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Make a Difference in Your Community: A Guide to Working for Charities and Volunteering

According to The National Council for Voluntary Organisations, nearly one in two staff in this sector are over 45, and more than one in four is over 55.

James Marsh
James Marsh
A published author, as well as a corporate and lifestyle media professional, James works across content, marketing and consultancy.

Introduction: Why Should You Work For a Charity or Volunteer?

Charities truly value the experience, expertise and flexibility that older workers offer and many rely on older volunteers for their success. And it’s not just the organisations who benefit. The Centre for Ageing Better's research has found that people who volunteer tend to be happier and have a better quantity and quality of relationships. This is echoed by the Royal Voluntary Service which says, “More than 80 per cent of our volunteers tell us the work they do has improved their mental health and sense of wellbeing.”

Finding a Charity or Cause That You Care About:

Job satisfaction in the charity sector is one of the highest to be found out of all sectors. Charities appeal to many over-50s, as it gives a sense of purpose, where people feel they are giving something back to society.

This desire for “purpose” has been shown to increase with age, so it’s natural the over-50s find themselves looking for something where they can make a difference – and the charity sector can be an ideal fit.

Paid Work or Volunteering?

It's important to distinguish between paid work and volunteering. Many people make a career of working in the charity sector and amass sector-specific skills, such as fundraising or community outreach. As with many other sectors, paid positions will involve a formal application process, and may require certain qualifications and experience.

Applying for a volunteering role can be a less formal process, though there will still be some kind of application procedure to follow, which may involve providing references or DBS checks. Non-paid volunteering allows you to be flexible in how you contribute your skills and time. Plus, it doesn’t demand the same level of long-term commitment as a paid role – for both you and the charity.

Volunteering also grants you the chance to explore different roles and organisations, and gives you the opportunity to demonstrate your dedication, skills, and commitment – and that can be a pathway to paid employment.

The Benefits of Working For a Charity or Volunteering

Charity workers are among the happiest in their work across all professions and are the second highest in having good work relationships. Admittedly, salaries aren’t as high as in some commercial sectors, but over-50s often feel happy to trade some salary for a more rewarding career. Finance roles draw the highest average salaries in the sector of around £49,300 in 2023, while admin roles have the lowest average salary of £26,200.

What Roles Are Available in UK Charities?

Charities have many of the same roles on offer as other industries, such as administrative support, event planning, and marketing and communications.

They also have roles which are more sector-specific, such as fundraising manager, volunteer manager and community outreach specialist. You can find opportunities with charities that welcome over-50s workers and are age-inclusive employers on Work/Redefined.

What Transferrable Skills Are in Demand?

Older workers often have decades of useful work and life experience, and this can be an invaluable asset to volunteer organisations. Sometimes it can be difficult to remember all the skills you have. The following skills are always in demand:

  • Project management.
  • Fundraising.
  • Leadership.
  • Problem-solving.
  • Strategic thinking.

And don’t forget the soft skills of communication, organisation and teamwork. Plus, enthusiasm goes a long way. Older workers tend to be more patient, more reliable and likely to stay around for longer – all attractive traits for any volunteer organisation.

Moving From the Commercial to Charity Sector

While the commercial and charity sectors may have different financial imperatives, finding a new role will use familiar processes:

  • Research – find out what each organisation does and assess how you can answer their needs.
  • Network – many opportunities are not advertised, so network your contacts and let them know you are thinking of making a move.
  • Use LinkedIn to discover which of your colleagues already has associations with charities and ask for help to make contact.
  • Be patient – it may take time, persistence and tenacity to find a role. Be open to entry-level or unpaid positions, to gain experience and demonstrate your passion.

Finding Jobs in the Charity Sector

Start by exploring online job boards dedicated to the charity sector – start by searching the charity roles, both paid and volunteer, in Work/Redefined. You can also visit CharityJob and ThirdSectorJobs. Think about volunteering – and networking – with local organisations, and if your speciality is finance, consider professional bodies such as the Chartered Institute of Fundraising.

Three Tips to Start Your Volunteering Journey

1. Identify your passions and interests – and then choose a cause that resonates with you and your values.

2. Research – contact charities and voluntary organisations directly to find out about roles.

3. Be flexible – consider part-time, project-based or even remote volunteering, to get your foot on the ladder.

It's also worth creating a CV that is specific to the charity and volunteering sector, which shows your experience, willingness to engage and enthusiasm. Reflect on what you might have done in the past with schools, children’s sports teams, raising money for charitable causes and so on.

Working for a charity can be a great way to fulfil a need for purpose and starting out as a volunteer can result in a flexible and rewarding paid position. And, if you can't find the charity you want to work for, you can always consider doing what Alison did, and starting your own! Read her inspirational story.