Maya Bhose: Over-50s from other sectors can ease charities’ recruitment woes

15 Feb 2024 Voices

Charity Interns’ founder discusses the barriers people over 50 face trying to enter the charity sector and how her organisation plans to change this…

Woman over 50 at work

Centre for Ageing Better

A charity leader recently described the sector to me as “a bit snobby at times”, while discussing the challenges of moving from a career in the corporate world.

I was really taken aback to hear them say this because it acknowledges that, while the sector does fantastic work around inclusion, there is still room for improvement in how it can cast a wider net and embrace talent from outside the sector.

If you’ve worked in charities for most of your career, you may not realise how hard it can be for some people looking to switch from the corporate world into the voluntary sector. A candidate who has already worked for a charity can feel like a safe pair of hands for recruiters, meaning people coming from other sectors may miss out. 

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 in-house charity experience and I didn’t have contacts in the voluntary sector. Through speaking to others, I soon realised my story was far from unique.

An underutilised talent pool 

Charities face skills shortages – particularly in hard-to-fill vacancies – yet don’t seem to be tapping fully into the knowledge and expertise of individuals from other sectors. In setting up Charity Interns, and launching our pilot programme, I have gained insights which can shed some light on what might be going on. 

A big factor appears to be time constraints and workload pressures. These may deter charity workers from onboarding people new to the sector, particularly in non-entry level roles, even though their diverse skill sets could offer long-term benefits. 

There’s also a potential two-way language barrier. People from outside the sector may use language which doesn’t reflect how charities speak.  For example, wanting to make the corporate-charity switch because of a desire “to give back” is the same sentiment as doing it “to make a difference” – but it might land differently. Here it would be helpful for organisations to show greater understanding about the language people may use when looking to move sectors.

Charities may also have concerns about any potential disruption which might be caused by differences in expectations and ways of working of people from the commercial sector. This further complicates efforts to recruit beyond the sector. To move past this, there needs to be greater appreciation for the fact that embracing diverse perspectives could lead to innovation and positive change.

Charity Interns 

To make the switch to the voluntary sector, I believe people need to be given a chance. That’s why I started Charity Interns and what our pilot programme is doing right now for six individuals – all of whom struggled to break into the sector.  

Caroline, an intern placed at Age International, told us: “I had been actively looking for work since 2019, and now I feel like my career can finally begin again.”

Charity Interns is a non-profit start-up offering a fresh take on hiring into the voluntary sector. It is currently being incubated by NCVO while we run our pilot programme. When this ends in the spring, it will incorporate as a CIC and rebrand under a new name.  “Interns” and “Internships” are usually thought to be for entry-level applicants, and we are placing people with decades of experience, so we need a new name.

We’re really fortunate that our pilot programme is being supported by a number of fantastic partner organisations, including Alzheimer’s Society, Disability Equality Scotland, Age UK, Age International and the British Heart Foundation.

Our partners have created paid internships, with the intention that these placements will act as a stepping stone for people aged over 50 from outside the sector, or those who have taken a career break, to work for a charity. Recruitment specialists Charity People are also backing the project and helped recruit our first interns. 

Next steps

The pilot programme started in November 2023, with our first six interns joining a partner organisation for six months. They are working and gaining experience in a diverse range of areas including fundraising, volunteering, campaigning, and member engagement. These were all areas we identified through working with our partners as areas that could potentially benefit from transferable skills acquired outside of the sector.  

We’re now at the halfway point of the pilot programme. The interns are reporting their new roles to be incredibly rewarding and they are greatly enjoying their time in the voluntary sector. All want to stay working in the sector. 

Importantly, staff supporting the interns are 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 they have brought with them from the corporate world. Staff report that the programme is helping their organisation to improve ways of working and create change by injecting new energy and perspectives into their projects and teams.

Maya Bhose is founder of Charity Interns

Civil Society Voices is the place for informed opinion, and debate about the big issues affecting charities today. We’re always keen to hear from anyone, working or volunteering at a charity, who has something to say. Find out more about contributing and how to get in touch.


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