We only get one FAQ and it is this:
“Coo, I see that you both work for environmental charities.
How do I get to work for an environmental charity too?”yOu
We’d be here till Doomsday* replying to everyone who asks us that – sorry if you’ve asked and there’s been radio silence. But it’s something about which we do have some thoughts. So here’s a kind of stock response blog thing.
A very large disclaimer is that yer Babble is not a careers advisor, although we do know a joke about that**. So don’t sue us if you follow this advice and end up worse off than when you started.
[UPDATE: we’re experimenting with allowing comments below, so add your thoughts and tell us your experiences. Last time we did this we got invaded by evil spamming robots so we may end up freaking out and removing the comments thingy again but let’s see how we go]
Are you sure?
The first thing we would both want to say, and we have to be a bit careful how we say this because we both like working for environmental charities and they will probably read this blog, is: are you sure you want to work for an environmental charity?
It’s not the 1970s. There are a great many places in which you can work to make a difference to the planet without working for an environmental charity. Most major employers have green jobs of some description, and not just big companies: hospitals, museums, schools, etc etc need people to make the stuff they buy and the day to day business they do greener, both internally and to the outside world. Hell, you could even work for the government.
Or there’s the more traditional kind of stuff, like growing flowers and being an organic farmer and stuff, which all sounds lovely and we would probably both have done years ago if we weren’t afraid of getting mucky.
Or you can be a teacher and educate your spratlings in the ways of green righteousness. Or just, like, do a normal job but in a green way: you might have the most impact on the planet of all if you join a company that isn’t green and influence it to change some important parts of what it does.
Or just do a normal normal job and use your spare time to do green things. You might find that you’ll have more fire that way.
And remember that, and again we have to be a bit careful about how we say this, working for an environmental charity is in many ways just a job. By which we mean: a job with purpose and where you get to do some cool stuff, but where you don’t spend any less time filling in forms and trying to make staplers work than anywhere else. And you probably won’t get paid anywhere near as much as if you worked for a place that makes you use an iron to make your work clothes nice.
But OK. Let’s say you’d still like to work for an environmental charity. Here’s four ways you might think about it.
1 – Bottom up
This is the way both Dave and Ol started out. We both applied for entry-level jobs at big green charities and both worked in kind of admin-y positions for which no particular environmental cred was required. The slow progress began of brown-nosing, learning new stuff, trying new things, and demonstrating that we weren’t total cretins.
Be warned. There is a lot, and we mean a lot, of competition for this kind of job and there’s a high bar – it’s one of the most important and frankly undervalued bits of organisations. You will probably need something on your CV to have a chance. That is less likely to be a degree these days (see ‘Study’) and more likely to be direct experience of having done the type of work required. A lot of this stuff is very transferable (see ‘Sideways’) and the bigger environmental charities tend to be mostly interested in ‘who is going to be able to do this job well’ rather than ‘who has been vegan the longest’.
But having said that if you have the opportunity (which not everyone does) you could try to get some volunteering under your belt. Most of the bigger environmental charities offer volunteering routes that you’ll find online, and there are sites like www.charityjob.co.uk and www.environmentjob.co.uk that specifically flag up voluntary positions. It’s worth noting that the sector as a whole is pretty crap on diversity (only farming is less diverse) and this kind of thing is part of the problem – people who can afford to work for free are more likely to be able to volunteer to build up some experience – and so you should be sensitive to that. It’s also the reason that increasingly such charities are going out of their way to seek applications from people who may be under-represented, which is a good thing. Most – or at least the ones taking this seriously – have also scrapped unpaid internships.
Finally, demonstrate some initiative (see ‘Don’t wait for permission’). Plenty of people have been good boys and girls in their studies. Fewer have forced their school / uni to ban turkey twizzlers in the canteen or buy electricity from Yoghurt Weavers Energy Cooperative. This is the sort of stuff employers notice.
2 – Study
If you’re able, and haven’t already, you could go and study some kind of environmental course, degree, Masters or similar. Again things have moved on a bit from the age when the only thing you could learn in this domain was hedge maintenance.
Do think carefully about the very first bit of advice we gave you above though – if what you want to do is make a difference for the planet, that does not necessarily mean you need to study a ‘green’ course. It’s what you do with your normal course that probably counts much more.
And when it comes to getting a foot in the door with a green charity, unless it’s a very practically oriented one – in which case hedge maintenance may indeed be an asset – you’re likely to find that having green qualifications is not the differentiator it once was. It’s certainly no substitute for having demonstrated that you’ve actually got some shit done in the real world.
