Yesterday I visited the Wellington SPCA in Newtown. There was a lovely woman on reception who told us she used to work there as a volunteer but she had managed to gain a paid job – in an organisation she obviously loves. The downside for her is that she no longer gets to spend so much time with the kittens!
Why work in the voluntary sector?
There are many reasons why graduates consider careers in the voluntary sector. Most employees are not in it for the money (although some larger charities may pay comparable salaries to the private and public sector) – the reward is job satisfaction, giving back and knowing you are making a positive difference. The sector covers health, education, welfare, social development, law, the environment and the economy, so many organisations will be taking on major issues and problems and striving for social change.
The non-profit sector can also offer variety and choice – you can work at a local community level or for a large international charity with prospects for travel or overseas transfers. Organisations are not working to make a profit so due to tight budgets and fewer staff, they will often offer more responsibility and promotion earlier in your career. There is plenty of opportunity to develop a wide range of skills and lots of scope for creative and innovative thinking! Hours can be flexible, however be prepared to work hard.
If this sector appeals to you, here are some tips for finding paid work.
Get to know the sector
The voluntary sector is wide and varied and there are different terms used to describe it. When you are job seeking, make sure you look at all the options.
Organisations may be categorised as: non-profit, not-for-profit, voluntary, community, charity, voluntary welfare, non governmental (NGO), third sector (or sometimes fourth), independent sector and social enterprise. The types of organisations under this umbrella vary considerably from sports and social clubs to social service organisations, environmental groups and charitable trusts.
Jobs and careers are similar to those in the public and private sectors, such as HR, administration, finance, management, marketing and communications. The voluntary sector will also offer roles in fundraising, volunteer management, service delivery, programme management, advice and support roles, as well as direct work for specific causes. Often jobs will involve working with people and striving for social change so if you are a solitary sole, this sector may not be for you.
Currently, there are just under 27,000 registered charities in New Zealand. I tried hard to establish the total number of non-profit entities in this country and after a frustrating search discovered that no-one knows for sure! (According to Statistics NZ survey in 2007 there were 97,000 not-for-profit organisations so it is likely there are more today.) Per capita, New Zealand has one of the largest non-profit sectors in the world so it is a worthwhile sector to consider.
Having experience as a volunteer is one of the best ways to explore and find a paid job in the voluntary sector. You may already volunteer in some way at university and by volunteering in the community, you will learn how a non-profit organisation works, how the organisation and the sector is structured and gain valuable skills. Whether you help organise an event, volunteer in a charity shop, mentor, work with people or care for the environment, you are demonstrating commitment and interest. If there is a specific organisation you want to work for, approach them and ask if you can volunteer or shadow an employee. You will get your name known and make useful contacts.
Obtaining a job in this sector, particularly paid work, requires commitment. Larger organisations may advertise widely but often you will need to identify those that interest you and contact them directly. Use any contacts you have from volunteer roles and network in your university, at careers expos and events. Tell as many people as possible that you are looking for this type of work – the power of word of mouth is considerable.
Show passion in your application
Stand out from the crowd! If you are applying for a job make sure you communicate up front in your cover letter what skills you have to offer that will meet that particular organisation’s needs. Demonstrate flexibility and adaptability as multi-skilled candidates are sought after; you may not land your preferred role but there may other one available. Evidence your interest, values and skills by clearly outlining previous volunteering and relevant experience and why you want to work in this sector.