Working life story: from finance to charity work

Stella Beale talks to about how Charity Interns has helped her move closer to achieving her aim of switching from the financial services sector to the charitable one.


Close up of woman working in office with her diary

Stella Beale has spent more of her recent working life in the financial services sector, in everything from card services to pensions, but she has long been interested in working in the charitable sector. The problem is that her  lack of experience has meant she has hit many brick walls.

Many years ago she was offered a job at a charity, but at the time she had two teenage children who were looking to go to university and she couldn’t afford to take the pay cut it would have involved. “I have regretted it ever since,” she says.

More recently she found herself at a crossroads after leaving her job and wanting a change. She applied again to the charitable sector, but kept coming up against the lack of charity experience barrier. Yet she makes the point that people from the commercial sector can be quite entrepreneurial and creative in ways that might benefit the charity sector and that having a good mix of different ways of thinking on your team is a recipe for better, more productive teams. Indeed Stella moved from travel and card services to the insurance world precisely because someone at Legal & General wanted the fresh perspective she would bring. “I told her that I did not have the experience she was looking for. She said I was just the person she wanted because I thought differently,” she says. “She replied: ‘I have a team of people who have that experience and think in that way already.’”

Charity Interns

It’s sometimes hard to convince others of this, however, particularly recruitment agencies who tend to err on the side of caution. But Stella was lucky. Through a contact she had met as a hiring manager she heard about Charity Interns, the programme for older workers set up by Maya Bhose who had also identified the exact same problem regarding sector transfer.  Through Maya’s programme which is backed by the NCVO, she went for an interview with the Alzheimer’s Society and is now halfway through a six-month internship in their trust department where she is a bid writer.

Stella is finding the work really interesting, but she says she was really nervous when she started as bid writing is something she had never done before. “I’ve always had copywriters on my team, but it is not something I ever thought I could do,” she says. 

But the Alzheimer’s Society provided lots of support and examples of past bids and she feels much more confident now. She says she has been ‘blown away’ by the Alzheimer’s Society and says that it is very different from her previous view of charities, being very organised with a big focus on strategy. She has personal reasons for wanting to work with the society. Her father died last year with Alzheimer’s and other members of the family have suffered more seriously with it. “There are not many people who have not been touched by it,” she says, given it is now the UK’s biggest killer with one in three of us likely to suffer from it in our lifetime.

Looking for work

Stella will finish her internship in April and is now looking for jobs in the charity sector, armed with her experience and knowledge of the structure of charities and the right keywords to put in applications in order to get through the automated systems.

Like many older people, she wants to work in a charity because she is keen to do something that makes a difference to people’s lives – not because she thinks charities are the easier option or because she wants to wind down. She also likes the less competitive culture of charities when it comes to sharing information. “It’s really refreshing,” she says.

But she recognises that charities need to make money and that this can be hard, particularly in the current climate. She thinks having more people from a corporate background can help charities to know exactly what businesses need as more of them look to focus more on their corporate social responsibility work. That means more emphasis on metrics and governance.

She adds that being older means she has other life experience to offer, including a greater ability to admit what she doesn’t know and to recognise her strengths. “I’ve been going along this journey towards the charity sector for a while,” she says. “I do think having a good mix of different people with different skills is so important. Diversity in everything is helpful.”

*Find out more about Charity Interns here.

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