“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill


It feels like only yesterday that I was a bright eyed, bushy tailed second year student panicking over finding a placement, when suddenly the year has been and gone in a flash.  Looking back on my experience of searching for a placement, I found the whole thing extremely stressful and anxiety inducing, because I had quite frankly no idea what I wanted to do.  Zero, zilch, nada.   Did I want to go into PR or advertising? Or would marketing suit me? Would I enjoy working at that company? Would I be better suited for that role?  Oh crap, I’ve missed the deadline….what if that was the perfect placement for me?!?!

The biggest choice in my mind at the time was whether I wanted to go into advertising, marketing or PR.  The question of what sector I wanted to work in barely even crossed my mind, until I applied and later secured my placement in the charity Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke. After the most amazing year working as Communications and Marketing Assistant at NICHS, I left with a newfound love for the Third Sector and with high hopes to continue my career in the area when I graduate.

So why should you consider doing a placement in the charity sector?


1. Giving Back

The marketing, advertising and PR industries are often viewed very negatively by the outside world.  Many see them as the art of simply flogging goods and manipulating consumers with nothing other than sales and profit as the end goal. Being a CAM student, I obviously don’t share this view, but I still found it extremely rewarding to feel like I was achieving a ‘greater good’ in my work. I wasn’t just promoting our brand and pushing for profits.  Our marketing and advertising helps increase brand awareness so more people in need can find out about our services, our health information such as heart attack symptoms can reach more people, potentially saving lives, and rather than chasing profits, we encourage fundraising for our cause so we can help more and more people in need. There was no better feeling than hearing feedback from someone on how a Facebook post, billboard or a simple poster or leaflet had alerted them to our services, support groups or fundraising events, helping them change their lives for the better.

2. Never a Dull Moment

Working in NICHS, no two days were ever the same. From road trips to visit service users and listen to their real life stories, to helping film, edit (and briefly taking up a starring role in) our Give Stress a Rest stress management videos, to chasing runners around Stormont in a red dress with a DSLR in the wintery depths of February…every day was full of drama, excitement and lots of laughs.

The NICHS Red Dress Run at Stormont!  (I couldn’t feel my toes all day)

3. Creativity Needed!

In a charity, there’s a certain level of duty to the public who work so hard to raise funds for us.  These hard earned funds must be used as effectively as possible, and in order to keep being able to help those in need, constantly inspiring more and more people and organisations to fundraise is essential.  Convincing people to part with their time and money in aid of your cause isn’t always easy, but that’s where the fun starts.  The marketing and fundraising department have to get seriously creative!  The fundraising team and my manager, Gillian, at NICHS never ceased to amaze me with their brilliant ideas to get our messages out and to get people involved, and it was so much fun working with them all to help bring the ideas to life, while seeing some of my own be put into action too.

It’s a tough job but somebody’s got to do it

4. Amazing People

From my very first day in NICHS HQ, I was practically shouting from the rooftops to anyone who would listen about how lovely and nice everybody in the office is, and I honestly worry that I might never work with a better bunch of people again!  The second-floor gang, comprised of the Comms department and the ‘Health Promotion Angels’, was like a little family and there was never, ever a dull moment.  As well as my colleagues and co-workers, meeting service users and real life survivors was so inspiring.  From visiting survivors and hearing their stories to going along to the young stroke group on Fridays to play Wii sports, it was always so fantastic to see people refuse to let anything that had happened to them hold them back, and how NICHS had helped them get there.

Balmoral Show? Completed it mate.

So in your search for placement, definitely don’t disregard the charity sector – I had the most amazing year on placement, and so my final piece of advice to any second years is simply to enjoy every minute.  I would do mine all over again in a heartbeat!

Una McHugh is a final year BSc in Communication, Advertising and Marketing student at Ulster University. She can be contacted on Linkedin at https://www.linkedin.com/in/una-mchugh-a11956106/ and Twitter @unamickq