Before the term non-governmental organisation, or NGO, was even coined, these organisations were established worldwide for many years to focus on a variety of needy causes. The term NGO can be applied to many kinds of nonprofit entities, but for the purposes of this article, the focus will be on international NGOs that engage in international development, numbering at more than 200,000 unique groups. Many people are drawn to working with NGOs as they are viewed as organisations whose core mission is “to do good.” Not only can you earn a living, but you can help people and make a difference in people’s lives or the environment. While working for an NGO can be extremely rewarding in its own right, the reality is that it’s never that easy. There are hurdles and challenges to face each day that can amount to numerous pitfalls associated with working at an NGO. So what can you really expect?
Although a majority of people typically imagine field staff working in far-flung lands, assisting the poor and needy, the work at NGOs actually comes in many different shapes and sizes. Of course, there are some people whose jobs are out in the field assisting hand-on with local communities, but there are also many people needed to keep background operations running smoothly and finding the necessary funding to keep the efforts of the organisation moving. In some ways, particularly in larger organisations, they run similar to a business but with an eye to fulfilling a particular mission rather than maximising profits for stockholders. All kinds of skills are needed to keep these organisations going, just like at for-profit companies. So even if you didn’t study epidemiology at university, the good news is that you can still make a difference working at an NGO using the skill set you have been trained for.
Because an NGO doesn’t exist to turn a profit, funding for NGOs typically comes from private donors, development agencies and development banks, government grants, and in some cases, the private sector. Ideally, an organisation will diversify its funding sources and avoid relying too heavily on just one in order to maximise capacity to reach funding goals. Unfortunately, dips in individual giving, budget cuts to development agencies and banks, and changes in private sector donations can all add up. Some NGOs also refuse to accept funds from government or the private sector to avoid potential conflicts of interest to focus on fulfilling their mission. While this can in a sense “free” an organisation to do what it sees fit to address its mission, this can also limit funding. Smaller NGOs may feel the pinch more readily than larger ones and this can all translate to more moderate salaries or relying on short-term contracts instead of hiring full time staff. In harder times, this could even mean layoffs. If you are entering the NGO field, be aware that some organisations may be more vulnerable than others to funding challenges.
The Pitfalls of Working at an NGO
Published on Wednesday, 08 Apr 2015
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