How to Get a Job with a Non-Governmental Organization in the U.S.


If you dream of making the world a better place but feel hindered by your need for a paycheck, consider a job with a non-governmental organization (NGO). NGOs are not-for-profit, socially-oriented organizations that operate independently of any government. They may, in some cases, provide some of the same services as the government, but they’re separate entities, with their own budgets, strategic plans, staff, etc.

What do NGOs do?

For just about any problem society faces, there’s an NGO dedicated to solving that problem. Some are huge organizations with billion-dollar budgets, like the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), Amnesty International, or UNICEF. Others are small, local organizations staffed largely by volunteers due to tight budgets. Some work to end poverty and provide relief from hunger. Others fight to stop the spread of disease and to treat those who are already ill. Others are on the frontline of the battle for human rights, defending those who are abused and oppressed.

What types of jobs are available with NGOs?

That depends on the size and purpose of the NGO. You could be stationed on the other side of the world teaching children how to read or planting sustainable crops. You could raise the funds that no NGO can survive without. You could answer the phones. And, in larger NGOs, you can do just about any type of work you’d find in the private sector: IT, finance, marketing, PR, accounting, human resources, etc.

Is it hard to get a job with an NGO?

Again, it depends. Smaller NGOs may be staffed primarily with volunteers and therefore offer few full-time jobs. Larger NGOs have more opportunities. Turnover for positions “in the field” is typically high because of things like extensive travel, physically demanding and dangerous work conditions, low pay, poor living conditions, etc. However, due to those same factors, they often prefer people with at least some experience in the relevant type of work. For office jobs, finding a job with an NGO is comparable to finding a job with a company in the private sector.

How do you find a job with an NGO?

You could approach the job search in a couple of ways. If you’re already passionate about a certain NGO and the work they do, you could check their website or talk to a recruiter to see if there is an opportunity that matches your skillset. The other approach is to decide what type of work you want to do and find an NGO that does it. What social issues are near and dear to your heart? Do you want to live abroad? Are living conditions a concern? Do you speak any other languages? Do you have any particular skills that might be needed for fieldwork?

Once you’ve answered those questions, it won’t be hard to find the names of NGOs that would be a good fit. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime publishes a list of all of the NGOs registered throughout the world and provides links to their websites. ReliefWeb provides information on the areas in greatest need and gives you the option to search for open positions. WANGO is another database of registered NGOs worldwide.

Whether you do it for a short time from a desire to give back to society or make it your career, working for an NGO is a great way to pay the bills and sharpen your skills, while making the world a better place.