Career Coach: Charity Sector
I caught up with Ian to reflect on his career and aspirations for the future.
You’ve built your career through roles in the community, health, and charity sector. What’s drawn you to these types of roles?
I was drawn to the role at Terrence Higgins Trust because it gave me the chance to have an impact on the lives of others like myself who are living with HIV.
From a very early age, I knew I wanted to do something that was going to ultimately change lives. My passion to help impact the lives of others came from my grandparents who were adamant about giving back to the community you’re a part of, which is ultimately how I ended up developing my career in the charity sector.
In order to progress to leadership roles in these types of organisations, do you need any training or qualifications, or are they the types of roles that you can learn on the job?
Before being appointed to this role at Terrence Higgins Trust, I had 25 years’ experience of high-profile leadership roles in the voluntary, health, local government, housing, and social care sectors. This experience undoubtedly helps me to fulfil my duties as CEO.
I think it depends on the individual and what qualifications the organisation is looking for, as there are specific roles where it really does help for you to have some sort of qualifications.
How did you land your first job in this sector?
I first started my career in the charity sector working for the YMCA. I got offered a part-time role, which then turned into a full-time role after I left university. As a charity, we were responsible — amongst other things — for providing housing for homeless young people. I spent the majority of my career at YMCA, and I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Now, I’m doing some of the most fulfilling work of my career at Terrence Higgins Trust as we work to end the HIV epidemic in the UK, to promote the message that those on effective HIV treatment can’t pass the virus on, and campaign to ensure access to PrEP for all who need it wherever they are in the UK.
What are some of the skills or attributes that you need to be successful in roles in this sector?
You need to be hard-working, passionate, and able to work efficiently in a team. From my experience, the charity sector in particular is not one for people who prefer working independently. There are lots of opportunities in the charity sector for collaborations and partnership work, which require effective team work. For example, we regularly collaborate with other HIV organisations including National AIDS Trust and NAM-AIDSMap.
In addition to this, you need to have an alignment to the cause. You need to be motivated and passionate about the work of the organisation and the work they deliver to their communities. For example, I have a passion to better the lives of people living with HIV because, as a gay man, I belong to one of the groups that are mostly affected by HIV in the UK with over half of new diagnoses still among gay and bi men. But I’m passionate about ending new HIV transmissions across all groups and improving everyone’s sexual health.
Never underestimate the power of passion to get you up at 5:30 AM to get to work. I have such a strong connection to the work I do at Terrence Higgins Trust because I recognise how important it is.
If someone wanted to explore a career in this sector, what advice or guidance would you give them?
They say the harder you work, the luckier you get — but there definitely is an element of luck to anything that happens and there’s no one way to get to where you want to go. Volunteering and demonstrating your commitment to a cause or range of causes is a good starter, and we have lots of interesting roles at Terrence Higgins Trust – including mentoring on our Work Positive program, which supports people living with HIV who are unemployed back to the workplace through mentoring, training, and supportive placements.
What are some of your goals and aspirations for the months ahead?
It’s an exciting time for us. Not only have we seen a massive reduction in new HIV diagnoses in recent years, but we’ve also just announced that the Big Lottery Fund has decided to invest over £1 million in our new three-year beneficiary involvement project. We want to meaningfully involve people who use our services — or might do — in every aspect of our work. This project will ensure our services are fit for purpose, that we’re able to respond to the changing needs of beneficiaries, and also enable people living with HIV to live well.
Another of our goals is to continue championing the Can’t Pass It On message that people living with HIV and on effective treatment can’t pass on the virus to anyone else. We know this message has the power to tackle stigma and change perceptions of HIV.
We’ll also be shouting about all the other ways of preventing HIV — including condoms, PrEP, and regular HIV testing. That includes the It Starts With Me campaign, which is responsible for National HIV Testing Week. This year we were proud to have a message from The Duke of Sussex to mark the start of the week — who knows what 2019 will bring!
Ultimately, our overall goal as a charity is to live in a world where people with HIV live healthy lives free from prejudice and discrimination, and good sexual health is a right and reality for all. We work hard to achieve that goal each and every day.