12 career options in the charity sector

When some people think of charities, they think of second hand clothing stores, donating to the Red Cross, or volunteering with disadvantaged children. But the charity sector encompasses so much more.
Brianne Turk
Brianne Turk
Team GradAustralia
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Working for a charity provides you with the opportunity to bring together your passion, unique strengths, education and at the very heart of it, your capacity to work towards to an improved world. With this is mind, it’s no wonder so many people are interested in charity work employment.

Charity work

In everyday life, the term charity work is loosely thrown around to mean ‘helping others’, and doesn’t necessarily refer to work carried out by a charity. You might say you’re performing charity work by collecting blankets to distribute to those experiencing homelessness, even though you’re doing this independently of an organisation. Likewise, a not-for-profit organisation that rescues animals may undoubtedly be helping others, but may not be a registered charity.

To make things clear, here we’ll refer to charity work as the kind of work you can find at a registered charity. Basically, this is a not-for-profit organisation that has a legally approved charitable purpose. To gain a better understanding of what makes an organisation a registered charity, check out Not-for-profits, charities & NGOs. What’s the difference?

It’s also worth debunking a couple of common misconceptions about charity work, namely that all not-for-profit organisations set up to help people, animals or the environment are charities, and that all charity work is unpaid. To set the record straight, neither of these are true.

The basics

Registered charities all work for a cause: improving the lives of refugees, sustaining the natural environment, promoting education in Indigenous communities, protecting endangered animals, and the list goes on. Sound enticing? Indeed it’s the very nature of this work that provides employees with higher job satisfaction than most sectors, which in turn creates stiff competition for roles.

Charity work not only feels good but you can get paid too, and there are so many charities offering exciting, career-progressing employment. Unfortunately these salaries are typically lower than those in the public and private sectors, and this is a direct result of charities reinvesting as much of their profits as possible to continue carrying out their mission. While many charities combine paid and volunteer staff, some are run entirely by volunteers. So if you’d prefer to volunteer, you can rest assured that there are always charities looking for dedicated and passionate individuals to lend a hand. This could be a fantastic way to kick-start your career

Charities vary greatly in size, and the sector itself is incredibly broad, requiring generalist and specialist workers from a range of academic and work experience backgrounds. This is one of the greatest aspects of the sector — workers don’t have to have studied a specific degree. From a botanist working to protect endangered plants, to a pilot helping ill children reach medical care, there really is no end to the different types of charity roles you can find.

To give you a greater sense of the industry, here are twelve popular areas of charity employment that might interest you:

Administration

What is it? All things admin! This involves filing, writing emails, answering calls and scheduling meetings, as well as the opportunity to liaise with other organisations and the media to spread the word.

What will help you get there: Administrative experience in any sector, management/business/social administrative qualifications, and volunteer experience in not-for-profits.

Community work

What is it? Assisting communities to identify & leverage existing strengths, and build their capacity to be self-sustaining. Your aim is to improve communities and the lives of those within them, particularly those who are disadvantaged. This includes educating and advocating for individuals or groups, facilitating programs, identifying barriers to success, implementing action plans, establishing new services etc.

What will help you get there: Qualifications in social work, community services, community development, public administration, law or international studies. Prior experience working with people from disadvantaged backgrounds — whether through university placements, volunteering or paid work — is also helpful.

Corporate social responsibility

What is it? Businesses taking responsibility for the effect their work has on society and the environment, and implementing initiatives to minimise negative impacts. This role includes researching and analysing an organisation’s operations, and working on initiatives such as lowering their carbon footprint, ensuring ethical practices, implementing sustainability measures.

What will help you get there: As a fairly new area of expertise, these positions recruit from a wide range of backgrounds. Any studies or employment in consulting, sustainability or the environment would be seen as a bonus.

Environmental work

What is it? Sustaining and improving the natural environment through roles such as an environmental consultant, researcher, education officer, project manager or conservation officer. This may involve researching for new projects, coming up with strategies to harness natural resources, educating the public and other organisations on environmental issues, building relationships, working hands-on with nature, running tours, and providing resources.

