I was expecting a couple of replies at most. I’d put out a tweet asking how people got started in the charity sector – just something to while away a quiet Wednesday evening.
Charity folks – how did you get started working in the sector? What was your first job? Did you fall into it or was it always part of the plan?
— Richard Berks (@DrRichardBerks) February 3, 2021
But days later, I was still responding to more than 200 people who shared their charity origin story, and were excited to read other people’s.
Aside from feeling like a social media influencer for a couple of days, I felt I gained a perspective into how people get into the sector which was different from what I was expecting.
So what did I learn?
There many routes into working for a charity.
Everyone has a unique story to tell, but I felt there were a few common routes into charity work:
1. Planned it from the beginning
There are plenty of people who always knew they would work in a charity. Many people volunteered for charities to gain experience, and others
applied for charity grad schemes after going to university.
Always the plan. Vol'd straight from uni @GlblCtzn, @Youth_StopAIDS & @RestlessDevUK here & internationally for few yrs for experience. Took a project role @FareShareUK, before realising comms is my jam. Worked at some socents, then @invectorcontrol now & @Refugee_Women trustee.
— Christina (@ChrissieBM) February 4, 2021
2. Fell into it
By far the most common route was really a happy accident. People gained experience from the public and private sectors, and then took up an opportunity that presented itself in a charity.
Fell in to it by accident! After I graduated, I was hoping to work in the arts, but there weren't any jobs for someone with no experience, so I started volunteering in the fundraising dept of an animal charity to build my office skills. I left 7 years later as Head of Appeals!
— Lucy Rathbone (@lucyinthepie) February 4, 2021
3. Student fundraising
Some people got involved with fundraising at university, working in a RAG committee and then maybe as a sabbatical officer.
Was RAG officer at Uni as it looked a great fun position to run for and raise money – then became an SU Sabb and after being a Full time elected officer at NUS I was keen to carry on in the charity sector as a career…
— Richard Budden (@richardbudden) February 4, 2021
4. Reacting against an unfulfilling career
Many people reported how they felt bored or unfulfilled in the private or public sector, and decided to make a leap into the charity sector to feel passionate about their job again. As clichéd as it might sound, people do genuinely want to make a difference in the work they do – and where better to do that than in a charity?
Was fed up working within the soul sapping constraints of local government policy. Loved doing the occasional bit of volunteering with @CrohnsColitisUK and figured I was better suited to the charity sector. Spotted a policy role with @ParkinsonsUK – 7 years later still loving it
— Rach ? ? ☕️ (@ChachyOwen) February 3, 2021
5. Introduced to charities after using services
Some people talked about how their first interaction with charities was through using their services or receiving support. This inspired them to work in a charity, bringing their lived experience to benefit the organisation.
I have my son to thank ☺️ I was a student recruitment manager at a local uni when my baby was born with Down’s syndrome. I now work for the amazing charity that supported us through his early years. I’m truly blessed.
— Catherine Cook (@cathcook) February 4, 2021
6. Starting a charity to provide the support they lacked
A few people started their own charities to provide the kind of support or services they felt they could have benefited from but couldn’t find.
I founded @PBCFoundation in 1996 having been diagnosed with this rare condition which is incurable and progressive.
No info, no internet, no leaflets help or support.
We are a UK charity serving PBC through the world.
Check our website for more. ?
— Collette Thain MBE (@Collettepbc) February 3, 2021
Few people knew the charity sector was even a career option
Many people spoke of how they weren’t aware people even worked in charities, never mind that you could have a fulfilling career. They spoke of careers advisers in schools and universities who never mentioned ‘charity worker’ or ‘fundraiser’ as a potential job title.
Volunteered from school days into uni before realising it was a potential career. Went to uni careers service to research it. They literally had nothing. This was Oxford Uni, 1994. My 1st job on graduating was as the 1st ever employee of the uni charity I’d been volunteering for.
— Richard Sved (@richardsved) February 4, 2021
I don’t know how much things have changed over the years, though I was glad to be invited to my old university to talk to students about careers in the charity sector a couple of years ago.
Some got a lucky break
Many people felt they got a ‘lucky break’ with a charity or a specific person that enabled them to get their first job. There were plenty of mutual love-ins and virtual high-fives and hugs. However, I worry about the people who don’t already have connections in the sector, and whether they are being inadvertently excluded from charity work.
Unpaid internships are an ongoing issue
Several people mentioned that they had done unpaid internships to get experience to work in the sector, and how they felt uneasy about it. While I’m sure many unpaid internships do provide great opportunities, the concern about them is that not everyone is in a position to work for free, and so that the practice might negatively affect the diversity of people who can enter the sector. I don’t know whether unpaid internships are becoming more or less common, though I’m sure it’s an issue that won’t go away any time soon.
People are really fond of face-to-face fundraising
Some people’s first experience of the charity sector was in face-to-face fundraising, and spoke very fondly of their job. They felt it gave them determination and resilience, the ability to connect with the public while talking about a great cause, and work with some great people.
F2F fundraisers, telephone fundraisers, emotionally intelligent estate agents and recruiters. I’ve watched, managed and been managed by some of the best in the sector who started that way.
Grit. Angela Duckworth would say that’s one thing that links them all.
♥️ this thread.
— Ben Swart (@benswart) February 7, 2021
Charity folks are here for good
Finally, phrases like “I can’t imagine working anywhere else”, “I never looked back”, “…and the rest is history” came up a lot in people’s tweets. Many people spoke of their desire to make a difference in their jobs, and working with brilliant people, as key reasons why. It’s heart-warming to know that so many people see the rest of their working life in charities.
Dr Richard Berks is a freelance science writer specialising in helping medical research charities talk to supporters, patients, and the public about the research they fund. He spends too much time on Twitter (@DrRichardBerks), and can also be found at richardberks.co.uk
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