Charity, NFP & NGO misconceptions
You may have heard that the only way to work in the charity, not-for-profit and NGO sector is to do unpaid volunteer work. You may have heard that the only way to do charity work is to shake a bucket of coins outside a train station, or try to stop people in the street with a rain-soaked smile and a clipboard full of hope.
Alternatively, you may think that the only people who actually work permanently in this sector are Bob ‘give us your (insert swear word here) money’ Geldof, Pudsey the Bear and Lance Armstrong (N.B. this is not the first man to walk on the moon).
Well, don’t believe a word of it, because it’s just not true. You can work permanently for a charity, NGO, or not-for-profit organisation. You might even get paid an actual salary!
So before you make the decision to get into a career in the charity, not-for-profit and NGO sector, you should firstly discover what it’s really all about.
Charity, NFP & NGO realities
Charities come in various shapes and sizes. They can lead you in a million and one different directions and put you in front of some of life’s greatest challenges. They can also be unrivalled in terms of job satisfaction. You can travel the world or stay put; work hands on or take on a role behind the scenes. What we’re really trying to say is that careers in this sector can be pretty versatile. They can be exciting and allow you to potentially change people’s lives, whilst still living your own. What more could you want?
Virtually anything you can think of will be involved with a charity in one way or another. Depending on where your passion lies, you could turn your hand to a number of different sectors: working with animals, raising money for cancer or helping environmental charities. You could work with the elderly, people with disabilities, the homeless, at a hospice or within sport and arts charities.
Depending on the role you choose, you’ll need excellent oral or written communication skills - sometimes even both! You’ll also need to be personable and be able to adapt to various different needs and disabilities. It’s likely in larger charities that you’ll be asked to work on a number of different projects at the same time, so being able to multi-task and manage your time effectively will be the key to success.
Charity, NFP & NGO options
It’s probably a good idea to kick off by explaining the differences between charities, not-for-profit organisations and NGOs. Broadly speaking, charities aid, promote and raise money for the public good. They are not to be confused with not-for-profit organisations, whose goals are similar to those of charities, but every shred of money raised goes back into the cause and nothing is given to the charity’s owners or stakeholders.
An NGO (not to be mistaken with the National Gamekeepers Organisation) stands for ‘non-governmental organisation’. It is as it sounds: an independent organisation that is not affiliated with the government. This could be set up in response to something that has happened, such as the relief funds established in the wake of the earthquake in Japan in 2011 and the flooding of the Uttarakhand state in India.
Now let’s move onto the different roles and career paths within these three different sectors. Let’s start with the ‘biggy’: fundraising. Charities operate on a shoestring. There’s no tip-toeing around the subject. It’s a classic case of ‘every little helps’, but even the big boys like Oxfam, CancerResearchUK and UNICEF are desperate for more funds to help their cause and increase their levels of research. As a fundraiser, you could be doing anything from media work and promoting the charity in the press, to coming up with projects and campaigns to increase general awareness amongst the public.
Larger organisations will put a lot of time and effort into their marketing strategy. You’ll need to be original, inventive and have a head for new ideas. The work will usually be in a fast-paced and exciting environment so being able to multi-task, whilst still showing off your creative hat, is an absolute must. As with any marketing role, it’s key for you to have an understanding of the market and who your audience is. Their likes, dislikes and what they read can all influence how you will appeal to them. A role in research is therefore absolutely pivotal and can dictate how the whole charity functions.
If you pine for a more hands-on role, working in community development could be just the thing to satisfy your charitable needs. For any role in this area, your aim would be to improve the different parts of local communities. This can mean anything from working with local children, to improving actual facilities.
If your ultimate aim is to forge a career working in the charity sector, volunteer work is one giant step in the right direction. It shows a genuine passion for the work you’re doing and demonstrates a sense of commitment. Whilst you are studying, you should consider organising your own fundraising events, volunteering at the weekends to help out at drop-in centres and starting your own charitable student society.
Yes, volunteering will look fantastic on your CV, but obviously you’ll be getting the satisfaction of helping people too. Some elements of volunteer work are just as worthwhile and effective as paid work. You could volunteer abroad and do absolutely anything, from building schools in Africa to offering medical advice to children in South America. The options are endless and, if you’re willing to travel, this could be one of the most life-changing choices you ever make.
John E - Outreach Worker
John E is an outreach worker at Birmingham Disability Resource Centre. He was a printer for thirty years, but work-related health problems forced a rethink. He became a volunteer at the centre, took NVQs in advice and guidance and financed this by working as a security guard in the afternoons. Now he has the full time job he wanted.
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