What is… NGO Work? (The Communications Edition)

The charity sector continues to grow and change, as it attracts more and more graduates each year.

Finding somewhere to start can be challenging, so I have been sharing some of my own experiences. My experience with the International Citizenship Service can be found here, and below I go into working as a ‘Communications and Fundraising Officer’ for a small charity in Uganda.


What attracted you to working in charity?

“When I was at university everything was centred around banking, consultancy or law. If you weren’t a medic or heading for a first, those were your only options. It all seemed to be about money.

I decided to take some time out after university, with the plan of going to work at Goldmans or like the next year. I then found myself volunteering in Uganda and my life literally changed in that time. The thought of going running after money wasn’t really an option anymore. I wanted something more, to do something that really mattered.”


Why communications?

“To say that I fell into communications wouldn’t be much of an exaggeration. I had done student journalism and had a knack for social media, so thought why not combine the two and see what happens.”


Did you want to go into this when you were younger?

“Not at all. I actually have dyspraxia and had never even considered working in the charity sector or communications. Growing up I considered teaching, law and veterinary science. I guess they all did have the common theme of helping people so it might have been that I wasn’t aware of the sector rather than actively against it.”


What was the application procedure like?

“It’s all about who you know, not what you know, right? I got this job by networking in Uganda and being willing to work hard. That was literally it.

Oh, and being willing to work for free. There’s always a catch after all.”


What are the common misconceptions people have about your job?

“Well people presume you are being paid. That is always one of the big misconceptions. But no, instead of going through Instagram and watching Netflix when I got home, I would log onto a charities website and try to increase their audience so that they can launch something amazing.

So I guess people presume that a lot of charitable donations end up in the offices in the West, but in startups and grassroots development initiatives, I haven’t seen that at all.”


What are the best bits about the job?

“What you can achieve. Those hours I spent making videos and memes, finding interesting links and sorting out email mailing lists, meant that there are some women in Uganda who are now able to support their family. That is an amazing feeling.

It was also incredible to have a tangible result I was working too. That can be rare in communications but by combining that with fundraising, when I doubled that fundraising target, it was such a good feeling. Accountable achievements are a fantastic thing in so many ways.”


And the worst bits?

“The amount of people who don’t want to support amazing initiatives is depressing, especially when they are snapping shots of their Starbucks on the way home.”


What will your next year involve?

“This was a short-term post so I am currently trying to get a bit more experience behind me and also applying for masters.”


Where do you see yourself in five years?

“Hopefully working for one of the big charities and making sure their work gets told in an inspiring and upbeat way, but I remain open to seeing different ways I can use my skills and passions in the world around me. It is an ever-changing place and that is one of the exciting things about it.”


Three words which describe your job

“Inspiring, varied, passionate”


What are your tips for someone else entering this sector?

“Be willing to work your way up from the bottom… and the side: While the NGO world has a lot of jobs out there, there is a lot of competition. So be willing to do the grotty work, and also willing to gain experience in different sectors which you can then bring back to the table.

Remember why you are there in the first place: This isn’t going to be a sector where you get rich quickly and it can also be a sector which can get really tough. Remember you are there because of the impact you can make and keep working to make that a reality.

Don’t be greedy: Repeat – this isn’t about the money.”



So if you want to get into charity work, why not check out some of the incredible charity placements or get some professional experience to you can side step in as an experienced graduate later on.


Eleanor Booth is a Cambridge Graduate who likes taking on the big issues and players. Check out her personal blog here and her LinkedIn here

Inspiring Interns is a graduate recruitment agency specialising in matching career starters with graduate jobs. For everything from marketing internships to graduate jobs Manchester, click here. Alternatively, stay on the blog for more great graduate careers advice.