What is it like to work at an NGO headquarters?

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Working for an NGO on the frontline whether as a climate change campaigner, housing access advocate or human rights activist can be a fulfilling career choice for many.  However, don’t forget that NGOs need a whole team of people working behind the scenes to support their campaigns and projects and working at an NGO headquarters (HQ) can provide a varied and satisfying career.

Learn from others

If you are just starting out in your NGO career, or taking an NGO internship, being in a HQ setting may mean that you have direct access to more senior colleagues.

NGO HQs often employ specialist advisers for the sectors they work in who provide email and phone support to regional/international project teams.  These staff members have a wealth of experience and are committed to research and keeping up to date in their field.

Support behind the scenes

Not everyone wants to be on the frontline or campaigning in public eye, but if you enjoy supporting others, there are a wide range of roles at NGO HQs that may be of interest

IT

NGOs need IT staff to keep their internal systems running and to provide support to any regional/international teams.  You might find yourself helping teams test out new equipment or find internet solutions for remote locations.

Social media

Keeping NGO accounts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and You Tube up to date has become a fulltime task with HQ staff needed to write, schedule and post content across all platforms as well as sharing and interacting with posts from other organisations.  Working behind the scenes on social media you can make a real difference – bringing the campaign activities of your organisation into the media spotlight.

Finance

HQ finance staff play a key role in helping NGOs maintain accountability and transparency and ensuring money is transferred to projects appropriately.  You may also be involved in delivering online training to project staff to help them plan or manage budgets and for donor reporting.

HR

As a HR professional, choosing to work in an NGO HQ setting can be a rewarding choice.  You will be advising teams to ensure they have the systems and structures needed to create job descriptions or job adverts, advertise vacancies and interview candidates.  When new staff are employed you may be involved in advising on contracts, salary and benefits.

Fundraising

NGOs need fundraisers to generate the money to deliver their projects or campaigns.  As a HQ fundraiser you might be writing grant applications, organising events, planning crowdfunding campaigns or inviting supporters to set up a direct debit or leave a legacy gift.

Marketing/PR

HQ marketing and PR staff support the team by creating engaging resources such as leaflets, webpages or merchandise to highlight the NGO’s activities.  PR teams act as the point of contact for newspaper, radio and TV journalist, helping to raise the profile of the NGO’s activity as much as possible.

Supporter communications

Supporter facing staff can still be HQ based but tend to have much more contact with the supporter base of the organisation.  This might include speaking to supporters via email or telephone, sending out campaign resources or giving presentations at schools or community groups, all with the aim of generating support for the NGO.

Move sideways

Working at an NGO gives you the opportunity to gain a good overview of the organisation and see how your career might progress.  Don’t forget to think about sideways moves to gain experience in a new area.  For instance if you start your career as an administrator you might later decided to gain more qualifications and work towards specialising in finance or HR.

Use your languages

If you are a languages graduate, a career at the HQ or an international NGO is an exciting one option to consider.  Having knowledge of French, Spanish, Hindi, Bengali, Portuguese or Arabic is seen as a real benefit and you might find you get the opportunity to travel to visit international project sites too.

Collaborate on campaigns

Working at a HQ can also provide easy opportunities to collaborate with like minded NGOs, especially if you are located close together.  For instance, many UK NGOs have campaign staff based in London to allow easy access to parliament for engaging with government.  This can help you get to know the different values and priorities of other NGOs and can be helpful when planning the next step in your career.

Good Luck!

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