I want to work in the charity sector – but can I afford it?

In response to – Financial Fairness in the Charity Sector

At the end of this year I am planning a career change – I want to work in the charity sector. It is a massive thing to consider, I have a 9-month-old baby, a huge mortgage to pay and a husband who is also looking to change jobs too. It’s a risk, but I want to work for something that has impact in the community I live in.

I live in Cambridge, a city I love, but a city that was the most unequal in the UK last year. The bottom 20% of earners take just 2% of the income generated by its residents. Homelessness is a big problem, children’s centres are being shut, food bank users are increasing


Cambridge is a city in need of help and I want to be a part of it. I’ve worked in academia for seven years, and I believe my skills in research, public engagement and project management would be great for many areas of the charity sector. I want to work somewhere having impact on my city. But is it ok that I also want a decent salary? As I mentioned above, Cambridge is an unequal city and a lot of that is because it is an expensive one. Housing, transport, childcare, getting someone out to do repairs, all of these are a lot more expensive than the rest of the UK. 

So, I need a decent wage to keep up with the family costs of living. However, a lot of the media and public expect charities to spend very little on wages. There is a lot of anger towards paying the kind of salaries and admin costs that are unsurprising in the private sector. Let’s take Apple, in the fourth quarter of 2018 their revenue was $62.9bn, of which 38.3% was profit. That means they spent 61.7% on overheads or in other words $38.8bn on design, admin, advertising, wages etc. Totally worth it when your profit is $24bn. But how would we react if a similar percentage of donations were spent on the running costs of a charity? Certainly, the Daily Mail would hate it. Unfortunately, the public (and the Daily Mail) is unaware that charities that spend more money on overheads are more effective in raising funds for their beneficiaries. 

Tedx Talk: how we bring about positive social change in the world

The amazing people who have the skills and the ambition to innovate charities to have more impact are locked within a private sector who will pay well to keep them. I’m not saying people’s motives are solely driven by high salaries, but it is a massive factor when the cost of living is so high. We need a change in public mindset that our donations are actually investments into a charity who can grow it further, rather than donations that go straight to beneficiaries. For example, Charity Concierge used 100% of donations, £10K, and turned them into £150K per year. There is so much potential when money is allowed to grow. 

I want to be part of this process, to be innovative and to have impact… but can I afford a career change to do this?


I followed my passions and completed the charity foundation course in November 2019.

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