Working in an NGO offers many challenges and priceless lifetime experiences, more so international ones. They have long-term programs and stable funding from companies, as well as government support, as their programs receive international recognition for positive impact towards their beneficiaries.
It is the same with national and local NGOs in terms of having long-term programs and giving impact, but differences in funding and recognition create different stories. Despite various issues covered, the area of coverage and availability of local resources give different dynamics in local NGOs movement.
Working in an NGO with a great cause is good, but first, we need to understand its challenges and environment so that we do not have false expectations. Here are some pros and cons if you are considering to work in a local NGO after graduation.
1. Valuable Experience vs Enough Salary
The main highlight of working in NGO are the experiences offered, from going to places you do not know of, collecting data in creative ways, to creating a program that’ll last for a long time. Since NGOs have to spend more on program budgeting, they usually keep the amount of staff they hire to a minimum. This gives you more opportunities to be involved in the programs and experience different things, without having to wait until you’re in a higher position.
International NGOs may still pay you a considerable salary, even providing volunteers allowances. Local NGOs are a bit different. Unlike big international ones, local NGOs often face a shortage in funding. As most of their programs only cover certain areas in the region, they likely find difficulties in finding funds either from companies or Governments. This often results in a minimum salary on average, so definitely not the place to find gold mines. If you want to try working in local NGOs, you should look more at gaining valuable experiences instead of a high salary.
2. Network vs Anxiety
NGO activities are highly dynamic. In fast-growing companies, it’s hard to see the implication of our work beyond whether we achieve our monthly targets or not. But in an NGO, where the works are mostly related to giving and empowering, your very actions and achievements affect beneficiaries directly. If you are interested in working as a fundraiser or in external relations, it is your duty to appeal to the funding donors. Companies and Governments can call you at their convenience, which makes you unable to confine your working hours to the typical 9-6. You have to maintain good relationships with them for the sake of the NGO you are working in. This brings about much anxiety because there is no certain procedure to protect your personal time and space.
Related to the example above, a plus side would be that also means you have the opportunity to broaden your professional network. NGOs are the bridge between Governments and companies to people. They need NGOs to maintain their good image and share benefits to the environment or society. We are the ones who have field experiences dealing with people and know how they think. As the bridge, we might have the contacts of important or key persons of companies and Governments in our phones and the privilege to keep in touch even after we are done with our jobs.
3. Challenges vs Sanity
Protecting, empowering, conserving, preserving, and other positive objectives are usually what NGOs do. The target can be anything: animals, the environment, people, culture, heritage, climate, etc. When companies pursue a high return on investment in an ever-changing business environment, NGOs are the ones to make sure that nobody gets left behind. The mission leads to the challenges we face in dealing with people at the grass-root level. The challenge itself includes how to make assessments to the locals without creating excessive impressions, conducting social experiments to raise awareness about certain local issues, and encouraging people to take action regarding said issues. NGOs that work in environmental issues also face similar challenges, since nonprofit institutions always rely on collaborations with local actors and resources to create movement.
No great fisherman was born in a calm sea. The challenges we face in working in an NGO will nurture us in the field of understanding peoples’ ways of life. Many people rely on NGOs to keep their aspiration and hopes in many areas because they think NGOs are the only one who cares about their well-being. People come to us to find solutions to their problems. While you might not work directly with the beneficiaries, you will somehow always get dragged into thinking about them. At first, you might get a bit neurotic and their heavy problems will tease your sanity, especially when working in humanitarian issues. But by the time you get used to it, it will fade away.
4. Flexible Workload vs Do It Yourself
Many people ask me, “What exactly are you doing in your job?” when they know I work in a local NGO. Since my office only has 10 people, we often have to do some work outside our job description, such as cleaning the office and furniture, selling souvenirs and local products, playing Uno Stacko or filling crossword puzzles in the working hours. People begin to become curious because we seem too relaxed to be called office workers.
Local NGOs, especially those that conduct social research and development programs in rural areas, barely have office duties except administrational or paper works. The rest entails legwork outside the fence. We can’t make people follow our daily schedule, therefore, we have more flexible workloads and working hours, as long as our objectives are achieved. It is quite comfortable if you are the type that likes working outside and doing work at your own pace.
However, most duties must be fulfilled on your own. Small scale NGOs and local NGOs mostly use their limited donor funding to fund the program, not for the staff. As I have mentioned, many local NGOs face manpower shortages. That is why NGOs often open recruitment for volunteers to help manage their projects.
I can assure you that working in an NGO, whether big or small, will give you a great deal of experience in professional work. If you are interested in doing good and have a strong inclination towards doing so, NGOs might be the best place for drawing out your fullest potentials. Otherwise, working experience in an NGO can be used as a stepping stone to your other goals. Most companies ask in their recruitment interviews if we have experience in nonprofit organizations or projects because they know what kind of places these are. They will give you extra points since you have shown them one thing: you care beyond your own benefits.