This page has been written by Kristyn Emmer
, the relevant Careers Adviser for this occupational area. To see how you can meet Kristyn, or any of our advisers, visit our website
The voluntary sector is made up of not-for profit organisations or charities which respond to identified needs that are not adequately met by either the state or profit-making organisations. Charities are usually set up by passionately committed individuals and continue to attract such people to their ranks. Individual charities range from the very small and entirely volunteer staffed to the significantly large eg Oxfam employs over 5,500 people in the UK and abroad. Over 160,000 organisations in England and Wales have registered with the The Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator has a further 27,000 registered north of the border. The sector employs around 2% of the overall paid UK workforce (circa 765,000 people) and a further 3 million unpaid volunteers. Their UK income in 2010 was nearly £60bn. But note that government funding cuts are impacting on the revenue streams of many voluntary organisations.
A very wide range of professional, technical, research and administrative roles are available in the voluntary sector. Volunteer roles are typically less specialised and usually focused on service delivery or fund raising. In general, the smaller the organisation the more varied the tasks any worker may be expected to do.
For information on working overseas and/or ‘out in the field’ you will also find the following Careers A-Z pages useful:
Not-for-profit attributes profile
|Key attributes/skills needed for the role||Where you could develop these skills or attributes|
|Project management skills
Organising roles within societies eg for events. CAPOD offers courses on Project Management within its Professional Skills Curriculum. Also master the use of EXCEL.
|The analytical skills to solve complex problems
||These are most likely to be developed and evidenced from your academic studies, especially any dissertation or research projects.
|The ability to listen and understand both intellectually and emotionally. The ability to present arguments convincingly in speech and writing
||Presentations within your course, and mooting or debating experience. A student representative role is also likely to offer opportunities to develop these characteristics. CAPOD offers courses on Communication Skills regularly within its Professional Skills Curriculum.
Other key attributes/skills demanded for the role: do you possess them?
- Empathy: a capacity to understand different perspectives than your own
- Resilience: the work is often emotionally gruelling
- Flexibility: success will come from imaginative adaptations to local circumstances
Networks - why and how to use them
Networking is particularly important and can help you succeed with your applications. If you have been in contact with someone working for the organisation then you have extra information to back up your case for why they should employ you. Use social media sites such as LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook (many organisations have their own page) to connect with organisations. Recent St Andrews graduates have gone on to work for Barnardo's, Oxfam Scotland, Dial-a-Community Bus and Charity Works. Alumni can make extremely useful contacts, giving you an "edge" with your applications and interviews. There are several ways to make contact with alumni.
- Saint Connect - The Careers Alumni Network for St Andrews where you can make contact with alumni, get industry news, participate in discussions, and search jobs. Find out how to use Saint Connect by viewing the 'Video Tour' (bottom right-hand side of Saint Connect screen).
- LinkedIn – Alumni Tool - this feature shows the career paths of 30,000+ St Andrews Alumni. By using the search field, you can find alumni working in a particular organisation eg Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations (SCVO), Fundraising and Volunteer Co-ordinator at Caplor Horizons, Graduate Practice Development Assistant at Charity Works, Director Fundraising & Sales at NCT Charity, and Education Officer at UNICEF. Watch the YouTube video on how to use this resource.
- Graduate recruiters - ask if they can put you in touch with any alumni now working for their company.
- Friends and family - ask around your immediate social network for any contacts in the organisations which interest you.
- This networking video produced by Cass Business School gives excellent tips on effective networking.
How to gain experience/internships
In St Andrews
Use your time in St Andrews to gain relevant work experience. The opportunities to volunteer are endless and working on projects will give you many relevant skills that you will need to kick-start your career. Graduate jobs may value evidence of charity fundraising or experience of events organisation, all of which can be achieved by working on University projects or within the community.
- SVS - help you find opportunities in the local area.
- Fife Voluntary Action - maintains a list of volunteering opportunities across hundreds of organisations in Fife.
- Involvement in Societies - particularly if it involves events, fundraising or increasing awareness. Go to your union for more information.
- Can’t find the right project for you? Set one up yourself. Starting up societies or initiating volunteer projects looks even better than becoming involved in them.
- Some charities, eg NSPCC run competitions aimed at encouraging students to hold fundraising events on their behalf.
- Volunteer Scotland: searchable database
- Volunteering Matters Volunteering Matters, formerly known as CSV, is a national charity leading UK volunteering in policy and practice. Offers a range of voluntary opportunities nationwide, including occasional opportunities in Fife.
