Getting into the charity sector as a journalist – Five things I’ve learnt

Trina Wallace
Trina Wallace

Trina Wallace is a freelance charity copywriter and journalist, and an Exeter alum. 

Excitement. Fear. Curiosity. Apprehension. These were just some of the feelings I had when I graduated from Exeter University in 2001 with a degree in English studies. My university years were fantastic. I made new friends, gained amazing memories and learnt so much about life. After graduation, I wondered what lay ahead.

I knew I wanted to be a journalist, but how would I get there – and what would I write about? More than 15 years on, I work as a freelance journalist and copywriter in the charity sector, which I love. Here are some of the things I’ve learnt in my career since I graduated.

Vocational training is fun and makes you stand out. When you’ve finished three or four years of undergraduate study, you might not be up for more education. But if you want to be a journalist, I really recommend doing further training. Journalism is a craft and getting a good grounding in solid journalistic news and feature writing principles is crucial.

I did a postgraduate diploma in magazine journalism at Cardiff University, a great course. The training is more practical than academic, so I felt like I was moving forward. If I need help with work these days, I always look for people who have a journalism qualification.

“There are challenges but being your own boss means you get to choose who you work with and when, and you can fit your job around your life rather than the other way around.”

Work out what you don’t want to write about. I did some shifts at a popular woman’s weekly which involved interviewing people and telling their ‘real life’ stories. For me, that felt uncomfortable. Vulnerable people were paid to tell their heart-wrenching stories and I didn’t think they were supported enough before or after sharing them.

This experience helped me to figure out that I wanted to work in the charity sector. I enjoy interviewing and helping people tell their stories to make change happen. So in the charity sector, I specialise in interviewing the people charities support.

Charities need staff who come from outside the sector. It’s lovely working in the charity sector where people really care about what they do. Often, staff move from one charity to another which is brilliant as it means expertise is shared in the sector. But I do think charities benefit from employing staff with experience of the commercial sector because they have a different perspective. Journalists can bring that eye for finding a story to charities which helps them to reach more people.

Being your own boss is possible. I have worked as a features writer for business and lifestyle magazines and as an editor for a copywriting agency. At the agency, I was also an account manager for charity clients. It taught me about business as well as writing and helped me to return to the idea I’d had when I was younger about being my own boss. I always admired the freedom my dad had being self-employed, ­yet careers advisers never mentioned the option of being your own boss. But it really is an option and journalism is a perfect freelance career. There are challenges but being your own boss means you get to choose who you work with and when, and you can fit your job around your life rather than the other way around.

Journalism is evolving and journalists need to too. Many printed newspapers and magazines have closed which is sad. Now, more people are reading content online. So journalists have to keep their training up to date so they know about everything from search engine optimisation to creating videos. It’s a move to creating content, not just words. If you want to go into journalism, I’d bear this in mind when you’re considering work placements, training and jobs.

Find out more about me on my website www.trinawallace.com

Start Your Career with Sprint

Last year, the Career Zone was pleased to launch Sprint – personal and professional development programme for women. The course is aimed at supporting women to achieve their aims and aspirations, develop confidence and networks. To find out more about the programme we asked two previous participants to share their experiences with us.

Alexandra (3rd Year Flexible Combined Honours with Study Abroad) 

Alexandra McLeod
Alexandra McLeod

‘I found the Sprint course to be completely different to any area of academic study or society event I have participated in at university. It didn’t feel like a lesson or lecture but more of a group discussion on issues we were interested in. I did not contribute that much at first but soon became the most confident member of my group and thoroughly enjoyed the presentation that we did to a friendly panel that were not there to judge us, but were genuinely interested in our career aspirations.

One of my favourite activities was when we had to talk for 2 minutes on an ‘unimportant’ or ‘boring’ subject. Some people went with the weather, I chose the Kardashians. The group had to then become disinterested within 30 seconds and completely ignore you after 1 minute, whilst you kept talking – it’s a lot harder than it sounds! This provided me with a new skill in learning to keep to a concise topic, as well as knowing when to change the subject, especially in interview situations.

I learnt so many new skills such as breathing exercises and relaxation techniques before an exam or interview. It was also liberating to talk freely about things that you were passionate about, or in contrast things that really annoyed you, without being judged as it was accepted that everyone has different opinions.

It was such a friendly and positive atmosphere and I believe is the type of session we should be doing at a much younger age in order to develop confidence.’

“A small change of perspective has made a great impact on my future. I hope other young women benefit from the same opportunity to participate in this life-changing program.”

Catherine (4th Year BA International Relations, Chinese & TESOL) 

Catherine Arnold
Catherine Arnold

‘I participated in the Sprint program in my fourth year of studying International Relations, Chinese and TESOL at the University of Exeter.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect when I signed up to the Sprint programme, but thought it might enhance my employability in an increasingly competitive world of work. The Sprint programme went far beyond that, allowing me to develop personally as well as professionally. Sprint taught me to live my life with confidence and assertiveness, having pride in my achievements and striving for the full extent of my potential.  

I will continue to take the confidence and skills I have gained from Sprint forwards into my Masters study of Water Science, Policy and Management at the University of Oxford, and also in my personal life. A small change of perspective has made a great impact on my future. I hope other young women benefit from the same opportunity to participate in this life-changing program.’

You can find out more about Sprint, including how to apply via our webpage. If you have any questions, please ask the team a question via My Career Zone.

