The following post was written by the 2015/16 North cohort, and written up by CW15 Trainee Jamie Lawson. It first appeared in Civil Society Media here.
It has been a busy first two months for the new Charityworks graduate intake. We are scattered throughout the country, placed in organisations of all shapes and sizes, serving groups of people from different areas of society, facing different challenges. The first two months alone have allowed us to experience a variety of situations and further expand our knowledge of the sector, improve our skills, and contribute to delivering change. For many, it’s the first experience of working in the non-profit sector. Here are some of the things that have resonated, surprised or even shocked us in our first two months:
From the outside, many of us thought the non-profit sector filled in around the edges which government misses. It turns out it’s a lot more complex than that. Government, public services and the voluntary sector interact in a surprising variety of ways. Whether that’s our charities being increasingly relied upon to provide key services due to the squeezed budgets at this time of austerity or housing associations having to rethink their business plans in the context of rent changes. If this were Facebook, the government’s relationship with the non-profit sector could be best described as “it’s complicated”.
No, we haven’t just been sitting round watching animated films. Rather, the challenges discussed above emphasise the fact that voluntary sector organisations are like sharks in that if they don’t move forward they die. We’ve been struck by the emphasis in our organisations on the innovation and flexibility necessary to meet our organisations’ ever-increasing challenges, not just from government, but from the changing world as a whole.
From both working at our own placements and talking to others on the Charityworks programme, it is clear that the non-profit sector is a place of almost limitless opportunities. Yet many of these are in areas which you do not immediately associate with the sector, such as roles in data analysis or business development. Many people are unaware of these opportunities, and still think of charities solely in terms of volunteering, rather than a place in which it is possible to have a rewarding career. This must change. Charityworks is helping to challenge this perspective, but more can be done to help young people understand the sector.
This is why it is more important than ever for the non-profit sector to expound its own positive narrative. Recent media coverage of the sector has been dominated by negative issues such as CEO pay or fundraising practices, which is not an accurate reflection of the all the excellent, difficult, varied and contributory work that they do. The non-profit sector has to tell its story, and harness the power of the media to set out a modern, positive vision of the work its organisations do and the ways in which they do it.
It is important that existing staff harness opportunities to remind themselves of their organisation’s social purpose. Those of us on the Charityworks scheme in corporate roles have noticed that it is all too easy to become distanced from the larger, positive impact you are contributing to. If you’re staring at reports or spreadsheets all day, or in an office role away from the frontline, it can be easy to forget what wider purpose your work serves. We’ve found it important to take a few minutes out once in a while and remind ourselves of the work your organisation does, whether it be by talking to those in the community, keeping up to date with your organisation’s latest ventures or being aware of news in the sector. Not only is this a great way to help maintain motivation and remind yourself why you are there, aligning your work with a greater purpose means that you are more likely to be able to deliver something that will change lives.
So there you have it, the first impressions of the Charityworks Graduates 2015/16 from the North cohort. We are really excited at the prospect of meeting the challenges the sector faces, continuing to develop in our roles and growing into the social leaders that society needs.