Charity groups have existed for centuries. Early organizations often addressed poverty or needs related to war. Many consider The Anti-Slavery Society, founded in 1839, to be the first international NGO. The term “NGO”, however, didn’t emerge 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 broader 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.
What types of jobs are available at NGOs?
Because of the many types of NGOs, NGO professionals work in just about every field. NGOs need researchers, project managers, finance officers and more. Here are eight job descriptions:
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 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, 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 candidate should have at least a bachelor’s degree, though many organizations prefer advanced degrees. Previous work experience – specifically in leadership – also increases a candidate’s chances.
Finance officers oversee an NGO’s financial operations. Responsibilities include maintaining financial records, creating reports, preparing 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. 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 officers are essential to an NGO’s branding, campaigning, PR and fundraising strategy. 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’s media events. 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.
Fundraisers work on the financial side of an NGO. Their job is to generate funds. Activities can include promoting monthly donations, developing fundraising campaigns and organizing other events. Most fundraisers have at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing, communications, business or a related field, although many NGOs like candidates with master’s degrees in nonprofit management or something similar. Good fundraisers have skills like excellent organization, problem-solving, budget management, and excellent communication.
If you’re interested in fundraising, check out our list of 10 master’s programs in fundraising and related areas.
Because most NGOs depend on grants for their operations, grant writers are essential. As a type of fundraiser, they’re responsible for identifying grants the organization is eligible for, writing proposals, balancing budgets and completing other tasks related to the grant. Most grant writers need at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like communications, while some NGOs prefer candidates with master’s degrees. A few years of grant-writing experience, excellent research skills, excellent communication skills and a deep understanding of the NGO world are also important.
Policy analysts study the impact of laws and regulations on certain groups, organizations and society in general. Many organizations hire policy analysts to collect data on certain laws, develop policy recommendations and track legislation. As an example, an advocacy group focused on ending poverty will hire analysts to study how certain policies affect poverty rates and what policies can reduce poverty. Some policy analyst positions may only require a bachelor’s degree, but many NGOs want candidates with a master’s degree in a field like economics, political science or public policy. Work and research experience is also valuable.
Education is a human right, so many NGOs implement education-focused programs and initiatives into their work. Education professionals can work as managers, consultants, program directors, curriculum writers, policy analysts and so on. They may focus on traditional education (reading, writing, math, science, etc) or human rights education. Entry-level educator jobs typically require a bachelor’s degree (not necessarily in education), but a master’s degree is usually required for higher-level positions. Tasks may include developing and coordinating education programs, working in the field, creating curriculum and working directly with students.
NGOs like Plan International and Amnesty International offer careers in education. Here’s our list of 11 organizations.
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, advance human rights, provide humanitarian relief and promote sustainable development. They work on issues like disaster relief, hunger, water and sanitation, gender inequality, climate change, children’s rights, education and much more. Their activities 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.
Check out our article on why NGOs are important.
We know NGOs matter, but what do NGO workers get out of the job? While the work can be challenging – and even dangerous – there are many benefits. The first is the sheer volume of available careers. This article only scratches the surface of what NGOs offer, which work in every field. These jobs also provide professionals with countless skill-building and travel opportunities. NGO work can also make you eligible for student loan forgiveness and help you get into certain post-graduate programs. Working for an NGO can also be incredibly meaningful, and research consistently shows that “meaningfulness” is more important to most people than any other aspect of a job. If you find a job that feels meaningful, you’re more likely to feel content and motivated.
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. Here are five of the world’s largest NGOs:
This anti-poverty organization was established in 1942. It focuses on gender equality, water and sanitation, climate justice and disaster relief. It operates in over 90 countries, including Yemen and Syria. Oxfam also runs charity shops, most of which are based in the United Kingdom.
With a presence in over 150 countries, Amnesty International is one of the world’s largest NGOs. It promotes human rights through regular advocacy campaigns. While it has a focus on ending the death penalty and torture, it works on ending every human rights abuse. Its priority areas include children’s rights, discrimination, armed conflict and international justice.
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) was first founded in response to refugees leaving Germany following the rise of the Nazi Party. It now helps refugees affected by conflict, humanitarian disasters, climate change and other crises that cause displacement. IRC focuses on safety, economic well-being, empowerment, education, and the rights of women and girls.
Also known as Médecins Sans Frontières, Doctors Without Borders is a medical NGO. It addresses the consequences of conflict, natural disasters, disease outbreaks and more by addressing maternal health, malnutrition, HIV/AIDS and much more. At the time of writing, the NGO worked in over 70 countries.
With a presence in over 75 countries, Plan International is a global humanitarian and development NGO. It focuses on children’s rights, education, sexual and reproductive health, youth empowerment and gender equality. It’s been in operation since 1937.
How do you become an NGO professional?
NGO work is extremely diverse, so there’s no one path to an NGO career. To increase your available options, however, here are the steps we recommend:
Get a degree (preferably a master’s)
You will need at least a bachelor’s degree for entry-level NGO jobs, though most prefer (or require) master’s degrees or even doctorates. This is especially true if you want to advance in your career. NGO work is very competitive, so it’s not uncommon for organizations to filter out candidates who don’t meet all the requirements. The right 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.
Gain 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 makes them successful and sustainable and what skills are necessary. When hiring for jobs, NGOs want to know candidates have at least a general idea of what to expect, while they favor candidates who’ve already demonstrated skills like leadership, communication and problem-solving. As we already said, NGO jobs are competitive, so if you can’t find a job early on, remember most NGOs need volunteers. While you aren’t guaranteed a job based on volunteer work, it helps.
Look for jobs on NGO job boards
To find the jobs that best fit your experiences and interests, consider searching on job boards dedicated to NGO work. Examples include Idealist, Reliefweb, and Impactpool. Human Rights Careers also features jobs.
How much do NGO professionals get paid?
There’s a wide range of salaries for NGO professionals. According to data from Indeed, the national average for a fundraising specialist in the US is $51,488, while program managers make around $67,128. High-level jobs, like NGO directors and experienced consultants, can earn six figures. What you can expect to earn depends on factors such as the specific job, your experience level, your location and the size of the NGO. What similar NGOs pay for similar work also factors into your salary.