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Rethinking charity internships

Charity Interns founder Maya Bhose shares how this innovative new programme is bringing new talent into the voluntary sector.

If you’ve worked in charities for most of your career, you may not realise how hard it can be for some people to make the leap from the corporate world into the voluntary sector. It can be even harder when factors like age are taken into account.

This was my experience. After 25 years working in marketing and brand development in the private sector, I knew that I wanted to work for a charity. But I was over 50 and struggled to get on anyone’s radar. I didn’t have any charity experience and I didn’t have contacts in the voluntary sector.

I soon realised my story was far from unique.

Supporting people into the voluntary sector

To make the switch to the voluntary sector, people need to be given a chance. That’s exactly what Charity Interns is doing now for six fantastic individuals.

Charity Interns is a new employability programme. It’s being incubated by NCVO but operating independently. The aim is for the programme to turn into a standalone organisation following the current pilot.

The pilot is being supported by a number of partner organisations, including:

  • Alzheimer’s Society
  • Disability Equality Scotland
  • Age UK
  • Age International
  • British Heart Foundation.

The partners have created paid internships. These are acting as a stepping stone for people aged over 50, or those who have taken a career break, to work for a charity.

Recruitment specialists Charity People are also backing the project. They helped to recruit our first interns. All the interns were looking for a way into the voluntary sector. Regardless of their motivations, all said they had struggled to break into the sector.

The pilot programme started in November 2023, with our first six interns joining our partner organisations for six months. The interns are working in:

  • fundraising
  • volunteering
  • campaigning
  • member engagement.

These are all areas we think would benefit from experience outside of the sector. We hope this will allow them to make full use of their transferable skills at their host organisation.

Programme feedback

We’re now at the halfway point of the pilot programme. The interns are finding their new roles incredibly rewarding and are greatly enjoying their time in the voluntary sector.

I am not being dramatic when I say Charity Interns has changed my life. I had been actively looking for work since 2019, and now I feel like my career can finally begin again.

Caroline, interning at Age International

I feel confident again and can clearly see that my skills are transferable, and it will give me the ability in an interview for a charity role to speak with ‘insider knowledge'.

Mills, interning at Age UK

My experience has been extremely positive . . . I would encourage anyone thinking of joining this programme to embrace the opportunity.

Stella, interning at Alzheimer’s Society

Importantly, staff supporting the interns appear to be just as enthusiastic about the impact of their new team members. Early feedback is not only complimentary but shows a real appreciation and understanding of the skills and knowledge that the interns have brought with them from other sectors.

Some staff report the programme is helping their organisation to improve ways of working. It’s helping many organisations to create change and is injecting new energy and perspectives into their projects and teams.

Next steps

The pilot will complete in spring this year. We’re planning a full analysis of the programme and its impact on both the interns and their host organisations. I look forward to sharing the full details of this learning with the sector.

The main motivation behind Charity Interns is to stop the waste of talent and help address skills shortages across all sectors. I also wanted to do something practical to make people over 50, who want to change sectors, more visible to employers.

According to CIPD’s Labour Market Outlook report (pdf, 1MB), nearly half of voluntary sector organisations have difficulty filling vacancies. I hope Charity Interns can help talented people extend their careers, and allow charities to benefit from their skills, knowledge and unique perspectives.

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