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The United States is the largest economy in the world. However, America is a highly unequal nation with over 42 million people living poverty. Populations in the US can also be impacted by natural disasters and require humanitarian assistance. With that said, the US is an incredibly generous nation. There are a huge number of NGOs working in America, as well as more that focus on delivering aid to people impacted by crises or living in poverty around the world.
Many people want to work for an NGO in the US. Joining an American NGO allows you to dedicate your career to helping people in need at home and/or abroad. We’ve written this guide for anyone who’s interested in getting a job with an NGO in the United States.
Types of NGO Recruiting In The US
One of the first things you need to do in order to get a job with an in NGO in America is understand the different types of non-profit organisations in the US. Essentially, American NGO’s can be split into two categories.
A first type of American NGOs are known as domestic NGOs. These organizations work in the US helping Americans who live in poverty or are affected by natural disasters. They often focus on domestic US issues such as access to healthcare, assisting the homeless, providing aid to low-income households or helping people who have been evacuated because of wild fires or extreme weather. Domestic NGOs in America only work within the United States.
The second type of NGOs in the US are international NGOs. International NGOs run programmes around the world responding to humanitarian crises and assisting those living in poverty in developing countries. Although many international NGOs also run projects in the US, their main focus is assisting people overseas.
In America, both domestic and international NGOs can be large or small. There are multimillion dollar organisations that are famous all over the country. There are also smaller community, or church-led, groups that run domestic and international projects.
Top American NGOs To Apply To
So, we’ve covered the main types of NGOs in the United States. Now, let’s look at a few examples of American NGOs, both domestic and international. Some of the top NGOs in the US include:
- Save the Children
- International Rescue Committee
- World Vision
- Feeding America
- Samaritan’s Purse
- International Medical Corps
- American Red Cross
- Salvation Army
Now we’ll briefly go over each these…
Save the Children
Save the Children is one of the largest NGOs working with children, young people and families in the world. With operations in over 100 countries, Save the Children US is one of the largest and most important members of the Save the Children network. Anyone with experience in child protection, humanitarian education, child nutrition, water and sanitation, or humanitarian shelter should consider applying to Save the Children in the US.
International Rescue Committee
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is one of the most famous American NGOs working with refugees, both in the US and around the world. With projects in 40 countries, IRC runs programmes focusing on humanitarian medical assistance, education, women and girls and economic wellbeing.
World Vision is one of the largest Christian NGOs in the world. Founded in the US in 1950, World Vision works in over 100 countries running a range of programmes including on healthcare, education, refugee assistance, child protection, water and sanitation, shelter and women’s empowerment. Strongly aligned with their Christian values, World Vision is a great place to apply for anyone wanting to combine their faith with NGO work.
Feeding America is a US domestic NGO tackling food insecurity in the United States. With a network of over 200 food banks, Feeding America is one of the preeminent American NGOs work with people in poverty. Founded in 1979, Feeding America is a great place to apply if you want to work with an American NGO helping people in the US.
Samaritan’s Purse is a devout Christian NGO working in both the US and worldwide. It is one of the largest American NGOs. Samaritan’s Purse sees humanitarian work as a key part of their Christian faith, making it another great organization to apply to this aligns with your values. Samaritan’s Purse projects cover areas including disaster relief, humanitarian healthcare, water and sanitation, education and food security and livelihoods.
International Medical Corps
IMC – the International Medical Corps, is an American NGO founded in 1984 working to provide emergency medical relief to communities experiencing humanitarian crises. IMC also provides training to medical professionals around the world. Anyone wanting to work for an American NGO in humanitarian healthcare should apply to IMC.
American Red Cross
The American Red Cross is the national association of the Red Cross and Red Crescent in the United States. They work within the US assisting people impacted by natural disasters, as well as on blood donations and veteran’s support. The American Red Cross supports local Red Cross and Red Crescent chapters around the world during humanitarian crises.
The US branch of the Salvation Army is one of the most prominent NGOs in America. The protestant Christian organization works in disaster relief, assisting the homeless, veteran’s support and help for the elderly. As a domestic US NGO, the Salvation Army would be a great place to apply for anyone wanting to work for a Christian NGO doing work in America.
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NGO Roles In The United States
There are literally hundreds of NGOs in the United States and therefore there are almost an unlimited number of types of jobs within the American NGO sector. However, generally, NGO jobs in the US can be broken down into five categories:
- Management Jobs
- Programme Roles
- Support Roles
Let’s take a quick look at each of these…
All NGOs have senior positions that are responsible for overseeing a department or specific areas of work. The role of a manager within an NGO is ultimately to ensure work is implemented, or supported, as needed. Managerial roles in American NGOs often also coordinate between several different departments regarding the NGO operations.
Managers in American NGOs can either be responsible for technical or support departments, or have a cross-cutting role across multiple functions.
If you want to work for a US NGO in a managerial role, you will need significant relevant experience. For international NGOs, this will likely include placements overseas. You will need to demonstrate a practical and theoretical understanding of NGO operations, alongside the technical skills needed in the management area you will oversee. Soft skills such as leadership, integrity and problem solving will also be sought by NGOs for management positions.
In American NGOs, programme roles are jobs that directly oversee the delivery of the NGOs projects. They almost always have a technical background and either manage, or work as part of, a team of technical specialists. Technical areas within the American NGO sector can include health, education, social work / protection, shelter, food security and livelihoods.
Those wanting to work in US NGO in a programmes position will need a background relevant to the technical function. This can include the relevant qualifications, as well as professional experience.
Support roles in NGOs, including in the United States, work to provide support to the implementation of the NGOs programmes. Support functions in the NGO sector cover areas such as logistics, finance, human resources, grants management, project monitoring and safety and security.
