Career profiles from previous course participants

Below are comments from some of our previous Foundation Course participants - discussing what they were doing before they took the course, what they're doing now and their experience of the course itself.

The previous participants also discuss how the course helped them to gain employment in the charity sector.

Read experiences from:

                                                                                                                                   

Philip Holmes with children at the EBT-N refuge

Philip Holmes, Founder/Director of Esther Benjamins Trust

What were you doing before you took the course?
I was a serving British Army officer (dentist). After the tragic death of my first wife, Esther Benjamins, in January 1999 I decided to change my life and set up a children's charity in her memory.

What are you doing now?
I am the Founder/Director of The Esther Benjamins Trust and the Country Director of its INGO counterpart in Nepal, Esther Benjamins Trust-Nepal (EBT-N). I am based in Kathmandu (I have been in Nepal for the last five years) where I steer operations and direct the support office in London from afar.

How was your experience of the course?
The course was a great way to start out within the sector and I would recommend it to anyone.

I had the unexpected spin off of attracting one course member who remains a supporter ten years down the line and another who is a very hands-on volunteer. One of the lecturers, Michael Norton, remains in contact through Facebook.

EBT has lasted ten years, raised two and three quarter million pounds and, inter alia, closed down a child trafficking route from Nepal to India. I wonder if we'd been so successful had we not had such a great start.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
I started my own charity - www.ebtrust.org.uk.

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Wendy and GuidedogWendy Pfeiffer, Community Engagement Officer, Guide Dogs

What were you doing before you took the course?
I was working as a part-time accounts/office clerk. Since I had my family twenty two years ago I have always been a ‘work around the children mum’.

What are you doing now?
I started working for Guide Dogs on 1st March 2012, based within a team that worked with the advanced training dogs. In January 2013, I was promoted to Community Engagement Officer to cover maternity leave for a year.  This role in Guide Dogs takes me out and about much more.  Every day is different and quite often a challenge.  I visit applicants in their home for their first general information visit, deal with access issues, organise and attend awareness events, collaborate with and support other service providers, support our campaigns team and liaise with the media keeping them updated with any Guide Dog related stories.  I have come a long way from the day I first contacted Georgie about the possibility of attending the WFAC course. If you have any doubts about it just give it a go, you never know where you might be this time next year........ someone may even be reading about you on this page!

How was your experience of the course?
I was very nervous about enrolling on the course. When I saw the testimonials from previous students, I was very aware that they all seemed to be in quite high powered jobs and as I did not have much confidence and had really only worked from home for many years, I felt I would be the one person who did not fit in. However, I soon discovered that actually despite the senior management, TV producers etc that were on the course, there were also people who were not unlike me. I soon became aware that if there was a question I wanted to ask that I thought may sound perhaps a little silly, then there were others there who also wanted to ask the question and were just sometimes too shy to do so. After just the first couple of days, we all felt as though we had known each other for ages and since then I have formed some really good friendships with people who were on the course with me and still meet up with them.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
I was already working as a volunteer for Guide Dogs and so unlike most of the others on the course I was already very focussed that Guide Dogs was the charity I wanted to work for. The various topics that were covered on the course were really informative and allowed me to realise what areas I did not want to work in and those that really interested me. For instance finance was a big no no! I learnt a lot about how to write a good CV and how to approach interviews and the various types of interview technique. When we had to share our CVs with each other I have to say I almost died with embarrassment as I looked at mine. I had thought it was quite good until then!

After the course, my network of friends proved invaluable as we all encouraged each other in our search for jobs and supported and offered advice about interviews. I was so touched by the offer of help from the other students from the course when I was preparing for my interviews with Guide Dogs. Georgie who organised the course and was our main contact was just brilliant at being ever available for constant questions both during the course and after. She offered advice, was never too busy to speak to any of us. She became a friend to all of us.

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Jane Elston on BAAF horse trekJane Elston, Press Officer, British Association for Adoption & Fostering (BAAF)

What were you doing before you took the course?
I was a journalist with Sky News working as a field News Editor.

What are you doing now?
I am now a press officer working with the media both proactively placing features etc., and reactively responding to media requests. I also help plan, organise and run campaigns such as National Adoption Week and Private Fostering Campaign 'Somebody Else's Child'. I find and look after our media volunteers (for case studies). I also look after media monitoring and press office admin.

I help out on a voluntary basis at BAAF fundraising events.  I also did a horse trek across Rajastan to raise money for BAAF.

In my free time I help with my local Brownies as an assistant leader.

How was your experience of the course?
I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

It was extremely informative and inspiring and gave me a real understanding of all aspects of the voluntary sector and what is involved with the different roles within a charity. 

It really prepared me for applying for jobs and interviews (I got the first job I applied for). The work placement that was arranged for me was also great and I learnt a lot and enjoyed it very much.

The most valuable thing I took away from it was the friends I made on the course who I still see regularly three years later.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
It gave me a thorough overview of the voluntary sector; what sorts of jobs were available and how my skills were transferable and could be applied to those roles. I also learnt how to prepare my CV, apply for jobs and how to successfully carry out the interview process. 

