‘Cup of tea job’ – motivations for working in the voluntary sector

When asked what she does for work, a friend of mine who recently moved here from Japan will say ‘cup of tea job’. She means that she travels around London visiting older Japanese women who can no longer leave the house and talks to them over a cup of tea to provide company and a chance to speak in their mother tongue.

Despite the modest name she gives it, she draws great satisfaction and joy from this work as she feels she is making a difference. I don’t think she’s yet realised the double meaning in her self-appointed job title – that it’s just her cup of tea.

This made me think about people’s motivations for working in the voluntary sector. Is it always because they want to make a difference or are there other things that make people choose the sector as a career path? I’ve recently been working with a group of people on our Working For A Charity Programme looking to make the move from the public or private sector into the voluntary sector. Their motivations seem to fall into 4 areas:

Passion for a particular cause or injustice

Be it something that has affected them or a loved one, or just something that they feel very passionately about, a couple of people were strongly motivated by a particular cause. One person had devoted a lot of her spare time to Guidedogs as a puppy walker, speaker, fundraiser and sighted guide. She now wants to make this her career as well. Another is looking to set up her own charity for people experiencing chronic pain.

Wanting to make a difference more broadly

Most commonly, people felt that they needed a reason to continue to get up in the morning. To feel like they could use their skills to make a difference to other people’s lives was a real motivating factor for many in the group.

Organisational culture and benefits

Some people are attracted by the fact that many charities also offer benefits such as flexible working hours and a diverse workforce. They’re keen to work in an environment that is not driven by profit and that allows for a reasonable work-life balance.

Like-minded people

Others mentioned that it was the people they would be working with that enticed them. That they’d like to spend their working hours with people like them who are motivated by factors other than profit.

These aren’t all completely altruistic reasons, but they are arguably realistic. As long as they are committed to the mission and values of their chosen organisation, I’ve no doubt that this group of people will put their skills and experience from other sectors to good use in the voluntary sector.

If you’re looking to find your ‘cup of tea job’ in the voluntary sector then you might be interested in our next Working For A Charity Foundation Course, which starts in November 2011. You’ll find out about the voluntary sector and we’ll help you to work out where your skills best fit within it.


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Georgina Anstey presents the voluntary sector as a positive career option, reflects on what makes it unique and offers tips on getting in to and working in the sector.

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