Jade Green, Blogger and Eco Entrepreneur

My name’s Jade, and I’m a blogger and clothing line founder at jadegreenvegan.com I studied at Exeter for four years as part of the KPMG School Leaver Programme, and shortly after graduating in 2015 with a first class degree in Accounting, I left my job at KPMG to launch my own clothing line and pursue a career in blogging full time. 

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Jade Green

I’m so grateful for the experience I gained whilst studying at Exeter and working at KPMG, as having a sound knowledge of business and especially accounting has proved immeasurably helpful as a small business owner. Thanks to my degree, I’ve been able to create my own accounting systems, I know how to budget/forecast and I even have the joy of being able to calculate my own taxes! Whilst my accounting degree has undoubtedly provided a great foundation for my career, I knew I didn’t want to follow a ‘traditional’ accounting route after university, as I have always been a very creative person and wanted to pursue a career where I felt I was making a positive change in the world.

“Pour your energy into something you’re truly passionate about, even if it’s not the safest or easiest option.”

Working on my blog throughout University meant that by the time I graduated, I had created a platform for myself that allowed me to turn my passion into my career. So, with little to no knowledge of what it entailed to set up an online clothing store or to blog full time, I dove head first into building my business. It was one of the best decisions I have ever made.

My blog’s aim is to promote compassionate and sustainable living. I share vegan recipes, healthy living tips, and interviews with influencers in the health/vegan community. My clothing line, an extension of my blog, is comprised of slogan t-shirts, jumpers and hoodies that also aim to promote compassion and kindness. It is really important to me that I support the incredible animal charities around the world, so for each item I sell, I donate £1 to an animal charity. I sell my clothing both online and at various festivals throughout the UK; and since starting my line in December 2015, have been able to donate just under £200 to two animal charities.

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Since embarking on this adventure, I have learnt more than I ever could have imagined about: marketing, designing, web developing, photography, branding, and even accounting (after four years of living and breathing accounting I thought there couldn’t possibly be any more to learn – how wrong was I?!) Whilst leaving the security of my job was incredibly terrifying, not to mention running my own business has been undeniably challenging and stressful at times, I absolutely love what I do and have a clear vision of what I want to achieve which makes it all worth it.

So, my message to anyone reading this would be to pour your energy into something you’re truly passionate about, even if it’s not the safest or easiest option. Life is too short to spend all day every day doing something that you don’t really love.

If you have any questions about what it’s like to start your own business, I would be happy to help so please feel free to contact me at jadegreenvegan@gmail.com

You can also find me at:

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Life as an Actor – Agents and Auditions

It’s never too late… helps final-year Humanities students get advice from successful Exeter alumni, and showcases opportunities from the Careers Zone Actor Des Yankson graduated from Exeter with a degree in Drama in 1999. Des has appeared in many TV shows including Still Open All Hours (BBC), Cucumber (Channel 4) and Hollyoaks (Channel 4).  

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Des at work in BBC One’s ‘Still Open All Hours’

When I left Exeter I had no real idea what lay in store for me. I wanted to act, but wasn’t sure how to go about it. Fortunately, I secured an agent early on; they’re invaluable in helping you get work. They often have lots of contacts in the industry and get to hear of jobs through various means not available to actors.

However, securing an agent is tough, you need to either be recommended by somebody they know (and they respect, like a client or good friend) or you need to be in something that they’ve heard favourable reviews about or seen for themselves. You can get into a play for profit-share or head somewhere like the Edinburgh Festival (in August) or create your own projects that you can show to the agent (a showreel of your work). You should NEVER have to pay your agent upfront; they take a percentage from the work they secure for you. Not all agents take unsolicited CVs, so pick wisely. They’re always on the lookout for the ‘next big thing’ and that could be you. After you manage to get an agent, you may think it’ll be all plain sailing and that you’ll be at the Oscars within the year. But often, it takes a lot more work than that.

“Nothing beats telling your mum that you’re going to be on her favourite soap!”

You need a good relationship with your agent; after all, they’re working on your behalf and they’ll do a better job if they know you well. They’ll contact you when they have work, so days when you’re not working will be spent looking for work, or working as a temp. Temping is very flexible for actors and it tends to pay well enough to cover all bills. The downside is that you work often during the very times that most auditions are. Acting is a craft; you need to work at it and get better. As you progress, you’ll get better and better jobs which are higher and higher profile. This means that you need to be prepared for long periods of unemployment (from acting) and that when an opportunity arises you can focus on it completely. Acting is not a ‘part-time’ profession, but unless you’re rich you’ll need some form of part-time work. You need to pay for subscriptions, photos, travel to auditions as well as workshops and seminars.

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Opportunities are there for the taking. If you get a good audition, you need to grab it. Be punctual, learn the lines and be ready to do it more than once. And go in there with the belief that the job is already yours, it helps control the nerves. The majority of your acting life will be taken up with auditions. Personally I like them as you get a chance to play with new material and to meet new people. But lots of people think they’re nerve-racking and hate them. However, they’re a necessary part of the job, just be open to anything that’s said. After all, the casting directors want to finish their job by saying ‘I’ve found the actor we’re looking for’. But in the most part, they’re good fun, if you can relax. After all, if you can’t handle the pressure, then maybe acting isn’t the profession for you.

When you have work, it’s great because you’re in an industry that you love, working with people who are the very best at what they do, and you can often do things that people in other jobs can’t. It’s very exciting to work at your passion and also to be able to affect people with what you do. Nothing beats the rush from getting that all important job on TV, or when you meet someone really famous and then get to work with them, or telling your mum that you’re going to be on her favourite soap!

Start planing for your future and visit It’s never too late…