In the five years of running Charity Fast-Track, we’ve helped countless career changers transition into more meaningful work.
We’ve started to spot some patterns along the way. Want to know what our most successful graduates have in common? Read on…
Find Your “How”
“I want to discover more about the different opportunities out there”
When a career-changer tells us this it’s usually a great sign as it means they’ve decided to focus their ambitions. The charity sector is vast, and whilst recruiters are typically welcoming of talent joining the sector, context is vital. Before they assess your skills and experience they will want to understand why, of the thousands of possible routes to social impact, you chose to start with their organisation.
Find your why
It may be that you’re already driven to work towards a specific cause, but finding that this alone isn’t enough. Besides that, many great charities solve the kinds of social or systemic problems that few would ever anticipate spending their career on, so the old advice to “find your why” is one that our most successful career changers take lightly: knowing how you’ll change the world tends to prove more useful.
You can’t be what you can’t see
As a result, the career changers who stand out typically take some time to understand the different functions within the business of charity. That may sound obvious, but the old saying “you can’t be what you can’t see” applies here. You might be inspired to become a professional fundraiser, but there’s a world of difference between the skills needed for writing bids and tenders, compared to supporting challenge events. Part of the journey as you build you new career is working out how your existing skills apply in this new context.
Professional Skills in a Charity Context
Charity Fast-Track focuses on developing and showcasing your professional skillset within the context of charity work. Our most successful graduates get this, and are strategic about their professional development.
Volunteering is a great starting point, but not merely as an opportunity to practice skills or boost for your CV. We advise our learners to volunteer with a plan: show professional curiosity about everyone you meet, and meet everyone you possibly can – especially if they have job titles that seem unfamiliar. What is their purpose in that organisation? What skills do they need, what experience do they bring, and why is their job worth aspiring towards?
Work out where your skills don’t fit
Working out where your skills don’t fit is useful too. You might decide not to pursue a charity operations role, for instance, or events management, or in the ever-expanding world of charity data, but by learning about these professional paths you may just become a better colleague to the people who do, especially considering that smaller charities (where it helps to be a generalist) make up a huge proportion of the jobs market. That breadth of knowledge will have a practical impact right away: career changers are often keen not to start at the bottom, so even a basic understanding of, say, charity finance will be reassuring for your fellow professionals when it comes to planning your first budget.
Find Your Tribe
Increasingly, there is less need for career changers to feel like they’re “on the outside, looking in”.
Part of what makes career changing so scary is walking away from your existing networks; we all depend on contacts, friends and role models, especially during career transitions when we risk the possibility of multiple rejections.
Our most successful career changers understand that building a new network is a priority, and that’s why we focus so much on peer support. We know they’ll bounce back from setbacks more quickly, hear about new opportunities sooner, and start making an impact on those around them before most. Self-doubt is the single biggest barrier we see; it’s in all of us. Finding role models and people to bounce ideas off? That’s what helps people keep going.
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Charity professionals are increasingly well connected online and typically are very generous with their time and insight. Is your Twitter timeline full of people sharing expertise on the sector you’re walking away from? Perhaps it’s time for a clearout. The more charity sector people you follow, the richer your learning becomes. Take a few minutes every day to research who is doing exciting work, how it got funded, and what impact it has. Charity Connect is a wonderful place to ask questions or find resources, whilst LinkedIn groups such as Non Profit Network, Charity UK, or UK Fundraising are full of people willing to share.
That sharing culture is part of what makes working in charity so great; we built Charity Fast-Track’s syllabus from sector experts volunteering their knowledge and advice, and we’re always stunned at how far people will go to welcome and support newcomers to the sector. “Please share my email address, tell your learners to add me on LinkedIn and to get in touch if they need anything” is the kind of message we hear repeatedly, often from the busiest of people. The most successful career changers we meet don’t need a second invitation to make contact.
Recommend to a friend
Finally before you entirely abandon your old network, consider reaching out to them; you might be surprised at who already has links to the world of charity. Besides, when faced with the possibility of rejection, it’s always healthy to be around those who remind of your value to the world.