Your Guide to NGO Jobs

NGOs offer exciting and diverse careers where you can make a tangible difference and feel valued. NGO employment opportunities allow you to dedicate your life’s work to something you are passionate about whilst developing a broad spectrum of skills and experiences.

Non-governmental organisations (NGOs) are organisations which run on a non-profit basis which are independent of national governments and international governmental bodies. They are frequently internationally focused.

NGOs have an identity issue. Making it difficult for the job seeker, NGOs come in a number of different guises.

In some countries, such as the UK, they are often referred to more simply as ‘charities’. Charity jobs fall under the scope of NGO job opportunities. You may also hear NGOs referred to as pressure groups, international aid organisations, voluntary organisation, Foundations or Associations. Big names which fall in to this often include NGOs run by the likes of the UN or World Bank.

NGOs tend to focus their role in a specific area. For example, they may focus on international aid or development, education, health care, human rights, environmental concerns or social aims. They have their own defined objectives. No matter which NGO role you fill, from accounting through to on-the-ground aid worker, you will be working towards that common goal.

Overview of the job market in the NGO sector in the UK and worldwide

The NGO sector is booming for job opportunities of an enormously diverse nature. In fact, the sector has seen immense change in the last couple of decades. The digital age and rise in generation intent on using their working lives for ‘good’ means that NGOs have both technological and human resources to empower their aims.

Combined with this we are seeing a welcome shift as many NGOs become more professionally run and organised. Indeed, the NGOs of today only resemble scant similarities to those of yesteryear.

We’re now seeing NGOs expand in to hugely diverse areas with a focus on strategy. Whereas in the past, pleasing investors was often the primary aim of an NGO, now we’re seeing an increasing focus on how an NGO achieves tangible and measurable results. Importantly, a global trend in NGOs is their partnership and relationship with other NGOs, and collaboration, particularly spanning the North and South together.

Perhaps we can understand some of the interesting trends in the NGO job market by understanding the nature of global giving. Looking at the 2018 Global Trends in Giving Report, there are some interesting developments.

Firstly, we see the distribution of how the global population gives. The biggest draw is to children and youth (15%), followed by health and wellness (10.8%) then animal and wildlife at 10.5%. The most generous ‘givers’ are Canada followed by the US. The UK is seventh on the global list of givers. However, of particularly interest is that it is Millennial who top the leader board of the most generous givers. There is a massive shift going on which will impact NGOs for years to come.

There are some core names in the job market for NGOs. These coincide with the top names on the 2018 edition of the Top 500 NGOs World. Leading the way, for the third year in a row, is BRAC. BRAC is an international development organization implementing evidence-based programs in both post-disaster and conflict-prone areas. Other NGOs of particular note in the report are: Wikimedia Foundation; Acumen Fund; Danish Refugee Council; Partners in Health; Ceres; CARE International; Médicins San Frontières; and, Mercy Corps.

In the UK and Europe, Oxfam is an international NGO of notable size for job opportunities, alongside Médicins San Frontières, the Foundation for Environmental Education (Denmark) and Greenpeace (now headquartered in the Netherlands).

A further trend that NGOs are experiencing which impacts the NGO job market is the growth of localisation. The current trend is for NGOs to decentralise their operations to local organisations on the ground. This draws a greater need for local talent. However, it is not unusual for this local talent to not yet exist, providing short term opportunities to NGO job seekers to develop that local talent. Furthermore, some organisations, e.g. Oxfam and ActionAid have moved their headquarters to the countries within which they operate.

The NGO job market also has a marked difference to many other fields which the job seeker needs to understand. Many job opportunities aren’t quite fully developed. They are often billed as ‘proposals’ awaiting funding. Additionally, many NGO roles typically come with a fixed term contract length. Therefore, seeking employment in NGOs requires an international job board which provides clarity and choice, like NGO Careers.

What do aid workers do?

Being an aid worker encompasses the ‘on-the-ground’ roles within NGOs. Therefore, it is a broad descriptive term which involves multiple roles and skills. The term ‘aid worker’ can also be used to apply to those who manage and develop operational and emergency response programs. Typically, aid workers will be connected to specific geographical areas, usually for a fixed term.

It’s important to remember that aid workers aren’t the only roles available within NGOs. Other roles are focused within headquarters and include strategic and administrative roles.

Aid workers undertake their roles in areas which are facing developmental or environmental concerns, or where war/unrest or natural disasters have created an emergency. As such, aid workers are considered ‘front line’ workers. Their primary role is to distribute aid to those who need it.

Roles and responsibilities vary according to the scope of the emergency, the objectives of the NGO, and the responsibility level of the individual aid worker position. Roles may include:

  • Emergency situation assessments.
  • Liaising with local bodies and staff including recruitment.
  • Liaising with other bodies, NGOs and governmental departments.
  • Coordinating volunteer response, organising the volunteer force, and possibly training.
  • Managing aid budgets and distribution of funds.
  • Implementing emergency responses and action.
  • Monitoring the effectiveness of action including report writing and proposals.
  • Implementing and ensuring adherence to safety and security procedures and protocols.

Typical employers for aid workers are NGOs of a range of different types, but which usually have an international scope. Such roles are found in a range of locations offering different humanitarian aid depending on the nature of the situation or emergency.

Paid aid worker and NGO vacancies are grounds for intense competition. The vast majority of roles contain a ‘vocation’ element and as such draw on a voluntary base, even within paid roles. NGO Career brings you a wealth of paid NGO employment and aid worker positions in one place.

