Do NGO Workers Get Paid? We Explain

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Many people join NGOs because they want a career dedicated to helping others. NGOs do vital work such as poverty relief, human rights, humanitarian action and campaigning across many countries. Working for an NGO sounds like an excellent career, but if NGOs raise funds to help people, do they actually pay their staff?

NGO staff receive a salary for the work they do. The more senior the job within the NGO, the higher the wages will be. NGO’s use part of the funds they raise to pay staff salaries. Generally, NGO salaries are lower than in the private sector. However, NGOs make efforts to pay fair wages to their workers.

Now we know NGO workers get paid, let’s go over the details…

NGO Staff Salaries: An Overview

NGO staff get a salary in much the same way that employees at a company do. People who work for an NGO are paid a set salary for the work they do. Often, the amount they earn is set at a monthly or yearly rate, like how a company would set salaries.

Employees of an NGO receive a salary in-line with the organisations pay structure. Like in the private or public sector, the more senior the job the higher the salary. People in jobs at NGOs that require formal qualifications, specific expertise, manage large teams or oversee risk management will earn more.

In general, NGO’s salaries are considered lower than those in the private sector. However, NGOs are known to pay fair salaries and it is definitely possible to live comfortably on an NGO wage. If you’re looking to get rich though, NGO work maybe isn’t for you.

The amount each job can earn at an NGO is controlled by the salary grid. The salary grid, or pay scale, ranks jobs into salary bands depending on the level of experience and skills needed to do the job. This is often why you will see on NGO job adverts statements such as ‘this position is paid at salary band D5’. This refers to the NGO’s salary grid. Some NGO’s publish their salary scales on their websites.

Salaries of the very highest earners at NGOs are often published. Some countries have laws saying NGOs must disclose the wages of the CEO, or of staff earning over a certain amount. For staff working at an NGO part-time, they are paid pro-rota. This means they earn a percentage of the job’s total salary in-line with the amount of time they work.

For example, a part-time member of staff working two days a week will make two fifths the amount a full-time member of staff in that role would earn.

NGO workers do not receive performance related bonuses. The wages advertised for the role is what the post holder will earn. NGOs do increase salaries in-line with inflation, but this is usually only one or two percent a year.

It is not always the case that larger NGOs pay higher salaries. Some NGOs that specialise in specific technical projects pay more to attract staff with the skills and experience they need. However, you will earn more working for an NGO based in the developed world rather than in a developing country. Also, generally, international NGOs pay higher wages than local or national NGOs do.

How Do NGOs Pay Their Employees?

NGO’s pay their staff in very much the same way a private company does. Employees at an NGO are paid through the payroll procedure. An organisations payroll is the procedure used to record, calculate, control and pay salaries for staff. An NGO’s payroll is managed almost identically to how a business would pay their employees.

Staff at an NGO usually receive their salaries into their bank accounts. When joining the organisation, the human resources department of the NGO will request the bank details from the employee, these are then entered into the payroll files for finance to use when paying wages.

Like when working for a business, employees of an NGO will be paid a gross salary. However, from this there will be deductions for tax and benefits, usually health insurance and pension. This means staff receive a net salary into their bank account that equals their gross salary minus the deductions. When applying for a job at an NGO they will inform you of what benefits and salary deductions the role has.

NGO’s use a proportion of the funds they raise to pay staff wages. Most NGOs publish a breakdown of their expenses including the percentage of funds they use for running costs, including salaries. Staff salaries usually make-up a very small proportion of the money an NGO raises, with the majority going towards their programming.

For NGOs that have external donors funding projects, the costs of staff salaries will be included in the budget of their proposals. Donors will have a set-percentage of the grant that NGOs are allowed to use for overhead costs and staff wages need to come from this.

Often NGOs only employ staff for the length of a donor funded project as they do not have their own funds to cover the position once the project is over.

NGO Online Courses

If you are looking to work for an NGO, we highly recommend the online course International Humanitarian and Development Careers. We think it provides one of the best overviews of the NGO sector and gives a clear breakdown of the skills needed to get an NGO job. It also provides valuable information on how to successfully apply for positions within NGOs. Click the link to be taken to the course’s page.

We also think the online course Introduction to NGO Management is a must for anyone wanting to work for an NGO. It goes over how NGOs operate and introduces students to the unique aspects of the NGO sector they will need to know in order to land a job. Follow the link for more information.

Another online course we highly recommend for those wanting to join the NGO sector is How To Design and Fund International Development NGO Projects. Anyone working for an NGO needs a basic understanding of how NGO projects are set-up, and how to input to funding proposals. This course is a must for those wanting to work for an NGO. Click the link to get more information on the course.

Does an NGO Volunteer Get a Salary?

NGO volunteers, generally, do not receive a salary. This is one of the main things that makes NGO volunteers different to employees. Volunteers give their time to NGOs often because they believe in the cause the NGO is working for, as a way to begin a career within the NGO sector or as a social activity.

Volunteers for NGOs can do a wide range of tasks; however, they do not earn money for the work they do. The role of a volunteer within an NGO is specific the work the organisation does, however it can include anything from admin tasks and helping with fundraising, to community work or providing technical advice.

Regardless of the type of work done, a volunteer positions at NGOs are not paid.

Although NGO volunteers do not get a salary, many NGOs do provide a stipend. This is a small, set amount of money that covers the costs of volunteering for the NGO. Often it is enough to pay for transportation and lunch whilst volunteering. Some NGOs provide vouchers in the form of a stipend. The aim of the stipend is to ensure volunteers are not out-of-pocket by volunteering with the NGO. The stipend does not replace a salary as it is only a small amount of money.

There are many reasons why NGO volunteers do not get a salary. From the NGO’s side, it allows them to have additional, often flexible staff members, without increasing their costs. For volunteers, it allows them to donate their time a cause they wish to help. Volunteers for NGO’s know they will not receive a salary when they take on a volunteer role.

If you want more information on how to work for an NGO, explore our list of the top NGO online courses here.


Duncan is the founder of Humanitarian Careers. With over ten years experience in the aid industry across fifteen countries, Duncan set-up Humanitarian Careers to help people launch their own career in international aid.