An NGO (non-governmental organization) is a nonprofit group separate from the government. Beyond that, there is no universal definition of “NGO,” but many NGOs focus on humanitarian issues, including but not limited to gender equality, poverty, and international development. How much do NGO workers get paid? In this article, we’ll describe what factors determine salary, the types of jobs NGO workers fill, and what salaries are common for those jobs.
Factors for an NGO worker salary
Several factors determine an NGO worker’s salary. By knowing what these factors are, you can understand how an organization structures its salary and recognize whether an NGO falls short on how much it pays its employees. Key factors include:
- Seniority: Where in the organization’s hierarchy does an employee fit in? Jobs with more seniority and leadership in an NGO pay more.
- Responsibilities: The responsibilities an employee has and the difficulty of those responsibilities should factor into salary. Jobs with more specialized responsibilities often pay more because the candidate pool is smaller.
- Employee’s past job experience: An employee with more experience earns more than an employee early in their career. The employee’s compensation history is also a factor.
- Job comparability: How much do similar NGOs pay for similar jobs? What is the industry standard for the job given its responsibilities?
- Geography: A job based in an area with a higher cost of living should pay more than a similar job in an area with a lower cost of living. Jobs based in more dangerous areas (think NGO workers in conflict zones) also often include hardship pay.
- Size of the organization: Organizations with smaller budgets (like local NGOs) tend to pay less than well-known NGOs with larger budgets for paying staff.
NGO jobs and common salaries
There are most likely millions of NGOs around the world, so there’s a huge range of jobs and salaries. Here are some examples of careers and the range of salaries you can expect.
International aid worker
Job description: International aid workers often work for government agencies, but NGOs hire these workers, as well. They’re sent wherever their NGO wants them based on their skills. They could work in healthcare, education, development, and so on. The work is often dangerous because of problems like violence, disease, or natural disasters.
Salary: International aid workers tend to have fairly modest salaries. Schmoop estimates a yearly salary of $30,000, but depending on where the job is based, even a small salary can go a long way. Aid workers also often receive stipends for housing, insurance, and utilities.
Job description: NGOs, especially NGOs that publish reports, hire researchers to investigate and compile data on a variety of topics. A researcher’s responsibilities can include figuring out research goals and sources, collecting and verifying information, and organizing and analyzing data. Researchers may be on staff or hired as contractors.
Salary: It’s tricky to get a salary range for a researcher at an NGO. The salaries are typically less than what a researcher with a government agency or large corporation would receive. According to Glassdoor, a researcher at Amnesty International London is paid an average of £52,180 per year.
Job description: NGOs depend on funding sources like donations, but grants are just as important. A grant specialist’s job is to seek out grants relevant to the NGO and complete applications. They might also be responsible for managing any grant money the NGO receives.
Salary: According to ZipRecruiter, the average pay for a “nonprofit grant writer” in the United States is $55,592 a year. Salaries can range as low as $20,500 and as high as $86,500. This wide range shows that many of the job factors we listed earlier (past job experience, size of the organization, etc) are in play.
International social worker
Job description: While often thought of as a job with a government agency, social workers also work in NGOs. If they work internationally, social workers primarily work for NGOs. International social workers work for organizations like the International Rescue Committee and Oxfam on coordinating various human services projects. That includes providing education, counseling, resources, and other assistance for children, refugees, people with disabilities, and others.
Salary: According to Indeed, social workers make around $60,000 a year. The Psychology School Guide lists a range of $35,000-$75,000. Experience and skills like fluency in multiple languages will likely mean a higher salary.
Community health worker
Job description: Social service agencies, clinics, and NGOs hire community health workers. To help establish trust, community health workers are typically hired from within the served community or – at the very least – a community whose culture the worker is extremely familiar with. Community health workers provide health education, advocate for services and resources, and assist other health workers, like health educators and doctors.
Salary: A community health worker’s salary varies significantly based on where they’re working. According to Salary.com, workers in the United States make an average of $39,079 per year. It can go as high as $45,148.
NGO program director
Job description: NGOs depend on program directors for management, fundraising, strategic planning, and monitoring. As a higher-level job, directors must be excellent leaders and communicators. Specific responsibilities vary based on the NGO’s vision and goals, but the director is responsible for crafting successful programs. They often serve as a public face of the NGO, as well.
Salary: According to ZipRecruiter, the average NGO director in the United States makes $71,650 a year. Salaries can go as low as $39,500 and as high as $168,000. As a leader, directors will make one of the higher salaries in an organization, so it seems reasonable to say that specific pay depends heavily on factors like the NGO’s size and job location.
Job description: On the surface, an accounting job at an NGO isn’t too different from an accounting job anywhere else. Responsibilities include preparing monthly payroll, maintaining and managing financial documents, processing financial transactions, and reviewing documents for compliance. What is unique, however, is the difference between for-profits and nonprofits. An accountant working at an NGO must understand all the financial laws. NGO accountants often work alongside bookkeepers, who also work in finance but are not the same as accountants.
Salary: According to ZipRecruiter, an NGO accountant in the United States makes $53,315 a year. Salaries range as low as $24,000 and as high as $95,500. Non-profit bookkeepers, who don’t have as much specialized education as accountants, make an average of $37,243 a year. The high end is $41,000, which indicates there’s not as much room for growth within the bookkeeping field. Many accountants start as bookkeepers, and with more education and experience, they can earn higher salaries.
Do NGOs pay well?
The underpaid NGO worker is a common stereotype. Research does show that people are willing to earn lower salaries if they find their work meaningful. Is it true that people have to sacrifice a good living for the greater good? The answer is more complicated than a simple “yes” or “no.” A PayScale salary survey compared eight distinct positions within the for-profit and nonprofit sectors, including marketing managers, staff accountants, and administrative assistants. Payscale found that nonprofit workers are twice as likely to say their job makes the world a better place. They also found that in seven of the eight positions, nonprofits workers earned 4-8% less than their for-profit counterparts. Marketing managers earned 18% less.
As always, factors like past work experience and geography determine a specific salary, so it isn’t always true that a nonprofit worker earns less than they would at the same job at a for-profit organization. There are also significantly more than eight jobs in the nonprofit world, so PayScale’s survey represents just a piece of the puzzle. What we can take from this, however, is that people who go into nonprofit work are consistently willing to take smaller salaries in exchange for work they find meaningful. NGOs should still pay employees well and ensure they aren’t financially struggling. NGO workers should also not feel guilty about wanting higher salaries or negotiating for their salary.
How to find out what NGOs are paying their workers
When you’re applying for a job at an NGO, they might not be clear about the salary right away. There are a few reasons for this, including the fact that the salary will be different for a candidate with, say, three years of professional experience than for a candidate who just graduated school. Want to get at least a vague idea of what the organization pays their people? In the United States, nonprofits are required to disclose information to the IRS about their top employees’ salaries through Form 990. To give the public access to this data, some nonprofits put the forms right on their own websites. You can also check sites like GuideStar and ProPublica’s Nonprofit Explorer. The IRS requires all U.S. tax-exempt nonprofits to make their three most recent 990s public. You can also look at sites like CharityNavigator for info on an NGO’s admin expenses, program expenses, governance, and transparency. For insight into how past and current employees view their NGO, see if there are views on Glassdoor.