But obviously education is brilliant (listen to our interview with Jonathan Rowson for more on that). Best advice here is that if you want to study a thing, study a thing you actually want to learn because you’re interested in it.
3 – Sideways
Sometimes people think that ‘going to work for an environmental charity’ means spending all day putting on a silly costume and shouting rude things at the government, but it’s hard to think of a skillset or professional competence that a modern environmental charity doesn’t need. They require as many IT people, finance wizards, HR wonks, lawyers, planners, buildings managers and copy editors as the big swanky company next door.
There’s a reasonable chance that you don’t need to jettison the niche you already have but instead try to find ways to use or evolve it. You’ll be far more useful to a green charity if you can actually do a thing – any thing – than if you can’t. It takes far less time to learn about climate change than it does to learn an entirely new professional competence from scratch. And as with the ‘bottom up’ advice earlier, you’ll probably find that once you’ve got a foot in the door, you can explore other avenues in time.
Again, a squiz at the kind of jobs at www.charityjob.co.uk or www.environmentjob.co.uk should give you a sense of the breadth of stuff out there.
4 – Don’t wait for permission
These days there is a thing called an Internet and it allows you to promote yourself like a right show-off. Don’t wait for someone to pay you to say what you think – get saying it anyway. Get a blog. Use Twitter***. Make contacts.
Saving the planet needs all the ideas it can get. Maybe you aren’t the kind of person that’d be happy taking orders from The Man, even if The Man wears hemp. Maybe you’ve got an idea that you simply can’t believe no-one’s talking about. Be more Bojan Slat. Get on with it.
To be honest it really isn’t going to hurt any vague greeny career aspirations you might have to have some followers, an obvious drive to change things, and a bit of a profile. And if mischief-making in the name of defending the planet is your thing – and you’re demonstrably good at it – there are organisations whose heads will turn. But obviously there are others for whom “2017-2020 – HMP Belmarsh” on the CV is a bit of a turn-off.
Right, hope that helps
Let us know if this has been helpful to you – drop us an email or a message (the contact details are at the top of the page somewhere). And do give this a share if it’s helped you and you think it might help others.
Dave & Ol
[* next Tuesday ]
[** my mate’s quit his job and now tells people to go on holiday in either Seoul or Pyongyang. He’s now a Koreas advisor]
[*** Please tweet responsibly ]
All good advice, Dave & Ollie. I’ll add that growing up on a council sink estate and having no money need not be a barrier to volunteering to gain experience. As a young ‘un I spent my free time working on various local conservation projects that I could reach by bike, on foot etc.
As you suggest, sideways is good way to get into a green organisation and be paid. It helps if you identify and acquire an expensive and rare set of skills. IT, software development and the ability to raise money are often in short supply in the sector. AI may be a hot area in a few years. A few charities even offer apprenticeships nowadays.
Not mentioned here, and worth considering is joining the army of consultants, freelancers and agencies that operate in this space. Green organisations can’t always afford to have certain skills and expertise on staff permanently and so will look to draw upon from without on a temporary basis.
Lastly, and this relates in part to the lack of diversity in the sector. It will go easier if you can bring a middle class mindset inc language, cultural reference points etc. Or at least a convincing disguise.
I think this is great advice!
I would add something around taking a broader view – think about what you want work to do for you now, and in the future. See how it fits with your other dreams and commitments. And that you would enjoy the job (see stapling, above).
Purpose is great but you do need to think about practicalities too.
How much money do you (and maybe your family, if you habe one) need to thrive (not just get by)?.
How flexible can you be on location? If you need to stay put, what is the job market like where you are?
My dream career would be land-based, helping regenerate the places I’m rooted in – the South Downs. A ranger or national park or conservation grazing manager maybe.
But I have a partner and teenage step children (one loves nature the other not so much). I can’t move to Wales or Cumbria, and I can’t meet my family’s needs on the salary these career paths offer in the South East. Plus there’s my addiction to long distance hiking to feed…
So I use my storytelling and relationship building skills to fundraise for an awesome systems change organisation. They do work around climate, biodoversity and food, including regenerative agriculture.
My job may not allow me to work in nature. But I still get to contribute to change I’m passionate about – and meet my and my family’s needs doing it.
Now, where did I put my hiking boots? I have some wild places to go.