Working in the Voluntary Sector

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By Roger Jones

How charitable are you?
Most of us have been volunteers at some time or the other. You may have helped raise funds for your favourite charity by doing a sponsored walk or a street collection - or perhaps assisted at the local animal shelter or in a charity shop. You may even be an (unpaid) trustee of a small charity.

But apart from making use of millions of volunteers the voluntary sector also offers paid employment to over 600,000 people. This figure may seem small compared with the commercial sector (over 20 million employees) and the public sector (nearly seven million), but it is nevertheless significant and growing at the rate of about 10,000 a year.

Any idea that working for a charity is a closed shop needs to be firmly scotched. Indeed, many of the people employed in voluntary organisations have gained their professional experience elsewhere and are welcomed for the expertise that they can bring to charitable organisations, fourteen of which have annual incomes in excess of £100 million a year.

What kind of employees do they need?
Some of the job titles look very similar to those in the public and private sectors, such as office manager, finance director, marketing manager, personnel officer, public relations officer. Other jobs conform to the general perception of charity work, such as offering advice and providing support or care to disadvantagedpeople.

Fundraising is an important function in all charities, and if you are adept at persuading people to part with their money for a good cause you could well find your niche here. Bear in mind, however, that fundraising involves far more than placing appeals in newspapers and organising collections. Many charities derive income from sponsorship, charitable trusts, wealthy benefactors and special fundraising events.

Some charities, such as Children in Need, concentrate exclusively on raising funds for other charities to spend. Others include campaigning on social and political issues within their remit. Most have a specialist role, such as animal welfare, homelessness, aid to the Third World, conservation, child support, promotion of the arts.

What is it like working for a charity?
The bad news is that the pay tends to be lower than in equivalent jobs in the private sector, though some senior posts in the larger charities are reasonably well paid. Also where future funding is uncertain, there is no guarantee of indefinite employment. However, people are not attracted to charity work by job security or the salaries on offer; it is the character of the work which is the great attraction.

"The work is more creative." "You have a greater sense of purpose." "You are working for a cause you believe in." These are some of the comments you will get from people who have moved into the voluntary sector from commerce. Those who have previously worked in government are often pleasantly surprised to work in an atmosphere which is less hidebound with rules and regulations.

Charities have a reputation for being good employers. Around two thirds of their staff are women, possibly attracted by the opportunity of job sharing. (40% of the jobs are part-time.) But do not regard working for a charity as an easy option; it requires the same commitment and professionalism as any other job - and possibly more.

The voluntary sector has become very fashionable with job seekers of late, which means that no job is just there for the asking, with the possible exception of fundraising positions. So do not be put off if you fail to land a job at your first attempt. But you could improve your chances if you can demonstrate that you have worked in a voluntary capacity in the past and can therefore identify with charity work. Many people gain experience as volunteers before moving into paid work.

Where do you find these jobs?
The Guardian is a good place to start looking - especially the Monday and Wednesday issues. You might also contact some of the dozen or so recruitment agencies which specialise in the voluntary sector, such as Charity People, Charity Careers and Harris Hill.

The charities themselves often publish vacancy lists on their websites, and there are various recruitment events worth attending, such as the Charity Fair organised by the Directory for Social Change.

If you work in London or the South East and are interested in finding out more, the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO) offers an introductory course on working for a charity spread over two evenings. Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales have their own organisations supporting the voluntary sector.

More information on careers in this sector can be found in Charity and Voluntary Work Uncovered (Trotman). For lists of the major charities try The Major Charities (Directory for Social Change) and Charity Choice (Waterlow Professional Publishing).

Useful websites: (Scotland) (Northern Ireland) (Wales)

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