Tips on transitioning into the charity sector

Changing career can sometimes feel overwhelming. As Coordinator of Charity Fast-Track Foundation, many of the learners I speak to start out that way: often they have become accustomed to a specific role for a certain period of time. Re-evaluating what we want, our skills and how we can transition into a new role can seem daunting. So here is some advice, based on my own experience as a teacher/trainer who transitioned into the charity sector, and as a career coach.

1.     Get clear on your ‘WHY’

Knowing precisely why you want to change career and why the charity sector is the right next step for you will be your compass throughout your transition. When we know why we do something, it gives us purpose, a powerful drive to achieve our goal and a clear sense of direction. There are a multitude of ways to discover your real motivation. One of them is to get crystal clear on your values. It is a great start to know what you don’t want. Usually that’s our first response ‘I don’t want to stay in the same role’ or ‘I don’t like the environment I am in’. Mine was ‘I don’t want to work on my own’. It was really helpful to know what I needed to get away from.

Once I had clarified what I didn’t want, the driving energy was to know what I actually did want. I wanted a career with purpose, variety, collaboration, and coaching. I also knew exactly why I needed those aspects in my career, therefore I was able to develop strategies to get there. So, my suggestion to you is to explore your values in your personal and professional life. What do you feel drawn to? What about the charity sector resonates with you? Why would you want this change?

“Look back on your past roles or professional experiences. Ask yourself what you are really proud of.”

2.     Know your strengths and the skills you want to acquire

Acknowledging or recognising your strengths may not always be an easy task, especially for those of us who value modesty. That being said, it is time to gear yourself up with some tools to identify those skills. Then you can learn how to best communicate them to potential employers. Some questions you could ask yourself: what are you good at? What do others tell you you are good at and what do you find easy to do? Which skills would you like to use more, or develop further? If identifying your strengths is challenging, send a message to a couple of trustworthy friends. Ask them what they think those skills are. It is such a lovely exercise to do by the way- regardless of where you are at in your career!

Trusting your skills and achievements will help you build confidence and therefore engage others. I always see the question asked in interviews about achievements as a way to connect with what you really value in yourself. Look back on your past roles or professional experiences. Ask yourself what you are really proud of. Most likely, this will be one of the most compelling answers you will give.

3.     Connect and gather information

The charity sector is diverse, with a variety of roles that you may not have considered if you hadn’t talked to someone about your intentions. If you have an interest in a specific role already, get in touch with a person who has experience in this job. You can ask them what they like about it and what is more challenging. What are the skills needed? Could any of your current skills be an asset? People are generally happy to help if they sense the request comes from a place of authenticity.

If you are not sure of the type of roles you want at this stage, that’s fine too. Gathering information on potential job titles you are interested in and the skills needed can help you narrow down your options. I transitioned into my first managerial role within the charity sector by asking, connecting and being genuinely interested. I was motivated to advance my career in an environment that felt right. So be genuinely curious in your approach and start creating your career development map with the information you get.

“Where do you have the most experience- is it education? Finance? Healthcare? Design? How can this be applied to the charity sector?”

4.     Ask yourself the right questions

Another way to get some clarity on how and where to start is to question some aspects of the environment you want to work in. Do you want to work in an office environment or directly with the beneficiaries? Indoors or outdoors? What is the cause that you feel passionate about? Would you rather work on a project or have a variety of tasks? Those questions are more environment-focused and can help you identify your preferences.

Another way to look at how to transition into the charity sector is to find the transferable skills that could come from your background: where do you have the most experience- is it education? Finance? Healthcare? Design? How can this be applied to the charity sector? Using your background is a great asset to get some leverage. It can demonstrate your understanding of certain aspects of the sector and cause. This will be useful even though you don’t have experience in the role as such.

“You can’t fully predict the destination but you can certainly take steps towards what you think is the right direction. Any step will prepare you for the next one, so trust the process.”

5.     Start where you are and take a step

Transitioning into a completely different role and sector at the same time is possible but it takes a lot of time and energy. You may need to take on a course or get a qualification and invest in developing some completely new skills. If that’s what you want, then that’s really great and go for it. For the rest of you who may need to be in a role more quickly, the best piece of advice I was given is to start where you are, with what you have. Have a look at your CV, what is the common thread in terms of your interests? What were the best experiences you had and why? You already know more than you think, so use this information effectively. If you wonder whether or not a type of role is for you, there is nothing better than experiencing it.

I am aware that not everyone can take on an internship or volunteer full time, but there are other ways to get a feel for an area. Let’s imagine you want to explore digital marketing. How about taking a free online course to see how you like it and maybe help your friend who has a business? FutureLearn is a great platform for trying things out without immediate financial investments. If you want to know if Events could be your next step- how about organising a local event within your community and see if you enjoy the process? You like filming and editing- how about offering to make a short promotional video for a small charity or a social enterprise? There are plenty of small organisations who could really benefit from such support. It’ll also give you some experience and insight into the role.

My experience

I was an intercultural trainer in the private as well as the charity sector and a university lecturer for years. My common thread was personal development. I loved empowering others, equipping them with skills to navigate their own journey and I wanted to develop those skills in a different way. I attended a free coaching workshop which led me to train as a coach, before starting my own part-time business.

At the same time, I kept volunteering a few hours a week for a small charity. I got offered a permanent role tailored to my skills a couple of months later. Today, I feel I am where I wanted to be with all the essential aspects that I needed to be fulfilled in my career and it keeps evolving in a positive way. You can’t fully predict the destination but you can certainly take steps towards what you think is the right direction. Any step will prepare you for the next one, so trust the process. Career change takes time, determination and most importantly it requires a plan- but with the right strategy, it is really well worth it.

Coraline Pawlak is Charity Fast-Track’s Course Coordinator, she currently delivers on our Foundation programme. She has an extensive background in adult education, wellbeing, coaching, Learning & Development in the private as well as the charity sector. She is also a qualified confidence & career coach and an NLP practitioner.

Our next Charity Fast-Track Foundation Course is perfect for those looking to transition into the sector. Sign up now.