Changing to a charity sector career? Try being a trustee

Changing career to the charity sector can be hard when it feels like no-one will give you that first chance without relevant sector experience. Not many people realise that trusteeship can be an excellent way to gain senior voluntary experience in a charity, which could also aid your career change.

I met Kay Julier on our Working for a Charity Course and she recently told me about how becoming a trustee helped her to later secure a job in the sector. A year ago, Kay worked in the pharmaceuticals industry but wanted a career change:

“I left a senior role in the private sector to transition to the voluntary sector but initially my lack of charity experience was holding me back.”

Through the course Kay learnt about the role of a trustee and the trustee board’s responsibility for the overall management and leadership of a charity. This kind of volunteering can be done around a day job and the skills you’ve developed in other sectors can be very valuable to a charity trustee board – you’re unlikely to be stuffing envelopes or rattling tins.

Kay decided to pursue a trustee position to increase her charity experience:

“I used the resources mentioned in that section of the course to look for opportunities and found my current trustee role advertised in Third Sector magazine.”

Kay is now a trustee for the Mental Health Helplines Partnership. It’s a charity that she felt an affiliation for but mental health is not an area in which she had any direct experience:

“One of the things I like is learning about a new field while also feeling I am contributing to driving the charity forward.”

Through her role as a trustee, Kay feels that she learnt a great deal about the voluntary sector. In particular:

“My trusteeship is for a membership organisation so I’ve learnt about the different types of interactions with members and how they shape the charity in this type of organisation. I’ve also learnt about the role of the board versus the senior staff team and, very importantly, the role of the board in the financial scrutiny and oversight of the charity.”

Kay feels that it has helped her transition from the private sector to a paid role in the voluntary sector:

“Once I became a trustee, I could talk more confidently in interviews about how charities work, what challenges they face and the type of interactions I would expect in certain roles. I think it also gave recruiters confidence that I could interact at a senior level in the sector even though I did not have experience in a paid, senior position in a charity.”

Kay is now working as the Research Liaison Manager for the charity Parkinson’s UK. She also continues her voluntary trustee role at Mental Health Helplines Partnership.

“I would really encourage someone to become a trustee, especially if they are moving from another sector. It gives you a broad perspective of how charities work and gives you some real examples of how you can or have applied your skills to work in the sector. The best boards consist of people with a diverse range of skills and backgrounds so keep looking for opportunities that match your skills and experience – there will definitely be some!”

Bear in mind that if you’re seeking a trustee position as part of a wider career change you shouldn’t target your search at the particular charities that you might like to be employed at. The voluntary principle of trusteeship means that people can be confident that a trustee has the best interests of the charity at heart and is not undertaking the role for financial gain. However, Trustees can certainly benefit from their role by gaining skills, experience and new perspectives that would make excellent additions to any application for a paid role at another charity.

Find out more about trusteeship using the Charity Commission’s free essential trustee guide.

Find out more about NCVO’s Working for a Charity Course for career changers.

Search for trustee vacancies on NCVO’s Trustee bank or Trustees Unlimited.

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