Last summer I completed a three month internship at the London office of Cancer Research UK. I had never previously considered working for a charity and did not realise the wide range of roles available. I really had no idea what kind of internships were on offer, especially for a Classics student like myself, and the idea of working for a charity occurred to me one day, completely on a whim. Panicking about my lack of summer plans, I Googled ‘top ten biggest charities in the UK’. I thought to myself, ‘the bigger the charity, the more opportunities there would be’, and after a few clicks I came across the Cancer Research UK internship scheme. After that I did my research on Rate My Placement, a website that features reviews of internships by interns themselves, and found it was highly regarded.
I was not particularly optimistic about my chances of my application being successful; I had never had an internship before, and the only work experience I’d completed was a couple of weeks in an advertising agency following my GCSEs. The number of internships on offer surprised me – 47 for my intake, and apparently that number increases every year. The charity takes interns across almost all of its departments, including Corporate Partnerships, HR, Volunteering, Direct Giving, Digital and Ecommerce. You can apply for two internships, and I chose Marketing and Ecommerce. There was no particular reason why I chose these areas, other than the fact that I was entirely unsure about what I wanted to do and those two looked quite interesting and worthwhile.
The application form was in the standard format, including competency questions about team-working skills, initiative and organisation.I was surprised to learn that they wanted me to interview for both positions. These were held in their London office – a stunningly beautiful, modern building in Islington. The interviews themselves were nerve-wracking but not awful, but I was really grilled on all aspects of my application form (it’s definitely a good idea to go through it beforehand, as well as having good questions prepared to ask the interviewers). Unfortunately I found out about a week later that I had not got either internship that I’d applied for, but they did tell me that they had flagged me as someone who’d done well at interview and said that I might be contacted in the next few days by departments that hadn’t filled their internship places. Another waiting list – I wasn’t holding my breath. But the next day I received an email from someone in the Major Giving department asking whether I wanted a telephone interview. Obviously (and with a mixture of nerves and excitement) I said yes, and, with my answers better prepared this time, had another interview. This time I found I was successful, and managed to get a Marketing, Stewardship and Events Internship within Major Giving.
The Major Giving department at Cancer Research UK (most major UK charities have a Major Giving team) focused on donors who gave or would give more than £10,000 to the charity. My internship was mainly focused on events, which are put on by the charity to both meet potential donors, and steward existing ones, but the whole team was focused on the ultimate goal of fundraising, so when we discovered that one donor had given a gift of £10 million the office was buzzing with excitement. Every intern had a dedicated manager (mine was amazing) and we had weekly one-on-ones, where our progress was monitored and we were free to ask questions. Day to day, I learned to use a ‘Siebel’ database, a useful skill for any other job or internship I want to apply for, and had the responsibility of coordinating invitations and RSVPs for high profile events at prestigious venues such as 11 Downing Street and the Wellcome Trust. I was also given a good mix of short term tasks and a longer-term, overarching research project, which I presented to my team at the end of the internship. As someone who does not feel particularly comfortable doing any kind of public speaking, this experience was completely terrifying. It was good to step out of my comfort zone, however, and the experience has made me a lot more confident; that will hopefully stand me in good stead for the future.
The charity runs two induction days, which introduce you to all the different departments as well as giving you an overview into the actual cancer research, which really brought home the purpose of everything we were doing. Because of the number of interns, there was a great sense of ‘intern culture’ and also a sense of camaraderie between all of us, with frequent social events throughout the internship. Although the experience was (sadly) unpaid, the staff really understood that we were volunteering our time and tried to make up for this by giving the interns real jobs (as opposed to simply photocopying and tea making) and lots of responsibility. We also had a lunch allowance, travel expenses, and access to the discounted café – fancy. The charity was also very happy to let you work in different departments for a few days, shadowing other members of staff. I had said in my interview that I was interested in Policy and Public Affairs, and so they allowed me to attend their Parliament Day in June, where the campaign for plain packaging for cigarettes was presented to MPs.
Working for a charity like Cancer Research UK has opened my eyes to an entire industry that I never even considered before. The UK charity sector is large though sometimes overlooked, and while the salaries may not be as high as in other jobs, the job satisfaction and enjoyment (arguably more important) are huge. I would encourage you, if you are unsure about what path to take after graduation, to at least consider a job in the charity sector. It’s thriving, varied, satisfying, and the feel-good factor definitely can’t be beaten.