Become a Volunteer for an NGO

Volunteer for an NGO
Becoming a volunteer for an NGO is enticing for many reasons.

It is a way to give back to your community or support a cause you care about.  It is also a great way to meet new people, learn new skills or gain experience in a field you might like to work in. For people interested in a career in global health, international development or humanitarian aid, becoming a volunteer for an NGO is especially attractive.

Many jobs and graduate programs in these fields require previous work experience and volunteering is a great way to gain this knowledge and see whether the field is a good fit for your. Here are some tips for becoming a volunteer for an NGO.

Do your research

What kind of organization you want to work for- a large national or international NGO or a small non-profit? Do you want to work in the field or in an office? Volunteer positions vary greatly and some may require going to live for a year or more in a developing country, while others may require you to work at an office headquarters in a major US city.

Know what kind of work you want to do. Do you want help with marketing or fundraising for do you want to build houses?

Be competitive

Many people assume that finding a volunteer position will be easy but in fact it is a very competitive market. Be prepared to be up against a lot of experienced and highly educated applicants.

Many organizations prefer applications to be graduates from international development, medical, environmental science and social work programs. Prepare a strong application with a resume and a cover letter stating why you want to work for the organization. You need to demonstrate your passion and your ability to work under pressure and tough working conditions.

Be realistic

Volunteer positions are unpaid. Some organizations (such as the United Nations) may cover living expenses, but most do not. Consider how much time you can afford to volunteer. The United Nations Volunteer program requires that participants commit for one year or longer.

Are you emotionally and physically prepared for the commitment? Many volunteers are not prepared for the amount of work they will be doing and how different the culture and living environment will be from their own.

While volunteering is a good stepping-stone to a career with an NGO, do not expect to be hired by the organization you are working for. It is not a fast track to a career. You need patience, expect to volunteer for 1-2 years before looking for paid positions.

Where to look

Here are some useful links to begin your search:

Any large NGO should have a section on their website about whether they take volunteers, the application process, and any prerequisites. There are also websites that list volunteer and job opportunities in the non-profit sector.

– Elizabeth Brown

Sources: InterNations, Idealist, United Nations
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