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How to get a charity internship

Charity worker Michelle reveals how to take your first steps towards a rewarding career in the charity sector. Read on to find out more.

Charities have a lot to offer their employees which your average business may not. But it’s the things like a supportive work environment, good work-life balance and the warm glow of doing good that makes it harder to find a job in this field.

Internships are a common route into charity work. Although you may not get paid for the experience, if you are like Michelle, who now works for a mental illness charity, it may lead to a full-time job.

Michelle’s story

“When I was at school I didn’t have a clue what I wanted to do in the future. But I knew that I wanted to go to uni to study English Literature. I eventually found a place through clearing, because I didn’t get the grades I expected.
While at uni I ended up switching courses to politics and it was this that made me look into charity work.

Life after uni

Coming towards the end of my degree I knew I wanted to do a job that was political, and relevant to my degree. So, I started looking around at different stuff like the Civil Services fast-stream programme and working with MPs in Parliament.

A lot of it involved internships in charity policy and public affairs teams. I think university helped me to realise that I wasn’t money-oriented and that I wanted to do something in social justice.

I was quite naïve when I left university. I thought that because I got a first in my degree, it would be easy to get a job. It wasn’t!
I had a horrendous few months of doing temporary work in a field I wasn’t interested in. Then I landed an internship with The National Autistic Society.

The internship  

Initially the internship was meant to last six months, working three days per week. I was given an allowance for travel and lunch and I supplemented my income by working part-time at a call centre.

The internship work was really varied. My work was split between helping out the parliamentary officer, working on research and working closely with the campaigns team, launching events.

Highlights were running stalls at the Labour and Conservative party conferences and getting involved with reports. Even though I was an intern, my name went in the acknowledgements, which was a really big deal when I went for job interviews later on.

After about three months they were able to offer me full-time paid employment as a policy and campaigns assistant.

And now?

Michelle’s internship kick-started her career and she is now a Government Relations Adviser with mental health charity Rethink.

Michelle’s tips on landing an internship in a charity

  • Tailor your cover letter. There’s a temptation to apply for everything but if you plan to do that make sure your covering letter is relevant to the job spec.
  • Get to the point. Say exactly why you want to work for that charity, mentioning the name and the types of work that it does.
  • Prioritise. If you’ve done work experience that’s relevant to the post, let the charity know by putting it high up on your cover letter.
  • Work experience. If you haven’t already, get some relevant work experience. Even if it’s just a week in your MP’s office, or volunteering at a charity event, it’s all useful.
  • Don’t give up. It may take some time but the more applications you write the better you’ll get at it.

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