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Large or small? What type of charity is best for you?

Posted on 6/06/2019 by Chenda McManus

elephant & mouse large or small

With around 163,000 registered charities in the UK, employing 827,000 people, there is plenty of scope to build a career in the third sector. However, there is a huge variety in the sizes of charities; nearly 97% of organisations have an annual income of less than £1m. The large well-known brands that the public are most aware of obviously raise more revenue and employ more people, but there are far fewer of them.

Charity chart

When jobseekers in the third sector are entering the market or looking for their next career move, they need to consider what type of organisation they want to work for, but it’s also important to think about the size of that organisation and which will work best for your future career. There’s no obvious answer – it depends on your long-term goals and your personality type. In this article, we’ll look at the pros and cons of working in both large and small charities to help you make your decision.

Working in small charities

The vast majority of third sector organisations in the UK are smaller charities with an annual income of less than £1m, but that does not mean that the work they do is any less crucial. Often, it’s the smaller charities that offer really crucial front-line services and have much more of a direct impact on the lives of their beneficiaries.

Choosing to work for a small charity can open up lots of different career paths for you. Smaller organisations have fewer staff, so they need employees to be able to multi-task and cover as many functions as possible. This gives you lots of opportunity to learn new skills and take on extra responsibilities and gives you the autonomy in shaping your role.

Smaller charities also have flatter hierarchies, which makes them flexible and agile in their decision making. If you have an idea, there’s much less red tape to go through before you’re allowed to run with it. This flat structure means that the senior management will be more aware of your work and you’re likely to get credit and recognition for successes (although it also means it’s hard to hide if things go wrong).

The working environment in small charities tends to be very collaborative and close-knit. Everyone in the organisation is aware of each other’s work and there’s less confusion or possibility for overlaps. However, it also means that it’s hard to avoid other employees if you don’t get on!

Working in a small charity means you are likely to be much closer to both your beneficiaries and your supporters. You’ll have more opportunities to get to know them personally and build up close relationships. Third sector employees are usually passionate about their organisation’s cause, and it’s a great benefit to be able to see the impact of your work so closely.

Small organisations have smaller budgets to play with, so you’ll have to be creative with the resources available. Smaller budgets also generally mean smaller salaries, although many organisations try to mitigate this with increased holiday allowance and other benefits. If you’re looking for flexible working opportunities, smaller organisations are generally the way to go and are more likely to be looking for part-time employees.

Smaller charities do often have a higher staff turnover, as they are more vulnerable to changes in funding. Although it is possible to move up to more senior roles quickly in small charities, there do tend to be fewer opportunities for promotion, so you may have to leave to advance your career.

Working in large charities

Large organisations tend to be much more structured, with many more layers of hierarchy. Job responsibilities, promotion markers and paths to leadership are usually much more clearly defined, and there are more opportunities for internal promotion. This means that when you join a large charity, it’s easy to see where and when you could progress within the organisation. Job roles are much more rigidly defined, so if you’re interested in specialising in one particular area, a large charity is probably the place for you. However, it’s worth noting that specialising too soon could potentially limit your career options later on, as you may find it hard to transfer to a different role.

The large workforce and hierarchical structure of large organisations means that it can be harder to get yourself noticed. Even if you’re handling large projects, you’ll still be a small cog in a big machine.

One of the best parts of working for a large charity is having bigger budgets to play with – 97% of the income across the third sector is raised by big charities. You’ll be able to work on projects with a much larger scope and potential impact. You’ll also have access to more resources, support, technology and training. However, because of the large amounts involved, combined with increased media scrutiny, large organisations tend to be highly risk-averse. Every project or new idea will need to be carefully evaluated and approved by multiple stakeholders, which can limit spontaneity and innovation.

Large organisations tend to take on large-scale projects and working in them means you are more removed from the charity’s donors and beneficiaries. With so many people donating to your cause and using your services, there are fewer opportunities to reach out and build personal relationships. On the other hand, you do have the satisfaction of knowing that you contributed to work that has potentially affected thousands of lives.

One of the key attractions of large charities is that they generally pay more. Salaries in large organisations are 8% higher on average, according to TPP Recruitment’s latest salary survey. Senior roles in particular tend to be paid much more highly in large charities. However, this does mean that competition for these roles can be extremely fierce.


Whichever path you choose, TPP Recruitment can help. We offer impartial advice on how to make the next step in your career and on achieving your long-term aspirations. When you’re ready to move to your next role in the third sector, get in touch on 020 7198 6000 or info@tpp.co.uk.