By Annie Fraser:
“Working at an NGO? That’s great! But when will you get a real job?”
If you currently work or have ever worked for an NGO, then you have probably heard at least some variation of this line before. But this notion is unacceptable. It’s high time we started understanding and appreciating the work of NGOs. Here’s why:
While it is true that many NGOs regularly seek volunteers to carry out certain tasks, the reality is that an NGO would never be able to survive if it only offered temporary positions with no salaries, no benefits for its employees, and if there was no room for growth within the organization. The current economy may make seeking employment competitive for job seekers, but it also makes it competitive for employers. Any company or organization knows that in order to be able to attract talent, it must offer competitive salaries and benefits.
Success is often linked to money. For-profit businesses have been the primary players in national and global economies, and their success is highly dependent upon and measured by the amount of monetary profit generated. The success of their employees is also measured by the income they generate. Enter NGOs, which began evolving in the mid-1800s, and which measured success not by profits, but by impact. Additionally, their employees get paid less on average than their for-profit counterparts. Since NGOs are relatively new additions to the economy and employment equation, society still has not quite figured out what to make of them. What we need to remember is that a job that pays less does not discount its authenticity as a ‘real’ job.
Non-profits and for-profits both serve a need in the marketplace. The main difference between non-profits and for-profits is the source of revenues and use of profits. For-profit companies generate revenue from investors or stockholders and payment for services and/or products, and maintain a freedom in how to make use of their profits. Alternatively, non-profits generate revenue from donations, grants, or government contracts, and are very restricted in terms of how they can utilize monetary profits. No profit can be retained by any individual, and legally must be circulated back into the organization.
NGOs both require strong management in the fields of HR, marketing and communications, and accounting teams in order to sustain and drive their organizations forward. These skills certainly fall within the boundaries of ‘real’ work.
Working for an NGO is difficult, and in many ways more challenging than working in the for-profit sector. NGO employees are usually asked to do more with less time and less money. Furthermore, the results of NGO work are often intangible and happen at a slower pace. You can be sure that most NGO employees are committed to their work and the organization’s mission.
In 2011, it was reported that around 1.4 million NGOs exist in the United States, and that these NGOs employ roughly 10% of the U.S. population. Recent studies show that India has 3.3 million NGOs and employ nearly 20 million people.
As previously mentioned, NGOs are formed to serve specific needs. The needs being major problems that have yet to be addressed by for-profits and governments. What’s more, NGOs have more flexibility in terms of targeting their efforts to tackle specific problems, meaning that persisting issues can be given more focus and attention.
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