What will help you get there: Experience and/or qualifications in science, biology environmental studies, engineering, criminal justice or agriculture.

Finance

What is it? Keeping detailed and transparent financial records, creating budgets, overseeing the entire financial operations of the charity, and reporting to the ATO and any other relevant bodies. These financial records are critical not only for audit preparation, but also so that donors can see how their financial contributions are being used by the charity. You will work closely with the fundraising, grants and lobbying teams who will draw upon your reports when trying to secure more support.

What will help you get there: Qualifications in finance and business. This role is difficult to land without formal qualifications.

Fundraising/Grants manager/Philanthropy manager

What is it? Securing funds for the charity. This can be done through approaching individuals and businesses, brainstorming and implementing strategies to raise corporate giving, and organising activities such as fundraising drives, community events, raffles etc. You’ll develop and oversee innovative ways to reach the public in order to drum up support and donations.

What will help you get there: Experience and/or qualifications in fundraising, sales, business or marketing. Negotiation skills are highly sought after.

Human Resources

What is it? Ensuring that the people who work at the charity both as employees and volunteers are well looked after, happy and well trained. This role also includes taking care of recruitment, contractual agreements, complaints, and other people-related matters.

What will help you get there: A qualification in human resources is best. Management and administration experience is also beneficial.

International development

What is it? This is similar to community work but involves bigger projects on an international scale. You’ll be promoting human rights and improving the living standards of communities across the world, by addressing key issues such as famine, disease, dependence on foreign aid etc. Other tasks include educating and building the capacity of communities so they can be sustainable economically, environmentally and socially. Roles within this area include research analysts, project managers, legal and financial advisors, social/community workers, education and health specialists, construction workers, event coordinators and more.

What will help you get there: Qualifications in community work, social work, business management, environmental studies, urban planning, health, finance, building, international studies, education, sustainability and more.   

IT & Technology

What is it? Just like any other workplace, charities require people with expertise in technology to develop, implement, and troubleshoot their internal systems, as well as design and support client-facing technology. Tasks include software and website development, cyber security management, user testing, data analysis, and supporting social media teams.

What will help you get there: Qualifications and/or experience in IT, computer engineering and analytics.

Lobbying and political pressure

What is it? Influencing members of government to take action by changing policy or throwing their support behind either the charity itself or issues that affect the charity. Tasks include advocating for those who the charity represents, drumming up political pressure, organising lobby groups, raising public awareness, and in some cases running mass media campaigns. If the charity doesn’t hire separate researchers and analysts, you will also be required to find your own statistics, policies and other information to support your arguments.

What will help you get there: Qualifications in political science, law, economics, research or analysis. Experience in politics, research and third-sector organisations.  

Marketing, communications and campaigns

What is it? Getting the word out there! Publicity, social media, advertising, campaigns, representing the charity at events, being the point of contact for media enquiries, managing relationships..this list goes on! Your aim is to boost the charity’s profile via whatever marketing and communication means you have at your disposal.

What will help you get there: Marketing, communications and public relations degrees. Experience in any of the former.

Volunteer coordination

What is it? The charity sector is full of volunteers, and like paid staff they need to be managed. Volunteer coordination involves the recruitment, training, and management of volunteer workers. This task may involve developing marketing strategies to attract volunteers, conducting interviews, creating training resources, carrying out training, managing schedules, providing feedback, and reporting to other departments within the charity.

What will help you get there: Experience in not-for-profits, volunteer work, managing teams, coordination, social work or administration is really helpful. There are no strict qualifications required, however management, social work or administration studies could give you added credibility.  

As you can see, the range of employment options within the charity sector is incredibly diverse, and these are just a handful of the positions that are out there. You’ll find so many more during your own employment search.  

If you’re unsure about what type of charity work you’re interested in, or you’re still tossing up whether charity work is really your thing, be sure to check out our article Is charity work for me?.