How to create a successful career while working for NGOs?
Making a sucecsfuful career in NGO work can be challenging , with many factors to consider:
- Do you want to remain hands on or eventually progress to management?
- Do you hope to become specialised in one area or to experience working in different areas of NGO life?
- Are you happy to keep relocating as new opportunities arise or do you need a stable base?
Entry Level NGO jobs
Like many of us, you may have started your NGO career in an entry level job – keen to get experience, learn more about the sector and try out different roles.
- Entry level jobs are a fantastic introduction to NGO working life - laying the foundations of knowledge about the sector and how it operates
- Many policies and procedures adopted by one NGO are shared by others, as they work towards common goals. Getting to grips with shared concepts such as safeguarding, data protection and fundraising regulations are a solid way to start your career
- You may work alongside a range of different departments including policy, advocacy, finance, HR , campaigning, fundraising, administration and project management, giving you exposure to jobs that you may never have heard of before
Graduate/Skilled NGO jobs
After a several years experience you may feel ready for a new challenge. If you already have a degree in a relevant field then you will be able to apply directly to NGOs for graduate jobs. You may decide to enhance your knowledge by studying for an additional qualification, for example, a Masters in Engineering for Development, Logistics or Tropical Medicine.
Career progression - Options for Stepping Up
- Look for job opportunities where you can learn to manage others or lead a small team
Become a sector specialist
- If you have a built up a bank of knowledge working hands-on with an NGO you might have the option to progress to a sector specialist role, usually based in an NGO headquarters advising implementing partners and colleagues via email/phone with occasional visits to field sites
- An obvious progression route for many NGO workers – just make sure you are happy to be spending more time in the office coordinating people/projects and less time hands-on!
- With experience you may be able to apply for roles in middle/senior NGO management such as Team Leader or Country Director
Ways to Step Sideways
- Research a move to another NGO to renew your enthusiasm for the sector
- Relocate to a different country to experience fresh challenges
- Consider teaching/training – could you get involved in training new staff or designing online courses to pass on your knowledge?
Career progression means something different to everyone. Finding roles where you still feel enthusiastic and know you are making a difference is what really matters - whether your NGO career moves in a straight line or looks more like a zigzag depends on you!