The work placement that was arranged for me was also great and I learnt a lot and enjoyed it very much.  Whilst doing the course I was really inspired to work in fundraising.  The work experience gave me the opportunity to see what it was like to do fundraising and whilst I enjoyed it very much and the charity was wonderful, it helped me realise that fundraising wasn't for me and that press work was more what I wanted to do.

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Robert Spigal, Anthony Nolan TrustRobert Spigel, Marketing and Communications Manager, Anthony Nolan Trust

What were you doing before you took the course?
Nothing! Since 1969 I was working in business; and during 1990/91 I spent a year in France where I wasn't working, and upon my return did not want to return to business. After realising civil service and the public sector wasn't for me, I decided on the charity sector.

My motivation was for personal reasons that weren't strictly to do with making the world a better place, but rather wanting to work with a more diverse range of people in a different environment. I hadn't worked for two years before doing the course.

What are you doing now?
My role generally involves identifying & developing our brand, and making sure materials are produced in a consistent manner, alongside helping colleagues to do the same.

I was previously a Trustee of Sense for 8 years. I currently partake in unofficial volunteering, advising a school about fundraising and volunteering.

How was your experience of the course?
The experience was wonderful. It was great to be in environment that was totally supportive, compared to the business world, where colleagues can be quite competitive. Everybody on the course encouraged each other to perform.

The most valuable thing I took away from the course was the understanding that there wasn't a mystique about working in the voluntary sector - it's still a serious job, you still have a desk full of papers and do basic office stuff! That may not sound valuable but it actually was. There were so many different subjects covered and the variety of different people on the course was great - there was a real mixture of age, experience and gender. The atmosphere was nice and informal.

I did two Work Placements as part of the course, at the Charities Advisory Trust and at KIDS in South London, developing a PR strategy. I found both to be very good.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
The placement was good as it helped me to further display my willingness to work in the charity sector, and that I was willing to spend time and dedication towards getting a job.

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Rosemary Guilding, Legal Advisor, Guide Dogs

What were you doing before you took the course?
Before taking the course I had worked in private practice as a lawyer specialising in dispute resolution and litigation. I'd never worked within the charitable sector before, although I had some limited experience of working for charity clients from time to time.

What are you doing now?
I'm one of two in-house lawyers working for Guide Dogs at their head office. The work is incredibly varied and for that reason very interesting and challenging. On any given day, I can be dealing with legal issues relating to fundraising through to high value contracts with commercial suppliers through to campaigning and policy issues.

As some of my earlier legal experience involved commercial property I work closely with our property department and my earlier experience in dispute resolution has also served me in good stead.

How was your experience of the course?
The course gave a tremendously useful insight into the different sorts of jobs available within the charity sector, as well as a feel for the sort of issues and pressures that affect stakeholders within the third sector - from staff to volunteers to trustees.

I met a lively, fascinating and diverse bunch of individuals of all ages and backgrounds on the course and most of us are still in touch via email, exchanging information about our experiences in all sorts of charities, from large national charities to smaller organisations - some of the lucky ones have been involved in work overseas. An enviable mini network! 

I'll never forget the lively discussions and debates we got stuck into on the course, the sharing of personal experiences from guest speakers and the rather good buffet lunches that were laid on by NCVO.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
I think the course helped in a number of ways.

I imagine that being able to mention attending the course on my CV when applying for work in the Sector gave my job application credibility, and approaching an interview armed with all the background information I'd acquired from the course meant that I could feel more confident in discussions with potential employers.

A work placement with the Princes Trust organised via the course gave me invaluable first hand experience of volunteering and a feel for the issues that affect large national charities which I've been able to carry through to my present job.

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Mary Pountain, Community Fundraising Coordinator, SOS Children's Villages

What were you doing before you took the course?
I was a secondary maths teacher for 5 years, and then spent 10 years bringing up a family. After that I worked for 5 years as a Learning Support Assistant with children with special needs in a state nursery school.  For the next 10 years I was the teacher in charge of the nursery at a private school.

I had done quite a lot of fundraising in my spare time by organising concerts and events and have always recognised that people often get a lot of pleasure from supporting good causes.

What are you doing now?
I did my placement for the course at SOS Children in Cambridge and was offered a job here at the end of my placement.  I started as a general assistant, working 3 days a week.

I was then asked to take over the Community Fundraising role and now work 4 days a week.  This is a perfect match for me as this is where my interest really lies.  We are a small office, so there is a lot of overlap with the other members of the Fundraising team.

My role is very varied. I work with individuals, community groups such as scouts, church groups, Rotary Clubs etc, who either want to find out more about SOS Children or want to put on an event to raise money.

I also escorted a member of the Cambridge Supporter's Group on a trip to Bulgaria to visit some of the SOS projects that his group were raising money for.

How was your experience of the course?
The course was absolutely brilliant. I couldn't fault it. I learnt so much so quickly and met some really fantastic and inspirational people. I wouldn't be where I am now without it.

