What is a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO)? Though it has no internationally recognized legal definition, an NGO generally refers to an organization that operates independently from any government – though it may receive funding from a government but operates without oversight or representation from that government. And NGOs perform many duties:
- Community health promotion and education (such as hygiene and waste disposal).
- Managing emerging health crises (HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis B).
- Community social problems (juvenile crimes, run-aways, street children, prostitution).
- Environmental (sustainable water and energy resources).
- Economic (micro loans, skills training, financial education and consulting).
- Development (school and infrastructure construction).
- Women’s issues (women’s and children’s rights, counseling, literacy issues).
According to some reports, there are more than 40,000 NGOs that operate internationally, while millions more are active at the national level. For instance, the Chicago Tribune reported in 2008 that Russia had 277,000 such groups, while India has 3.3 million. NGOs have grown at a phenomenal pace, especially in the last two decades, creating a need for millions of jobs – both paid and volunteer based.
Budget and Recruitment
Though NGOs are often referred to as charitable or social organizations, they often have budgets in the millions. Consider this:
- The American Association of Retired Persons, for instance, reported a group wide budget of more than $500 million in 1999 alone. Where does the money come from? From donors, membership dues, fundraising activities, and – not surprisingly – governments themselves.
- The British government provided more than $40 million to Oxfam – the famine relief organization in 1998, while Doctors Without Borders received 46 percent of its funding from government sources during the same time frame, as reported by The University of Colorado.
Because of the scope of the work that NGOs perform, it is reasonable for them to be run as any other successful business is – with executives, managers, and staff at all levels, working in a variety of job categories. Many workers, of course, are low-paid or otherwise volunteer their time, while management and executive level jobs offer salaries comparable to private sector positions. The rationale is simple: Because of the precipitous nature of the work – often in violent, socially, politically, and economically unstable regions of the world – NGOs often target their recruiting efforts toward seasoned professionals with related expertise in management, fundraising, politics, and so forth. Many NGOs also are staffed by expatriates – people from one country who live and work in another, sometimes part-time, sometimes permanently.
What kind of jobs do NGOs actively recruit for? Besides executive level positions, there typically are openings in Information Technology (computer software developers, hardware and networking support), policy and government support, logistics, public relations, fundraising, education, and more.
At the highest level, small, medium, and large NGOs are managed by a Board of Directors, followed by a director, a program manager, administrative officer, accounts officer, project coordinators, and field workers or regular staff. It is important to point out that the growing demand for NGO services globally has resulted in such organizations needing to be more efficient and productive – hence the need for an experienced and flexible board of directors.
The Role of the Board of Directors
As with any corporation, a board of directors for an NGO sets policy and strategic direction for the stated goals of the organization, plus operational guidelines, budgets, and program support. Other board duties include:
- Establishing criteria for membership and appointment to review panels and support groups.
- Creating a framework for monitoring and evaluating NGO activities.
- Financial accountability.
- Decisions on project funding and fundraising.
Because of the nature of the work, there is no shortfall in vacancies at NGOs around the world. To be successful, a charitable organization needs effective human resources management that will recruit, hire, train, and retain qualified executives, managers, and staff. What are some of the factors that contribute to turnover rates?
- Remote work locations and extended separation from families and loved ones.
- Intense work schedule beyond “normal” working hours.
- Cultural issues between expatriates and native staff.
- Inefficient leadership and conflicting management styles.
- A need for personal improvement – in salary, education, among others.
While turnover is considerable, internship opportunities are equally immense and are, perhaps, the best way to learn more about an NGO without a long term commitment. With a charitable group internship, you will learn more about yourself – your strengths, weaknesses, and what you want to do in the future and where you can focus your skills.
A typical NGO internship may last up to six months, with the minimum being in the one month range. Each is designed for the particular organization, and provides an important avenue for experience, career exploration and development, skills assessment, and exposure to other cultures and norms.
Where to Find NGO Jobs
The best place to find a job with an NGO is the NGO itself or various online job sites – a simple “NGO jobs” in Google, Bing, or another search service will do — and recruitment services. There are many job sites and recruiters that specialize in matching candidates with NGO opportunities, most of which can provide an insider’s perspective on how such organizations work, what you can expect, salary ranges, living conditions, and other information critical to you making an employment decision – whether fulltime or a short term internship.
Well Known NGOs
According to its website, this organization “Amnesty International is a global movement of more than 3 million supporters, members and activists in more than 150 countries and territories who campaign to end grave abuses of human rights.”
The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization was founded in 1945 and has worked since that time to “create the conditions for dialogue among civilizations, cultures and peoples, based upon respect for commonly shared values.”
The United Nations Children’s Fund was founded in 1946 and focuses on children’s rights, nurturing, and advocacy issues for children around the world.