Written by S.M. Audsley

Most people will tell you to “follow your passion” when you are looking for career advice. That’s fine. But, what if you don’t know what your passion is? What if you can’t pick just one thing? Here’s a thought: what if you tried to follow a career that helped you use your special talents, skills, and knowledge to do the most good in the world? Working for a charity or charitable-focused organization, you’ll be able to do good for the world, while also having a challenging and rewarding career. This might be the most fulfilling and life-changing decision you’ll ever make. What’s even better? Many academic tracks and fields of study can help you launch your career in charity.

Charity work -- generously giving of yourself in time, money, or resources for the benefit of others in need or those who are less fortunate than yourself -- is challenging work that requires a certain type of person. Being patient, prioritizing others besides themselves, and being willing to do things that won’t necessarily be noticed or appeal to one’s ego are some, but not all, of the characteristics that make a successful charity worker. Most people who work for a charity or charitable organization are motivated to do so because they have a personal vested interest in the cause or mission. 

One jobs expert on The Guardian explains, “One of the positives of working for a charity is the overwhelming sense of driving change. It can be stimulating and rewarding work, with a real sense of fulfilment. [...] The work should be varied, too – one day you might be helping out at a homeless shelter, the next you could be assisting in fundraising activities. The work is value-driven, prioritising ethics over profit so you always know you are supporting a good cause and helping the lives of others.” 

So, ask yourself, why do you want to work for a charity? Once you find that answer -- your deep motivation to work for a charity -- you will be able to run with it and pursue this path without reservation. Also, you’ll find yourself with many options for courses of study. Highlighted here are some of the best six subjects to study if you’re interested in working for a charity. Each appeals to different skill sets and offers different paths to various jobs available within a charity-focused organization. Learn more about these exciting opportunities to launch your career in charity work. 

1. Nonprofit management

The majority of charitable organizations are nonprofits, so it’s a no-brainer to get a degree in nonprofit management if you want to work for a charitable organization in a managerial role. Kate Hodge, for The Guardian, interviewed several experts who work in the field, and she discovered that knowing what you want is key to success in the public sector. Ruth Greenberg, chief officer for Partnership Council, a UK public health organization, says, “You need to think about what kind of job you want. Charities deliver an enormous range of services and have an enormous range of jobs and any course needs to address the area you want to work in. Charity courses are like doing a business degree -- it gives you a bit of a foundation to understand the business sector [...] You need to focus on what you want to do and what is needed for that job. If you have a job and you want to do a charity degree to explore the wider issues and reflect on your practice, that's great.”

A degree in nonprofit management gives you the tools you need to launch your career in this field. The trends over the past two decades show a widening variety of jobs becoming available in the nonprofit sector. David O. Renz, writing for the Nonprofit Quarterly, reports, “It has become increasingly common to find programs of nonprofit study at the graduate level. These typically are master’s degree programs and usually focus on nonprofit management and leadership. Many of these are designed especially to meet the needs of mid-career adults who wish to pursue part-time study; others focus on the needs of early career and full-time students.” Renz goes on to point out that “Nearly half of nonprofit-oriented master’s programs in the U.S. are presented as concentrations within master of public administration (MPA) degree programs, and a relatively smaller number are concentrations within master of business administration (MBA) programs.” 

You’ll want to do some research and make sure you’re picking the best degree option that suits your needs and interests. Karen Schweitzer, writing for ThoughtCo.com, says to pay attention to the three major nonprofit management degrees available: bachelor’s, master’s, and PhDs in nonprofit management. Schweitzer also points out that “the knowledge and skills gained in the program are transferable to for-profit companies. With a nonprofit management degree, graduates could pursue any number of positions with nonprofits.” Either way, a degree in nonprofit management will allow you to pursue your charity work in a growing job market that has demand for qualified and trained employees.

2. Development studies

Understanding the intricate and complex power structures and dynamics that are happening in our world is important to doing any type of charity work. Inequality and lack of diversity or inclusion happens everywhere. Knowing these structures, and how they function, is the first step to dismantling them and making the world a better place for all. Development studies is an interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary field of study, which seeks to understand economic, political, social, cultural, and technological facets of societal change, mainly in developing countries. 

If you want to do any type of charitable work abroad, or in a country going through much turmoil -- often where most of the work is most needed -- you should consider a degree in development studies. The degree will give you the foundational knowledge and skills to work in this complicated field. In a recent post global charity Oxfam stressed the importance of “the transferable skills of writing, communications, interpersonal and cross-cultural communications and especially networking. Respondents emphasized repeatedly that finding a job requires the capacity to build strong professional networks.” Development studies will give you a leg up in a crowded applicant pool because you’ll demonstrate to hiring managers your commitment to charitable work and your valuable knowledge from your degree will become a major asset to the team you join.