In the American NGO sector, a relevant degree is often sought from applications for support roles, however previous professional experience is most highly prized. It is generally easier to transition into NGO support roles from the private and public sector than most other NGO jobs, as long as you have the relevant skills.
Many NGOs in the US higher consultants to deliver specific pieces of work within an agreed time period. NGO consultants often provide technical guidance that the NGO does not have in-house.
If you want to work for an American NGO as a consultant, you will need significant previous experience in the specific area the NGO requires a consultant for.
A great way to begin your career in the NGO sector in the United States is through an internship. Many NGOs take interns either to support specific departments, or to work across functions providing general support. Although the majority of NGOs do not pay interns, the sector is increasingly providing either stipends or a small salary to interns.
Those wanting to begin their NGO career in America with an internship should ideally have a relevant college degree.
Qualification Needed To Work For An American NGO
One thing you will need to consider if you want to work for an NGO in the United States is that you need to be qualified. NGO jobs everywhere are competitive, and this is especially true in the US. Therefore, ensuring you have the right qualifications is going to be key.
The first step you need to take to become qualified to work for an NGO in America is to have a college degree. Almost all NGOs in the US require applicants to have gone to college. This is partly because a university education teaches relevant knowledge needed to do NGO work, but also by going to college people learn soft skills such as problem solving, team work and initiative taking, that NGOs often seek in candidates.
In the United States, most NGOs will look for candidates that have gone to graduate school. Although it is possible to get an NGO job in the US with only an undergraduate degree, if you’re committed to building a career in the American NGO sector, consider studying up to master’s level.
If you are aiming to work in a technical or programmes position within an NGO in America, you will almost certainly need to complete a college degree majoring in a relevant area. For example, if you want to work on NGO medical projects, then you will need a medicine degree, or if you want to work on child protection projects, a social work qualification will be needed.
For those wanting to focus on generalist positions within the NGO sector, then either a relevant degree such as finance or supply chain management would be beneficial, or major in an area such as humanitarian action, disaster relief, human migration or NGO management. Majors such as these will provide a theoretical background in NGO work that many organisations seek in applicants.
As well has having a college-level education, ideally related to the area of NGO work you wish to do, another step you need to do to be qualified to work for an NGO in the US is complete some relevant online short courses.
Online short courses are a great way to build your CV and supplement the knowledge learned at college. Short courses usually focus on more practical or niche areas of NGO work. If you want to work for an NGO in America, we highly recommend taking some short courses online.
For those wanting to transition into NGO work from their current careers, and who don’t want to go back to college, taking some courses online in a few weeks or months can really transform your CV into something NGOs are looking for.
NGO Online Courses
If you want to know more how to get a job with an NGO, we highly recommend the online course Introduction to NGO Management. It goes over how NGOs operate and introduces students to the unique aspects of the NGO sector. Follow the link for more information.
Another online course we highly recommend for those wanting to know more about NGOs 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. Click the link to get more information on the course.
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.
Applying To NGO Jobs In The United States
If you want to get a job with an NGO in America, there some tips to follow regarding your application.
The first thing you need to remember is that NGO jobs in the US are competitive. NGOs not only offer fair wages, often pleasant working conditions and sometimes the opportunity to travel abroad, they also offer the chance to dedicate your career to helping people in need in America and around the world.
…because NGO jobs in America are competitive, you need to be prepared to send a lot of applications, and we mean… a lot! Especially if you are early in your career. You can partially offset the competition by sending many applications.
Don’t worry too much about the specific roles or organisations in the first few years of your NGO career, or if you’re looking to transition into NGO work. Getting a foot in the door of the NGO sector is often the hardest part. Once you’ve gained some NGO experience, moving to other NGOs in the US or to roles that interest you more is not as difficult.
Another thing you need to consider when applying for NGO jobs in the US is that you will need to tailor your CV and cover letter for each NGO position you apply to. NGO recruiters will be looking for candidates that can demonstrate not only that they have the relevant skills and experience for the role, but also that they can show that they can relate this to the specifics of the position. To do this, you need to be updating you CV and cover letter for each application.
So, you need to send a lot of applications to land an NGO job in America, and also need to tailor you application for each job… to do this you need to come up with a system to fire off job applications quickly. Design a CV and cover letter template that has key sections you can easily change, but others that you will keep the same.
…for example, on your CV your job titles, previous employers, start and end of dates of previous roles and perhaps a one-line sentence of what the role covered could stay the same. However, a short section for each role outlining relevant experiences and successes could be updated for each application.
For your cover letter, make sure you update a brief overview of your previous positions and how they relate to the role you are applying for. Also update why you want this specific position and why you want to work for the NGO you are applying for. Most of the rest can stay the same.
As NGO recruiters will get dozens, or even hundreds of candidates, for each role, it is vital that you make your application standout. One of the best ways to do this is to add a few headlines to the top of your CV, or three or four bullet-points, that tell the recruiter loud and clear that you have the skills and experience needed for the role.
For your cover letter, make sure you include a line, usually at the end, stating that you are passionate about the NGOs work and their values. Browse the NGOs website and include a reference to their mandate or core principles – this also shows the NGO recruiter that you have researched the organization.
Where To Find NGO Vacancies In America
There are many different places to find open vacancies with NGOs in the United States. Some of the top websites to check for open recruitments include:
You should also draw-up a list of NGOs you are interested in working for and regularly check the recruitment pages of their websites to see when vacancies come up. For smaller local NGOs, newspapers or local websites may also be worth checking for openings.
If you want to know more about how to get a job with an NGO, explore our page on the top NGO online courses here.