Charities: In good company

They are often run like businesses, and offer a range of professional roles
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The Independent Online

Let's face it, everybody would rather work for an organisation they felt was making a difference to a cause they care about," says Sush Amar of the Charity Commission. "If you work for a charity, you have a head-start in terms of intrinsic job satisfaction."

This, she believes, is one of the key reasons that more people are moving into the charity sector. "Money doesn't seem to mean as much to people as in the 1980s or 1990s, which was a far more 'me, me, me' generation," adds Kieran McGorrian, director of specialist charity recruitment consultancy Aquilas. "People travel a lot more to places like Africa and Asia and realise how great we've got it, and want to do something to help. I've noticed a lot of people are doing MBAs in international development," he says.

Don't expect working for a charity to be a soft option, McGorrian cautions. Competition for jobs is hot, partly because of the number of people trying to move into the sector, and partly because charities are becoming more like businesses.

"To survive, charities have to be run more professionally. They are also expected to be far more accountable and transparent than in the past. So they want people who can hit the ground running and who can be a real asset to their organisation," says McGorrian. "Because of this, people who are already working for the sector are often at an advantage."

Graduates - an increasing number of whom want to begin their careers working for a charity - may find it particularly difficult to get a job, he says. "Not many charities offer graduate programmes now."

The best way in, both for graduates and others, is to get some voluntary experience, McGorrian advises. "Voluntary work gives you some experience and shows that you are not motivated by money, but by helping."

Justin Davis-Smith, deputy chief executive of Volunteering England (VE), reports that this is the ideal time to find voluntary work, with 2005 having been designated the Year of the Volunteer. "The idea was to create a legacy whereby people of all ages and backgrounds have a chance to volunteer, and not necessarily for altruistic reasons," he says. "No longer is volunteering seen as a gift relationship, but a two-sided approach. A large part of the aim of the Year of the Volunteer is to say it's OK that you want to get something out of it too."

Despite charities' preference for experience within the sector, Raya Wexler, director of the recruitment consultancy Charity Job, says many employers are starting to recognise the value of some skills learned outside. "A third of the jobs we are currently advertising are for fundraisers and, because there just aren't enough existing fundraisers applying, many charities are now willing to look at people with marketing skills from outside the sector," she says. "Some charities are acting similarly when it comes to other jobs - those in senior management, human resources, communications and PR are among them. But competition is still tough."

There are benefits to charities being run more like businesses, believes Wexler. "Salaries are higher than they were and career progression is much better."

At Barnardo's, for example, there is a trend away from every job being advertised externally. "It means that once you work for us, you have a really good chance of progressing," says Philippa Laughton, director for people at Barnarado's.

She points out that the range of jobs available at Barnardo's is extensive. "In an organisation of our size, we have all sorts of departments - advertising, human resources, finance and property are just some of them - and then there's the bulk of our employees, who are specialists in the field of children and young people."

However, Luke Booth, director of HR at the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), stresses: "While there has been a drift towards all charities becoming more business-like over the past 20 years, it's really important to remember that there are some major differences. Probably the biggest for the NSPCC is that our primary goal is to look forward to the day when we are no longer needed, and most charities are in that position."

This attitude of being value-driven resonates throughout any charity, she says, and unless you passionately believe in the mission of the particular charity you're applying to, all the experience and skills in the world - whether they are gained from inside or outside the sector - won't land you a position.