- The Charity Career Start Programme run by Bruce Tait Associates offers 10 week (unpaid) placements in Scottish charities for students and graduates who are interested in a career in fundraising. Internships can cover areas such as event management, database work, research and social media
- Barnardo’s internship scheme offers a 13 week voluntary placement, which runs in one of Barnardo's offices, children’s services or retail outlets across the UK. You can volunteer for an internship at the charity in a variety of areas such as retail, policy, fundraising and digital media.
- There are a small number of structured opportunities with some large charities (eg British Red Cross, Oxfam and UNICEF - internship programme). However, some have unusual start dates and require long commitments making them only really suitable for graduates.
- Research the Charities charities that you are interested in. Many have good volunteering search options on their websites. Look at The Charity Commission and the Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator for directories
- Most work experience opportunities in the voluntary sector will be found through researching organisations and schemes which are on-going in your area. Search the many websites which promote and advertise volunteer schemes (see below) and contact regional volunteering centres.
- Other vacation work experience will mainly be found through speculative applications and Networking. Research organisations which interest you and approach them work shadowing opportunities.
- Working Holidays (eg National Trust, RSPB, National Parks) can give you a taster of working in the voluntary sector.
How to get a (graduate) job
The links given below will lead you to positions which are advertised in this sector. Remember that evidence of commitment and networking are both very important. Jobs in this sector frequently go to those who can show that they have had a long term commitment to the voluntary sector, often through working as a volunteer in the specific area they are applying to. Often volunteers will hear of jobs that are coming up before they are advertised more generally, and will also often be the front runners for the position.
Paid positions within charities usually go to those with sought after professional or technical qualifications and experience. Other roles, eg in Policy, will usually go to those with postgraduate qualifications. It is vital for you to identify the role(s) that attracts you and to then establish the profile of qualifications, experience and skills which you will need to have in order to succeed. Spend time browsing current job adverts to get a feel for this and then make contact with people doing the jobs that appeal to you and seek their advice and experience before deciding on how to build up your own employability profile.
Building a career in this sector requires strategic thinking and a commitment to developing future opportunities for yourself through the development of a compelling mix of experience, skills and qualifications.
Please also see International Development
- Bond.org: Officially recognised by DfID, excellent information, links and vacancies.
- Idealist Voluntary and paid work in 150 countries
- International Citizen Service (ICS) is led by VSO in partnership with respected development organisations. For 18 to 25-year-olds from all backgrounds to fight poverty in overseas and UK communities. The UK government’s Department for International Development (DFID) funds 90% of the ICS programme. The other 10% is funded by volunteer fundraising.
- International Student Volunteers – a non-profit organisation that offers students the chance to volunteer abroad in some amazing countries
- International Voluntary Service - offers low cost short and long-term volunteering opportunities in a range of topics eg teaching, healthcare, childcare, construction
- My Platform2 Website aimed at students of limited means to undertake voluntary work overseas.
- OneWorld: International information, vacancies and links
- People and Planet: Information, links and vacancies
- UN Volunteers: The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) programme is the UN organization that contributes to peace and development through volunteerism worldwide. You need to be over 25 years old.
- Voluntary Service Overseas
Key UK links and resources
Careers Centre resources
Use CareerConnect, your central careers hub, to:
- Book an appointment with a careers adviser
- Search for vacancies (Job Shop, internships/work experience, graduate jobs)
- Register for events
- The Careers Centre subscribes to GoinGlobal, a specialist website with information and job vacancies worldwide.
- International Voluntary Work
- Charities Digest
- Working in the Voluntary Sector
- Working in Development
- Volunteer: A Traveller's Guide to Making a Difference Around the World
Useful Background Information
The USA job market and recruitment timetables, for both internships and graduate jobs, for sectors of employment often differ from the UK.
The Careers Centre subscribes to the reputable independent USA careers information and vacancy provider Vault. The links below will take you directly to Vault subscription resources which cover this sector. You may find further useful and relevant resources linked from there as well.
- For the Common Good: Internships with Community and Social Service Agencies - published by Internships, USA, this online resource will help you find relevant internships in the USA. (Access via subscriptions)
The following list is by no means exhaustive. It is simply designed to serve as a starting point:
- American Arab Anti Discrimination Committee ADC is a grassroots civil rights organization that welcomes people of all backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities as members. The Anthony Shadid Internship Program offers a variety of paid and unpaid positions for leadership development.