The most valuable thing was to have a clear overview of the whole sector and also to see the importance of networking.

I enjoyed getting to know the other members of the course. We still exchange news and are a good support network.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
The placement was key to my present job, as the job was offered to me on the basis of the work I had done during it and the relationships I built up with the staff.  It was in essence a 6 week interview, but it didn't ever feel like that!

But more than that, the course gave me the confidence and wider knowledge that allowed me, as a complete novice in this area of work, to be able to take on the role that I was given.

The work on CVs etc also enabled me to recognise the transferable skills that I have that resulted from my previous career and life experience.

I have always felt able to recommend this course to others seeking to move into the charity sector.

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Tony Lee, Chief Executive, Age Concern Surrey

What were you doing before you took the course?
I was Operations Director for NatWest Bank, Cards Division. This role managed all cardholder usage and collection activity for nearly 5 million cardholders, with 2300 staff in 4 centres across the country.

What are you doing now?
I'm Chief Executive of Age Concern, covering the county of Surrey. We are one of a federation of over 300 independent charities using the Age Concern name, supporting older people in their own homes.

There is a team of 70 staff, the majority of whom are part time, complemented by nearly 350 volunteers. We have a turnover of £1.2 million per year - we're always trying to break even in a harsh financial climate and with reserves of just under 3 months running costs.

How was your experience of the course?
The programme gave me an understanding of the voluntary sector, the expectations of statutory and commercial funders, both operational and financial challenges and the need to motivate staff and volunteers without the commercial incentives.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
Aside from the things mentioned above, the course helped me to be able to communicate by demonstrating the unique challenges within the voluntary sector - with the client always coming first.

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Rosalind Sherlock Jones, Administration Assistant, Anthony Nolan

What were you doing before you took the course?
I worked as a production coordinator for a company called Key Production which arranged the manufacture of CDs, Vinyl and associated print material.

What are you doing now?
I now work for Anthony Nolan, the blood cancer charity, in the registry development department, I am team support for 3 teams. I started working for 'The Register and Be a Lifesaver Project' which is an education project aimed at 16 - 18 year olds to inform and raise awareness of blood stem cell, blood and organ donation. I now also work with 'Marrow' the student body that runs donor recruitment and fundraising events and Donor Recruitment which aims to recruit potential stem cells donors between the ages 16 - 30 years to sign up to the register.

How was your experience of the course?
I thoroughly enjoyed the course, meeting people that were in a very similar position to be me, as I was coming up for redundancy and needed some direction of how I would make the leap from one sector to another. The course covered areas about charities that were completely new to me. The speakers were all very knowledgeable and I gained an insight to each topic covered.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
I did a volunteer placement after the course at the charity Facing the World working in the fundraising department. This experience of working in a charity and building on the foundation of the course helped immensely when applying for jobs in the sector.

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Ian Piper, Chief Executive, Community First Portsmouth

What were you doing before you took the course?
Prior to undertaking the course I spent 24 years working for the National Health Service, then my post there was made redundant.

I was then unemployed for 3-4 months before I went on the course. I had heard that the charity sector could be quite unresponsive toward people attempting to transfer across from the National Health so wanted to really prove my dedication to potential charity employers. 

What are you doing now?
I've had 2 or 3 jobs now since I did the course, but I'm now Chief Executive of Community First in Portsmouth. We provide support, training and development support to charities in the local area. I'm not currently a Trustee but I have been in the past.

How was your experience of the course?
I found the course to be really helpful, and I think it helped me to demonstrate that I was really serious about the potential career change. The course provided opportunities to listen to experts, and network with people on the same journey - some of whom were further along the path than I was and it was great to share our experiences.

I found the course to be comprehensive, and provided the right space to think through whether or not working in a charity is the right thing for you. The course helped me to make up my mind.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
The course I took started in May and I got job following month. I know it helped with the process of gaining the 'transition job' I needed.

The course was really important step towards developing my career in the charity sector. I also met some great people - some of whom I'm still in touch with.

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Dave Taylor, Head of Finance and Resources, The Cricket Foundation

What were you doing before you took the course?
At the time of taking the course I was working as a freelance business consultant in Holland after having recently left chemical manufacturers, ICI, after over twenty years. My ICI career had been spent in financial accounting and reporting in various roles in Head Office, in UK based businesses and in Holland.

What are you doing now?
After having initially spent some time volunteering for the Cricket Foundation, to assist mainly with corporate fundraising, I was appointed as Head of Finance in 2008 on a part-time basis. On concluding a further period of project work elsewhere, I became full-time in May 2009.

The role involves responsibility for the finance operations, HR and IT together with long-term planning and all matters related to governance, including working closely with the Board of Trustees and various Sub-committees.

How was your experience of the course?
The course was very helpful in providing information on how the various stakeholders in a charitable organisation need to work together, as well as some of the more technical and legal issues that distinguish a charity from a private sector company.

How did the course help you to gain a job in the charity sector?
The 20 day project placement took me to the Cricket Foundation from where the volunteering led to the job.

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