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Career Advice

08 Sep 15

How do you make a career move into the third sector?

The charity and not-for-profit sector is now an extremely competitive area to secure work within. So how do you make that transition from a role within the commercial world into one within the third sector, without relevant experience?

Feedback from some of the people who’ve successfully made the transition say they find the work more creative and have a greater sense of purpose as they are working for a cause they really believe in. Third sector organisations have been quick to embrace a good work-life balance for their employees, often offering much more flexible working conditions than the private sector, as well as the increased job satisfaction of knowing you are making a positive contribution to society. In addition, now that the sector is so diverse, there are many more opportunities for career progression too.

Many of the people now employed in voluntary organisations have gained their professional experience elsewhere and are welcomed for the expertise that they can bring to charitable organisations. However it is a competitive market and many organisations within the sector still look for individuals who already have experience within it. So if you’re career to date lies within the public or private sector, it is crucial to take every available opportunity to gain any third sector experience you can. So, how can you gain some experience?

Consider volunteering
Think about what kind of work you’d like to do, consider which organisations you already support and your existing skills and previous experience. It is particularly important to look for opportunities within charities that you feel passionate about – organisations would always prefer to employ individuals who believe in their cause.

Next you need to consider ways to gain some experience of the third sector and your chosen organisation. Whatever route you choose, it is going to have an impact on your time for sure, if you’re already employed full-time. One of the most common routes is to volunteer for a charity that you feel passionate about and like the idea of working for on a permanent basis. Voluntary work experience provides evidence of your interest and commitment to working in the not-for-profit sector and gives an opportunity to develop valuable networks too. If you’re looking for a long-term charity-based career, then prospective employers will view your volunteering efforts as an example of your dedication.

Look out for UK wide volunteering opportunities on the following sites. Alternatively visit the website of individual charities that you’re interested in.

Volunteer Scotland
Volunteering Wales

How about a Grown-up Internship?
There is another avenue now becoming more recognised for those looking to gain experience in a completely new area – the grown-up internship! The traditional internship provides direct experience of working in a particular role and is usually undertaken by recent graduates. Employers often use internships to assess a student’s/graduate’s capability and look to recruit employees from their interns rather than advertise their vacancies.

It’s definitely not like a traditional internship for students, or fresh graduates, that’s for sure. However, as working within the UK becomes ever more flexible and career changes for those with considerable experience is now more acceptable too, the rise of the grown-up internship is gaining some, albeit slow, momentum. What a grown-up internship does offer is an opportunity for you to develop it to suit you and your future career aspirations. The key benefit of creating your own internship is that it can be whatever and wherever you want it to be – as long as you do the groundwork, anything is possible and negotiable!

Sounds like a significant investment in your time? Well, it is. But keep in mind that the very process of taking time to focus on the work you want and finding a place where you can do that will go a long way to ensure you’ll walk away from an internship experience with a new set of skills, plus new contacts who will attest to your abilities, professionalism and entrepreneurial spirit. All positives of course, and the icing on the cake could be that you’re offered a job at the end of it!

Just ensure if you go down this route, you do extensive research and produce a well written proposal to support you when approaching targeted organisations. Your research should identify opportunities where you could use your skills and experience to make a difference, as well as identifying the decision makers you need to be approaching. Your proposal should clearly communicate what you want, but also give equal emphasis to how your input will help the company solve a particular problem or take advantage of an untapped opportunity.

A grownup internship can actually be a powerful choice, giving you real impetus if you do want a complete career change. It will give you a great insight and increased knowledge of a particular role and/or organisation, increase your skills and give you ample opportunity to network with key individuals too.

There is the question of whether an internship should be paid or not –an internship for a registered charity is exempt from payment, so again you will need to consider how this will impact on your financial situation, availability and length of your proposed time with an organisation –lots to consider.

How about transferring your skills into a completely new area of work, such as fundraising?
Fundraising staff play an essential role in the success of a charity, in fact charities would not function without committed fundraisers and this type of role is the most highly sought after. They are responsible for meeting donation targets by approaching corporations, trusts, major donors and private individuals, as well as organising money-raising events. In larger charities, roles are likely to be specialised, targeting one particular source of income. Fundraisers also work with individuals, communities, businesses and charitable trusts to raise awareness of their charity’s work, aims and goals. Ultimately, a fundraiser is there to increase contributions by building relationships and exploring new fundraising techniques and ideas.

Whatever your previous career, if you want to excel in fundraising, you’ll need to show evidence of the following:
• Real passion for the cause of the charity
• An ability to both develop and maintain relationships
• A proactive and entrepreneurial attitude
• The ability to both influence and motivate others, as well as work as part of a team
• Excellent organisational, project management and communication skills
• The ability to work meet both demanding deadlines and financial targets
• Sensitivity to the needs of volunteers and donors

Here’s a list of the key fundraising areas:

Corporate fundraisers will be expected to build relationships with relevant corporate bodies and produce compelling bids and deliver pitches to win new sponsorship income. For this type of role you need to be confident, able to easily build rapport and be a good communicator.

Trust and statutory fundraisers are responsible for income generated through detailed written applications to grant-making trusts, foundations and statutory funders (Government). These roles involve a high level of research and attention to detail as well as a deep understanding of specific programmes the charity provides.

Events fundraising usually requires experience of working in an events department within a charity and must be able to manage limited budgets in order to successfully meet income targets. Events range from fetes and celebrity galas through sports and running events, challenge and overseas treks, auctions and fashion shows. You will need to be comfortable working on a range of events at any one time and be confident with good communications skills to meet and greet potential donors at the events.

Community fundraisers are the main point of contact for most mainstream fundraising involving members of the public. This will suit those who can work with people from all backgrounds and are keen to get involved in a wide variety of fundraising activities implemented and managed locally – usually in line with a charity’s national and regional strategy.

Legacy fundraisers encourage supporters to consider leaving a gift to the charity in their will. Fundraisers can nurture and develop face-to-face relationships with individuals or ask their supporters to consider leaving a bequest gift. They may approach supporters through mailings or adverts. They also manage a range of external relationships with solicitors, will-executors, families of the deceased, probate offices and co-beneficiaries. If you have an interest in law or accountancy, this could be the option for you.

Major donor fundraisers focus on developing relationships with high net worth supporters who have an affiliation or personal interest in the charity’s cause and can donate high-value gifts. This is often a role to which significantly experienced fundraisers progress.

Direct marketing/individual giving includes face-to-face, door-to-door, telemarketing, online and direct mail to recruit, acquire, retain and develop income from individual one-off and regular givers. You would usually have direct marketing experience and work closely with agencies to deliver direct marketing campaigns and utilise supporter databases for reporting and data analysis. You’ll need to combine data analysis and creativity to work well in this area.

To gain an insight into fundraising take the volunteering or intern options we’ve covered, or you could taking a training course. For further information about available courses, visit


When looking for a job in the third sector, you’ll need to consider salary, size of organisation and job title, against others such as increased job satisfaction, potentially improved benefits and a better working environment. Whatever your drivers for change, there is no doubt that a career in this sector can be rewarding and stimulating and can offer you the chance to not only make the world a better place, but to also be part of shaping the future. If you want to find out more about your options then give the team at Flow Caritas a call on 020 7089 2644 or 0161 641 0005