3. IT/digital 

Across the board, in almost all sectors, IT and digital skills are essential for all organizations. However, have you considered how important IT and digital degrees also play an essential role in charity work? Most charitable organizations are working on a shoestring budget, or need to be innovative and inventive to solving solutions with limited resources. If you are a trained and skilled IT or digital wizard, you can earn yourself a highly valued position in a charitable organization. 

'Social media outreach or marketing coordinator' is just one example of a job title that is appearing more and more frequently for charities looking to take advantage of the digital age we live in. Kate Maunder, for The Guardian, writes, “As social media roles are often combined with website maintenance, experience of using content management systems and HTML editors such as Dreamweaver or FrontPage are extremely important to keep your options open. Certificated qualifications in these are particularly valued.”

All nonprofits need to schedule annual appeals, track fundraising, and manage their donor databases. An IT or digital professional, who is skilled in all aspects of networks and software, will be a valuable and highly desired team member of any charity. In fact, it has become increasingly important for charities to keep up-to-date with their IT and digital systems. 

4. Social work

Perhaps you prefer to work with people instead of computers? If so, and you want to do charity work, then many people choose to go into social work. A Master’s in Social Work, or MSW, is a great investment in your career and in your future work for charity. An MSW trains you to work in the social work field where you could be working for a community mental health organization, meeting clients regularly, or you could be working as a state employee as a social worker, handling cases and meeting with clients. 

“Social work is a constantly changing profession and faces strict regulation. Some routes will require a certified social work degree in order to progress,” says the department of social work and social care at the University of Bristol in the UK. Jobs that a degree in social work leads to include: support worker, children’s house lead professional, community empowerment assistant, senior support worker, mental health social worker, mentor, and youth involvement officer. This shows how diverse the social work sector is -- you’ll likely be able to find the job that best fits your skills and interests. Your passion for caring for others will be rewarded with amazing moments of helping people in need.

5. Sociology

Then again if your parents are wondering what you are going to do with your sociology degree, tell them not to worry! You’ve got it figured out. A degree in sociology, the study of society, patterns of social relationships, social interaction and culture of everyday life, trains graduates in various methods of empirical investigation and critical analysis to develop a body of knowledge about social order, acceptance, and change or social evolution. Sociologists like to study people, and people are what makes the world a fascinating, complex place.

Alison White, reporting for The Guardian, finds many advantages for those who hold sociology degrees. White explains, “Many sociology graduates are attracted to careers that centre on the challenges and demands that members of a society face. This leads to jobs in social services, education, criminal justice, welfare services, government, counselling, charities and the voluntary sector.” White goes on to point out that other jobs for sociology majors include: “Charity fundraiser, community development worker, counsellor, lecturer, housing officer, teacher, probation officer, social researcher, social worker and welfare rights adviser. There are a range of specific abilities and skills associated with a degree in sociology but there are also wider transferable skills that you can develop.”

6. Anthropology

Most parents also wonder what you’ll do with your degree in anthropology. Tell them to rest assured that your skills and knowledge will be transferable to working for a charity. Anthropology -- the scientific study of humans and human behavior and societies in the past and present -- has been described as “the most scientific of the humanities and the most humanistic of the sciences.” Knowing how to analyze human behavior, and putting it into practice with charity work, can directly benefit any population you might want to work with. 

"Careers where this knowledge is in demand include social and market research, government and international development," says Margaret Holbrough, a careers adviser at Graduate Prospects, who was interviewed by Craig Scott for The Guardian. Anthropologists see the world differently than we do -- they have been trained to assess and analyze human behavior. This skill is essential, especially if you are trying to work with people and/or change behavior to more positive outcomes. 

Charity work cannot be done without time and money. Often, money is the most important factor. Fundraising and development work is a major component of a functioning charitable organization. A trained and skilled development person can be a vital asset to any organization, but especially for a charity-focused one. Imagine a fundraising professional who is also a trained anthropologist -- what wonders he or she might do for the organization!

At the end of the day, in charity work, enthusiasm is the most important and vital aspect of a worker in this field. The days are long and sometimes you’ll feel like what you’re doing isn’t enough, but really caring and enthusiastically embracing your work, will go a long, long way. As the American anthropologist Margaret Mead said, "Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has." If charity work is you calling, then find the degree that fits your interests and talents -- then go for it!

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