- Aspen Institute-William Randolph Hearst Endowed Scholarship for Minority Students The Non-profit Sector Research Fund, a grant-making program of the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC, annually offers the William Randolph Hearst Endowed Scholarship. The Hearst Scholar serves as a summer intern with the Fund, assisting with general research and program support for the Fund’s grant-making and outreach efforts. Various paid and unpaid internships available.
- Ayuda Ayuda operates a highly respected internship and training program. Undergraduate, graduate or law school students may chose to intern either in Ayuda's Immigration Program or its Domestic Violence / Family Law program. Unpaid Internships offered on a rolling basis.
- Center for Community Change The mission of the Center for Community Change is to promote the development of community organizing as a national force for social and economic change. Interns will develop materials, and support grassroots and national campaign activity in low-income communities, particularly immigrant communities and communities of colour.
- The Chronicle of Philanthropy Search for careers in philanthropy
- Clinton Foundation Internship and fellowship opportunities across various different areas. Positions available in New York, Boston, Little Rock, and internationally. Internships are unpaid but schedules are flexible so interns can find part-time jobs. Some stipends available based on financial need
- Collegiate Leadership Internship Program Students are placed in for-profit, non-profit and Jewish community organizations in New York City. Open to rising second years, penultimates, and finalists. Applicants must have permanent residency within a fifty mile radius of Manhattan. Paid internships.
- El Pomar Fellowship Fellows spend two years developing their leadership skills in a dynamic, active, hands-on program designed to provide them with a 360-degree view of the non-profit world. For college graduates who have some sort of Colorado connection (someone who is a state resident, has attended an in-state educational program, or has family who are current or past residents)
- Greater Washington Urban League The mission of the League is "to increase the economic and political empowerment of African Americans and other minorities and to help all Americans share equally in the responsibilities and rewards of full citizenship." Key program areas are education, employment and training; aging and health services; and housing and community development.
- Institute for Sustainable Communities Must be able to commit a minimum of 20 hours per week for up to ten weeks. Open to undergraduate and postgraduate students. Unpaid positions but reimbursements may be available for transportation
- Intercollegiate Studies Institute Graduate Fellowship Program Various Fellowships.
- The Jerusalem Fund for Education & Community Development An independent, non-profit, non-political, non-sectarian organization based in Washington, DC. Funding for operational expenses is derived from investment income. This internship is not paid, however there is a small stipend and letter of recommendation given upon the successful completion of the internship program.
- National Council of La Raza A private, non-profit, non-partisan, organization established in 1968 to reduce poverty and discrimination and improve life opportunities for all Latinos living in the United States. NCLR offers unpaid internships for undergraduate and graduate students throughout the year.
- National Democratic Institute for International Affairs Every summer, the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs (NDI), a non-profit organization working to strengthen and expand democracy worldwide, employs interns to assist in its Fundraising/Development and Program Coordination departments and Women's Political Participation team.
- New American Alliance An organization of American Latino business leaders united to promote the economic advancement of the American Latino community, with a focus on economic and political empowerment and public advocacy to improve the quality of life in the United States. New America Alliance offers internship positions for dedicated college students or recent graduates to assist on its economic and political capital agenda, its philanthropy and human capital initiatives, and in the areas of membership and marketing. Paid Internship.
- Oak Human Rights Fellowship The Oak Fellowship annually offers an opportunity for one prominent activist in international human rights to take a sabbatical leave from frontline work and spend the fall semester (mid-August to mid-December) in residence at Colby. $32,500 stipend.
- Philanthropy Roundtable Programs Seeking Part-time Interns: Publications, K-12 Education, Economic Opportunity, Database and Research, Event Planning, Public Policy and Donor Research/Development. Internship hours and days are flexible. Part-time interns (approximately 20-30 hours per week) receive a stipend of $1000 per month as well as a $90 transit benefit.
- Points of Light Foundation The foundation is a nonpartisan organization whose mission is to engage more people more effectively in volunteer community service to help solve serious social problems. Interns required who can support volunteer-based collaborations as well as develop resources and materials around volunteer leadership development, volunteer management, and volunteers as advocates and that can also help provide technical assistance and training in these areas.
- Samuel Huntington Public Service Award For graduating seniors to pursue public service anywhere in the world.
- Second Chance Employment Services A non-profit organization serving women who are in financial risk (i.e. women who are on welfare or who have been abused by their spouse). In the summer, twelve-week paid internships are available for undergraduate and graduate students. Intern assignments include research, writing, conducting surveys, and developing outreach strategies for underserved populations.
- United Planet Volunteer International Programme Co-ordinators. Ongoing positions in Boston - part-time or full-time. Unpaid.