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How to Build a Thriving Career at an NGO or Non-Profit

purity muriuki



How to Build a Thriving Career at an NGO or Non Profit

Feeling fulfilled and making a difference in the world is an essential component of life happiness. Never underestimate how important it is to believe in what you do, especially in your career. Making a difference and working towards a better tomorrow is one of the best gifts that we can give future generations.

NGOs and non-profits are both excellent sectors to look towards when you want to make a difference in the world. You can help people now and in the future, and your reach only grows as you move up the career ladder.

How to Get Your Foot in the Door

The biggest hiccup in moving up the career ladder is by far getting your foot in the door. You need the right connections, the right mindset, and the dedication necessary. Non-profits and NGOs are very popular options for people to work for, but by their very nature, they often do not have large hiring pools due to budget constraints.

This means fewer job openings that reach the public. More often than not, when a position opens up, it will go to someone in the organization.

Getting your foot in the door, therefore, is the biggest hurdle and can be overcome when you:

1. Further Your Education

NGOs and non-profits have several tiers of workers. There are those who work on the ground to provide direct relief and services to the population and those who work higher up. Mid-level employees typically work in an organization; they manage the volunteers, improve databases, and generally make sure that the resources necessary are going where they are needed when they are needed.

Higher up, you have policymakers and big thinkers. They are the ones who direct projects, the ones who come up with new ways of doing things, and those who have the biggest clout and influence amongst government organizations. Moreover, they often have very impressive resumes, which can be daunting for someone just starting out.

A good place to start, however, is with your education. Go for a masters degree at least, especially if that degree focuses on the “bigger picture,” so to speak. In education, for example, an online Masters in education will teach you methodologies and how to shape the very future of education. It will prepare you for educational leadership and give you the theoretical background necessary to make the big decisions that impact students everywhere.

That sort of academic background is just what you need to get started with a career at a relevant NGO or Non-Profit. These fields are more likely to emphasize your education as well, unlike more business-focused careers that look first at work experience.

As NGOs and non-profits working to improve policy and quality of life for a certain population, having an in-depth understanding of the needs and how to bring about change is an excellent place to start your career.

2. Volunteer

Volunteering is an easy way to get started working for any organization. Opportunities are often easy to come by and are typically much easier to acquire than even internships. You will be working on the ground and helping people, and more importantly, getting to know the volunteer managers and others who work higher up the ladder in that organization.

Volunteering will help you get a job at the organization you are volunteering for, but at the end of the day, it looks great on your resume no matter where you apply. You’ll meet great people, be doing good, and showcasing your dedication and passion for NGO work.

3. Take Advantage of Internships

Internships are a great way to get your foot in the door of an NGO or non-profit. They are best done while you are still attending college or university, since they are educational opportunities, and you can use your student loan to support yourself, instead of having to work for free without any financial buffer.

Some internships will only be open to current students or recent graduates as well. Not only that, but the chances are that your careers department has links to NGOs and other non-profits for internship and even career opportunities.

4. Use Your Network

You can start to use your network from day one, though it is important to be patient. Volunteering and interning will get you in with the right people that can and will be happy to refer you to job opportunities in the future. You’ll find that many job postings from NGOs and non-profits have a section where you can explain if you have volunteered with them or worked in a different division in that same organization.

How to Progress Your Career

Getting your first job is big, but you need to keep pushing to get further and further into your career.

Ask for More Responsibilities

Start first just by asking for more responsibilities when you can reasonably manage them. Always do a job right first. If you feel you are stretched thin as it is, there will be no benefit to taking on extra work.

Do both of these things, and you will show that you are responsible and passionate about the field and organization. If there are internal hires, you want to be on that list.

Move to Smaller Organizations

Of course, if you want to make massive leaps, then consider job hunting and working in smaller organizations. Smaller organizations mean you won’t be paid as much, but it will also mean that you can jump up towards upper-level management faster. This way, you can get the experience you need of running an NGO faster, with more hands-on application.

Then Apply for Your Dream Job

Having the professional experience of working in a high-level position can help you get your dream job. Just remember to use your network and to keep your mind open as to the possibilities. Sometimes your dream job isn’t what you think it is, and to find your calling, and you will need to break free and forge your own path forward.


I'm a passionate full-time blogger. I love writing about startups, how they can access key resources, avoid legal mistakes, respond to questions from angel investors as well as the reality check for startups. Continue reading my articles for more insight.

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