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Career Options in Charity, Not-for-profit & NGO: School Leaver

What is the industry about?

Working in the charity, not-for-profit and NGO (non-governmental organisation) industry can be both fun and rewarding. Those who work in the industry are passionate and caring about a particular cause. It could be that they care about the environment or the welfare of animals – who doesn’t want a cute kitten to live in a happy and safe home?

Working for these companies isn’t just about going to your nearest city every weekend with a bucket to collect donations. Larger organisations and charities such as UNICEF, Amnesty International and Cancer Research UK will have entire departments dedicated to marketing and advertising, for example. Employees will be paid a salary, but the end-goal of the organisation is still the same: raising money for its dedicated cause.

School leavers are just as likely as university graduates to get a career in the charity, not-for-profit and NGO industry, you just need to make sure your CV is packed out with voluntary experience and lots of evidence that you’re passionate about the cause you say you are. Though the wages in this industry are lower than other industries, the feeling of reward and progress surrounding the work you do is in a league of its own.

What opportunities are there available to me?

- Volunteering

- Fundraising

- School leaver programmes and internships.

Volunteering is the ultimate way to get your foot in the metaphorical charity, not-for-profit and NGO door. It shows that you’re interested and compassionate about the work you’re doing and demonstrates a sense of commitment. Why not spend your weekends volunteering in the local community or take a commanding lead in fundraising events at your school? It’s not just in the UK where you can volunteer either. You could take a gap year and help build a school or shelter in developing countries. Whilst gap years are a bit pricey, the experience will be second to none and the sense of achievement will leave you beaming from ear to ear.

Fundraising is slightly different to volunteering and can involve media work and promoting your cause to the press and brainstorming ideas for projects and campaigns to increase awareness about what your charity does. You could be competing with university graduates for these roles though, so it may be worthwhile going to university to gain some extra education and skills you can show off in order to break into the fundraising world. You need to understand who the market and audience is, and therefore research skills are required – a skill you can gain from completing university projects.

Some organisations will also offer a school leaver programme or internship to willing volunteers. The slight issue with these is that organisations in the charity, not-for-profit and NGO industry don’t need to pay their volunteers the National Minimum Wage, but they will sometimes pay a reasonable amount for lunch and travel costs. However, the programmes and internships do offer real work and responsibilities as well as providing experience in the marketing, retail, communications or operations sector. 

Setting the school leaver record straight

There’s always one loud mouth at school who spouts out drivel about how doing Apprenticeships and school leaver programmes is useless and doesn’t provide any real experience. All we can say about this is that this information is a lie. All lies! There are few Apprenticeships in the charity, not-for-profit and NGO industry but school leaver programmes and internships are available. Be warned, as mentioned above they do not necessarily guarantee a salary or wage, though the experience gained is valuable and transferable to other jobs or industries.

Formal education: should I stay or should I go?

The charity, not-for-profit and NGO industry is accessible from any stage once you’ve completed your GCSEs. Be warned though, if you want to move into management or more senior positions, it is likely that you need a degree. Many larger organisations also have graduate schemes, which are (believe it or not) only available to graduates.

If you’re super-duper sure that the university route isn’t for you, you can secure a job if you have loads of voluntary experience. 

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