NGOs are renowned for having dedicated staff who are happy to go beyond the call of duty without a second thought. They often work long hours, evenings and weekends, and most could be earning far more in a similar role in the private sector. People working within the non-profit industry have normally chosen to be there and have decided that they would rather have job satisfaction and work towards something positive than go home early with a bigger paycheck.
Not everyone within the sector is like that, but a decent proportion fit into the above description. And it is these people that we need to encourage and develop to become the leaders, ambassadors and advocates for the industry. Unfortunately, for most NGOs and similar organisation’s, staff development budgets are notoriously low. All non-profit organisations seek to maximise their investment in their beneficiaries and additional budgets for staff training are often at the bottom of the pile whenever annual budget writing comes around.
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For a significant proportion of employees within the not for profit sector, career development is a responsibility that will fall on themselves rather than the organisation they work for. Due to the common lack of organisational support for career development it is often the individuals who show the greatest initiative and determination to develop their skills outside of their workplace who reach the top.
We understand it is not always obvious what skills you will need to develop and achieve your goals within the sector, which is why we’ve established this guide to support your professional development.
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- Networking: Get out there and start to network with leaders both in your own community as well as senior figures within the NGO sector in your region. You will be exposed to new learning opportunities, different points of view, stories of success and failure and insights from other organisations as well as starting to establish a name for yourself amongst your peers. You can do this in person as well as online using tools such as LinkedIn or FundsforNGOs forum. Simply going out into your community to listen, take on information and learn from others is a fantastic way of developing your skills and improving your future career prospects.
- Volunteer: Finding the time to volunteer is not always easy, but it can be a wonderfully rewarding experience that can help you to rapidly advance your career. It is not always possible to get the experience you need within your employment and volunteering represents a great opportunity to work in different areas of an NGO or to work for an organisation that works in a particular field such as human rights or education. Not only will the experience help to develop your skills and improve you CV, it will also demonstrate your desire and motivation to improve yourself, an asset that employers love.
- Attend Conferences: Throughout the world there are regular conferences taking place at a local, regional, national and international level. There is a huge diversity of conferences which take place throughout the year which should ensure there are a few events per year that are relevent and you’re able to travel to. They provide an opportunity to meet leaders in your industry, listen to the latest developments and changes in the sector and contribute to top level discussions. Attendance at conferences again demonstrates your ambition and desire to learn and improve yourself with relevant skills that will be of value to both you and any future employers. Discover the latest conferences around the world right here at FundsforNGOs.
- Become a fellow: Fellowships are professional development programs run by nonprofit, academic, think tanks and governments. They normally involve a training scheme followed by a short work opportunity that is designed to both develop participants skills as well as supporting non-profit organisations to achieve their objectives. There tends to be significant competition to take part in most fellowship schemes due to the discounted of free training opportunities and the potential career and networking benefits that come from establishing a lifelong relationship with a reputable organisation. Keep an eye out for the latest fellowships opportunities here.
- Develop your academic skills: The past decade has seen a rapid rise in the professionalisation of the NGO and not for profit sectors. Up until quite recently there were very few academic courses designed to support people keen to advance their careers within the sector, unlike for other disciplines. But as the industry has grown and ever larger amounts of money are involved so has the demand for academic evidence of not for profit skills. There are now NGO leadership and management courses, degrees and even PhD’s, as well as shorter certificate qualifications related to NGO management. As these qualifications are still relatively new it remains to be seen exactly how much value they will hold, but certainly they are a great option for people keen to enter academia and develop their skills in preperation for a career within an NGO.
What have you done to develop your skills both in and out of work? What advice do you have to offer young people aspiring to work within an NGO? Get involved and let us know in the comments.