What are the career opportunities and prospects that exist within the NGO sector?

Whilst competition for paid roles is stiff, this doesn’t mean that the NGO sector isn’t a valuable place to build a career. That said, careers in NGOs usually stem from a firm foundation of voluntary experience. Most paid roles will expect a minimum of 3-4 years relevant experience.

However, it’s also important to remember that whilst paid aid worker positions on the ground face stiff competition, NGOs themselves require a plethora of other roles filling. NGOs have a hierarchical structure similar to a business. They need operations managers, accountants, Human Resources personnel and fundraising teams. They need those skilled in logistics, marketing, public relations, legal knowledge and more.

As such, it is indeed possible to build a worthwhile career within the NGO sector, still gaining from the ‘feel good’ factor of working for an NGO. Indeed, many of these higher level and HQ roles are performed best by those who have direct experience working on the ground as an aid worker.

At NGO Career we advertise a myriad of different opportunities within the NGO world. There is the possibility of building a career with unrivalled job satisfaction.

To build your career within NGOs, you will need to first identify the area within which you would like to work, have a passion for, and want to make a difference. Narrowing down the field can enable you to get the relevant experience to excel your career. Even when hunting down entry level roles, look to senior positions and see what skills and attributes are required. This will help you develop your career. NGO Career is one of the job boards where you can find the listings about charity jobs advertised by charities and voluntary organisations. Experience is essential to apply for Charity and NGO jobs. Working as a volunteer for charities and voluntary organisations can be a good starting point to gain experience and skills that are required to apply successfully to charity jobs.

Some of the larger NGOS run internment programmes for developing a career. Understandably, these are highly competitive for gaining a place.

What are the benefits and advantages of working in the NGO sector?

Your career is a long time. It defines who you are. For this reason, working within the international NGO sector is a way to feel you’ve made a positive impact on the world, rather than plugged away in a career for nothing more than a pay cheque. Few other career paths offer the same sense of vocation, or giving, which people are increasingly seeking.

Working for an NGO isn’t within it challenges, however, the rewards can be immense.

Often, within NGOs, roles are diverse. You’ll be expected to wear many different hats which bring interest and dynamism to your working life. This also brings the advantage that you can quickly develop a broad range of experience and can help you understand what you are seeking from your career, and indeed life.

What’s more, this accelerated development of a range of skills can serve as a platform for other career options should you decide to leave the NGO sector in the future. You are likely to have acquired skills as diverse as social media management through to complex negotiation. You develop a wonderful range of employable skills.

Whilst it can be harder to build a career within the NGO sector, compared to the world of business, it’s important to recognise that the advantages are different. Whilst higher levels and pay rises are harder to come by, team work and support is immensely powerful. The small team-based environment is a rewarding and supportive work environment, with a sense of all being in it together. Even at a junior level, your voice is likely to carry weight and your opinions matter. There are certainly more opportunities to show your initiative. As such, you can rapidly develop skills in communication and problem solving.

At a personal level, you will broaden your own horizons and cultural understanding. Of course, NGO roles also bring the opportunity to travel to a diverse range of places. You’ll be seeing the ‘real’ world, not experiencing it through a tourist lens.

Overriding all of the benefits of working for an NGO is that you are engaging in something you believe in. You’re able to work with your passion which makes your working life more personally engaging and rewarding. You will definitely feel you are making a valuable contribution to an area of importance to you and society.

What are the requirements to become an international aid worker?

As already mentioned, the biggest requirement for a paid international aid worker role is voluntary experience. However, there are a number of different routes for entry in to this field. Graduates looking to enter aid work should select degrees which offer valuable and transferrable knowledge. For example, a degree in medicine, languages, social science or engineering can be particularly valuable. Your degree should be pursued alongside opportunities to gather relevant voluntary experience. A Masters in international development can be considered by those seeking a management career path within NGOs, but it mustn’t be done at the expense of practical experience.

Additionally, those who gain qualifications in the areas of healthcare (specifically first aid), management, languages and logistics will find it easier to compete with the high level of competition for these roles. Those seeking a career in aid work should definitely seek to develop their language knowledge. Being able to comfortably converse in a range of languages is vital in aid work. Practical skills are also of immense importance.

For aid worker positions, working in emergency locations, or in less developed areas around the world, it is imperative that you yourself are in good health. You’ll need high levels of stamina and resilience, combined with an attitude to get stuck in, whatever needs doing.

Additional soft skills which are of value include flexibility and resourcefulness. You will likely need to live in difficult conditions. Furthermore, interpersonal and communication skills will benefit you greatly in terms of interacting with both locals and your colleagues. You’ll also need a great deal of cultural respect. Despite the skills and qualifications needed within NGOs, most will also conduct their own training especially for workers who are being sent abroad.

Why should NGOs and job seekers use NGO Careers?

NGO Careers is an international NGO job board focused on matching the full spectrum of NGO roles with suitably skilled and experienced job seekers. We care that this is a sector in need of careful recruitment practices in order to empower NGOs, as well as empower the individual aid worker. As resources for recruitment can be scarce, and positions often have an international target job market, it’s vital to use a dedicated digital platform like NGO Careers to ensure the recruitment process is successful for candidate and NGO alike.

At NGO Career, we have a vast number of NGO jobs for you to browse, and a broad and experienced talent pool of candidates.

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