 

For sector statistics, please visit the Charities Industry Report on My Career Zone Digital.

Career Zone Employability Schemes

(to help increase your work experience and networks in this area)

  • Career Zone Internship schemes: Internships can be extremelyuseful, so try and get relevant vacation work or placements.  
  • Ask an Alum: A fuss-free way to connect with University of Exeter alumni to ask careers questions.  
  • Career Mentor Scheme: A popular employability scheme which matches a student or graduate with an experienced professional, for sector insight and one-to-one careers advice and guidance, over a 6-month period. 
  • Professional Pathways: a suite of sector specific training courses and paid week-long internships that take place in June.  There is a specific programme related to the charity and development sector.

Videos: Have a look at the following brief videos for an overview of this sector.  

Take a look at this blog post of Zoe, an Exeter student who undertook an internship with a charity as part of the Professional Pathways programme. 

To see if there are any Exeter alumni working in this sector that you can get in touch with, go to the LinkedIn Alumni tool

Webpages: If you would like to do further research into this sector, the following webpages may be useful.  

  • Prospects: Charity and Voluntary Work – A summary of the charity and voluntary sector, looking at the challenges it faces, opportunities for graduate jobs, where to find volunteering and internships, and how to develop your skills.
  • Target Jobs: Charity Work – An overview of the jobs, internships, and employers in the sector, as well as industry specific advice for career progression.
  • Charity Commission Register of Charities – A searchable UK charity directory to gain an in-depth insight into registered charities.

Internships and work experience in this sector will enhance your chances of employment, and an increasing number of charity and voluntary organisations now offer graduate employment to students who have completed a successful placement with them, or who have a track record of experience and volunteering in the sector. 

For general information about finding graduate opportunities, please visit our Graduate Jobspage, and for a list of general job search engines please visit our general job sources page. You could also have a look at Handshake, our vacancy database with employers who are targeting University of Exeter students. 

For sector specific job listings, the following resources may be particularly helpful:  

Graduate schemes

Some charities offer internships and graduate training schemes from time to time. Check out the websites of organisations which interest you and follow them on Facebook, LinkedIn etc. in order to keep up to date with vacancies. Schemes are highly competitive. All will expect some knowledge of the sector via work experience, volunteering or part time jobs.

  • Charityworks – A one-year full time graduate scheme in a non-profit organisation.
  • Into University – A graduate scheme that recruits trainee education workers as an entry point into the charity sector.
  • Wellcome Trust – A two-year graduate programme that offers the chance to sample areas such as policy, fundraising, public engagement, communications, and operations.
  • Gradunique – A two-year graduate programme from Macmillan Cancer Support and the British Heart Foundation, working on projects across the two organisations. The BHF also runs retail, fundraising and technology graduate schemes.
  • Oxfam – An 11-month trainee scheme where trainees rotate between different teams and projects.
  • Worthwhile – A scheme to help graduates take their first steps in a career with charities and social enterprises.
  • Sanctuary – A 2-year graduate development programme in a not-for-profit housing association.

Volunteering, internships and work experience

  • The British Red Cross – Offers UK based volunteer internships, as well as longer European projects. 
  • Cancer Research UK – Offers 12-week paid internships in areas such as fundraising, communications, technology, policy and business strategy.
  • Oxfam – Offer voluntary internships in their head office in Oxford, and regional offices in Cardiff, Glasgow, London, Manchester and Newcastle.
  • Wellcome Trust – an 8-week paid summer internship programme based in London, working in areas such as insight and analysis, investments, research, collections.  

There are hundreds of charities that welcome volunteers. Think about the causes you are interested in, and search for charities you might want to volunteer for on the Charity Choice website: https://www.charitychoice.co.uk/charities

Other vacancies

  • Charity Job – Browse jobs in a variety of charity sectors.
  • Third Sector Jobs – The online jobs board of Third Sector magazine.
  • Elevator Café – Jobs with social enterprises, charities, and purpose-driven companies.
  • The Guardian – Search for jobs in charities with this national newspaper website.
  • Volunteering Matters (formerly CSV) - Volunteering opportunities across the UK.
  • Do-It – National database to search for volunteering opportunities.
  • VSO (Voluntary Service Overseas) - International volunteering opportunities.
  • Recruit 3 – Search for charity and third sector job vacancies in Wales.
  • Good moves – The website to search for charity and voluntary sector jobs in Scotland.

As jobs are not always advertised, it can be useful to develop your networking skills and also apply speculatively.

If you have studied a related degree, check if your course is accredited by one of the professional bodies. Being a member of a professional body is voluntary however, it can be valuable for developing networks, continuing your professional development, and generally keeping up to date with what's happening in the sector.  

If you would like to pursue postgraduate study before entering this sector, please visit our Postgraduate Study information page for more information about choosing further study. 

It can often be useful to gain postgraduate qualifications in the relevant subject area if your undergraduate degree is in a different topic but, beware, there are many courses on the market, and they are not all equally successful in getting you that "dream job". You can always complement your degree with professional qualifications to show your commitment towards the industry (see Professional Bodies section). 

In the charity and voluntary sector, the subject you study isn’t as important as your transferable skills, work experience, and your motivation and enthusiasm for the charity’s cause. If you do decide to undertake further study, gaining additional work experience at the same time will be beneficial.

Take a look at this free course from Open Learn on working in the voluntary sector