Getting more older people into the charity sector

Maya Bhose speaks to about how she put together a pilot project to help older workers into the charity sector.


Like many older workers who have time to reflect, Maya Bhose decided she wanted to make a change in her working life when she was made redundant. She wanted to work in a charity and do something that made a difference. But she struggled to get into the charitable sector, first because she had no experience of the sector and then because of ageism, so she decided to do something about it.

Covid has hit the sector hard with many seeing their income streams dry up while need for their services has skyrocketed. There was a gap there and Maya has developed a paid midlife intern programme that she thinks will address it.

Maya worked for 25 years in the commercial sector in marketing and brand development in companies such as Microsoft and 02. She was working for a US media company when she was in her 50s which was bought by Discovery, leading to many redundancies. That gave Maya the headspace to think about what she wanted to do next and she decided she wanted to switch sectors. She thought it would be easy to get a job in a charity. “I thought they would be falling over themselves to hire me. I had so much experience and they could get it for half the price,” she says.

But she found the opposite.  Most of the job adverts said they wanted people with previous charity experience. It was a Catch 22. “People told me to volunteer, but that doesn’t help much with getting a senior marketing position,” she says. She remembered she had a contact in the charity world. They introduced her to their marketing director and six months later when they needed an interim director she was in. The job eventually became permanent. However, 18 months ago Maya needed to take a career break. She thought it would be easier to get back this time as she had experience in the sector. She was wrong. She feels the difference now is that she is in her 60s, although she admits that ageism is difficult to prove.

An internship with a difference

Maya didn’t give up. “I became more and more irritated by it and saddened by the waste of talent, skills and experience. The presumption tends to be that people over 60 have no energy and are coasting to retirement.”

So she researched the charity sector and found there were lots of hard-to-fill vacancies, which means lots of overstretched charity staff covering for the vacancies, and that around half of the people on the Charity Jobs board were over 50, with two thirds having experience outside the sector. Realising that her story was not uncommon therefore, Maya put two and two together – demand and supply – and came up with the six-month internship pilot which will initially offer around six placements. Her intention is to use the pilot to learn what works best and to scale it up nationally.

She says:  “It’s a simple idea. I want to help people in midlife find a stepping stone into the sector through a paid internship, in the hope that the charity then asks them to stay and will at least give them a reference.” She adds that she also wants to convince charities to be more open-minded to people from other sectors.

A small project with big ambitions

Maya is now busy making the case for charities to come on board. The Alzheimer’s Society was the first and she is talking to several other of the bigger charities, emphasising the need for flexible working too.  Applicants to the internship programme will not be matched with a specific charity. The aim is to give them an entry to the sector as a whole. And selection will not be based on cvs, which have been a double-edged sword for many older workers. It will take place in two stages. The first will involve an application form and a chat with a charity and Maya about what has motivated people to want to switch sectors, what they have done about that so far and what they think the culture will be like in the charity.  The second stage will involve an interview and interviewees will be sent the questions in advance so they can prepare.

The internship will be paid at a minimum of the Real Living Wage, which equates to around £12K for six months, and the adverts will be hosted by the NCVO website which is fully supporting the pilot scheme, in large part because it addresses skills shortages in the sector, and has helped Maya get in touch with the bigger charities. The internships will start in October. Maya is also looking at a model that will support upscaling the project nationally and internationally since other countries, such as the US, face similar challenges. While bigger charities can afford a participation fee, she realises that smaller ones won’t be able to so she is looking at sponsorship options.

Maya, who is still herself looking for a job, says: “I figured I could either get downhearted or I could do something about it and fight against injustice.”

*The midlife intern programme pilot was launched on a LinkedIn Live on 29th June. For more information visit the Charity Interns website or email [email protected].  Picture credit: The picture above is licensed by R M Media Ltd under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike licence.

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