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NGO Jobs: Our Quick Guide

Charity groups have existed for centuries. Early groups often addressed poverty or were created during times of war. Many consider The Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1839, to be the first international NGO. The term “NGO”, however, didn’t appear until 1945. Chapter 10, Article 71 of the United Nations Charter defines “non-governmental organizations” as organizations with a consultative role with the UN. Today, the term “NGO” is a bit vague and includes organizations like Amnesty International and Doctors Without Borders. NGOs have spread extensively across the world, numbering in the millions. Interested in working for an NGO? Here’s our quick guide to NGO jobs:

Why are NGO jobs important?

NGOs play an important role in society on a local, national, and international scale. While governments have a primary responsibility to help their citizens, they often fail for one reason or another. NGOs, depending on their goals, work on advancing human rights, provide humanitarian relief and promote sustainable development. The work can focus on both short-term and long-term needs. Because of globalization, the NGO world is growing and needs qualified, trustworthy people to fill a variety of jobs.

What do NGO professionals do?

Because of the many types of NGOs, NGO professionals work in just about every field. NGOs need fundraisers, researchers, health professionals, sustainable development experts, human resource specialists, and more. Here are four job descriptions:

Research manager

Research managers coordinate and manage an NGO’s research projects. Many types of NGOs depend on research, so the content can include business, health, torture, LGBTQ+ rights, and more. Research managers work with a team to develop and monitor methodologies and processes. They also analyze the collected research, create reports, and present findings. Most research managers will need at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like statistics, economics, or psychology. Advanced degrees are often preferred alongside previous research experience.

NGO project manager

Project managers at NGOs are responsible for overseeing project development and execution, including coordinating and guiding a team, submitting activity reports, budgeting, and monitoring the project processes. Because managers are deeply involved in a project from start to finish, it’s a big job. They need excellent leadership and communication skills, including the ability to delegate responsibilities, motivate a team, and communicate with an NGO’s stakeholders. A job candidate should have at least a bachelor’s degree, though many organizations look for advanced degrees. Previous work experience – specifically in leadership – also increases a candidate’s chances.

Finance officer

At an NGO, finance officers oversee financial operations. Responsibilities include maintaining financial records, creating reports, preparing and analyzing budgets, and making financial recommendations. Officers work in close communication with other departments in the organization, ensuring that program funds are used appropriately and that all reporting is done on time. Finance officers are also needed during project budgeting. At least a bachelor’s degree in finance, business administration, or a related field is necessary, although again, many NGOs want candidates with advanced degrees.

Communications officer

Communications officers are essential to an NGO’s branding, campaigning, PR, and fundraising. Their work can include developing long-term strategies for an organization, developing business plans, researching, and creating communications materials like websites, annual reports, and brochures. Communications officers also act as spokespeople for the NGO and engage with the media. Good candidates will have at least a bachelor’s degree in communications, journalism, or a related field, as well as experience in a communications role.

Where do NGO professionals work?

NGO professionals work all over the world in local, national, and international NGOs. Because NGOs serve such varied purposes, almost anyone with a college degree can find a role that fits their background. Professionals work in office settings and the field. Examples of well-known NGOs include Amnesty International, the International Rescue Committee, Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and Doctors Without Borders. There are also countless small NGOs serving specific communities.

How do you become an NGO professional?

Education

There isn’t one path to becoming an NGO professional. You will need at least a bachelor’s degree for most NGO jobs, though many prefer (or require) master’s degrees or even doctorates. The best degree depends on what kind of NGO work you want to do. As an example, if you want to work in project management, a degree in business administration works well. If you want to work in law, you’ll need a law degree. Take the NGO or nonprofit-specific classes offered within your specialty.

Work experience

NGOs prioritize candidates with work experience. That includes paid work, internships and volunteering, and fellowships. These experiences give you a close look at how NGOs operate, what keeps them successful and sustainable, and what your skills are. When hiring for jobs, NGOs want to know candidates have at least a general idea of what to expect. They also look for track records demonstrating skills like leadership, communication, and problem-solving. NGO jobs are competitive, so if you can’t find a job early on, remember that most NGOs need volunteers. While you aren’t guaranteed a job based on volunteer work, it helps.

How much do NGO professionals get paid?

There’s a wide range of salaries for NGO professionals. According to ZipRecruiter, the range for an international NGO in the United States is $18,000 – $128,000. The average is $57,273 a year. What you can expect to earn depends on the specific job, your experience level, your location, and the size of the NGO. While NGO work typically won’t pay as much as the corporate or for-profit sector, you can make a decent living.

About the author

Emmaline Soken-Huberty

Emmaline Soken-Huberty is a freelance writer based in Portland, Oregon. She started to become interested in human rights while attending college, eventually getting a concentration in human rights and humanitarianism. LGBTQ+ rights, women’s rights, and climate change are of special concern to her. In her spare time, she can be found reading or enjoying Oregon’s natural beauty with her husband and dog.