Let's stop calling charity a job.

Posted on
08th Nov 2017
by Ellie Dawes

Charity Apprentice University charity

The way people perceive our careers needs to change.

When someone asks me what my job is, I answer by telling them where I work. 

"What do you do?"

"I work for a charity."

Because that's what you do if someone asks you what your job is and it's a job they won't understand or the place you work is the most interesting bit. "I work for a bank" "I work at The London Eye".

But, in our sector, there's a problem with that. People don't realise that you're telling them where you work instead of what you do. Everyone thinks "charity" is a job. 

It's that time of year when Ruth, Anjali, Lucy and I travel to university careers fairs to tell students "how to get a charity job".  We sit on panels, we give talks, we man charity career stalls. We answer questions from inspiring young people who don't know what they are good at yet but they know they want to be a force for good in the world.

And I keep telling them: charities will not want to hire you because you care about children or animals or whatever their cause is. A charity will want to hire you for an event management job because you're good at running events. We'll want to hire you as a designer because you're good at designing stuff, a community fundraisier because you're great at motivating people in your community, and a programming officer because you make evidence-led decisions and are really really good at using spreadsheets.

If you care about our cause, that's a plus. But lots of people care about childhood inequality, and it doesn't mean they know how to write a decent email.

This is a problem for those people who don't know what they want to do but they want to make the world better. Because they don't understand which jobs to apply for, what the charity job titles mean.  They don't know what skills they need, they are working in the dark. They are researching, networking, accumulating experience for some mythical generic "charity job" that doesn't really exist. 

Meanwhile there are those graduates who are extremely skilled at exactly the stuff charities need. Event organisers, communicaters, finance wizards, project managers, sales people, marketeers etc. So many useful people don't even consider looking into "charity work" because they perceive "charity" as a single career for saintly people with above-average empathy. They walk right past the Charity Apprentice stall. 

Last week, at The University of Kent, my old uni, I requested to speak to students studying event management about why they should apply for charity roles. I wrote a hour long talk about why working in events in the charity sector is better than working in events anywhere else. Not a single budding event manager turned up to the talk. Instead, the room was full of people who want to "work in charity" and had no specific interest in events 

On 21st November I'm heading to Bristol for their Careers Beyond Profit fair I'm on a panel with other great people who work in the charity sector. I really enjoy this fair, last year it was very well run and extremely useful. But if I'm really honest, I think I should be on a panel with people who work in marketing and comms speaking to people who want to work in marketing and comms. I work in marketing and comms.

If universities would like to help their students find great careers that are suited to their skills, I believe they should invite a charity professional to EVERY careers panel, to talk about their finance careers, marketing careers, project management careers or event careers. (We have a challenge in the Child.org office: try to think of a career that you can't do in the charity sector. So far the only one we can think of is arms dealer.)

I'm looking forward to speaking in Bristol, and I loved visiting Kent, because the young people who want to work in the charity sector are brilliant, inspiring people who need advice on how to be useful to the world. They just need to work out what their skills and interests are, and then offer them to the charity sector. They can use those skills to create the change they want to see in the world. Our Charity Apprentice course helps them to do exactly that.

But I also want to reach out to those people who don't know they should be working in charity yet. I was one of those people when I graduated - I was good at writing and communicating so I went after a career in publishing. I then spent several years working very successfully on websites for air conditioning professionals and DIY retailers. I couldn't believe it when I discovered, age 27, that I could do my job for a charity. I could be writing stuff in a sector where the work's much more interesting, the pay is good, and all the money made by the organisation as a result of my work goes to cure cancer or help children living in poverty. Why didn't anyone tell me that when I was 21?

That's why I joined Child.org two years ago, to launch Charity Apprentice. Charity Apprentice is a training course that plugs the gaps for everyone.

  • It shows the people who want to make a difference the most effective way that they personally can do that
  • It gives the people who want to do a specific job in the sector that all-important professional charity experience
  • It champions and explains the specific, difficult charity skills and knowledge that you only have if you work in the sector
  • It enables anyone to qualify for their first job in the sector - without having to work full time for free

Unless you want to be an arms dealer, you can do your job in the charity sector and it will be better than doing it elsewhere. So I'm going to stop telling people I "work in charity" and start telling people "I work in marketing and comms for a charity". 

If you want a great job, apply for Charity Apprentice. It really is as simple as that!