INDUSTRY GUIDE: An Introduction to Charities, Non-Profits & NGOs

The purpose of this guide is to give you a foundational understanding of your chosen industry: Charities, Non-Profits & NGOs. Read this all the way through, and you will be well positioned to demonstrate your interest and industry knowledge to peers and employers. Remember, this is not an exhaustive guide to the industry, but will serve as a strong starting point. Be sure to do a bit of extra research on your own to stay up to date on the latest charity, non-profit, and NGO trends, and to keep building your commercial awareness.

1. Industry Overview

Though you may not know it, you are almost always in contact with some form of non-profit organization. Whether you are on campus, attending a religious ceremony, or even shopping at a local goodwill thrift store, you are interacting with non-profit organizations on a daily basis.

Following the recession in the early 2000s, the non-profit sector has been on the rise, and continues to grow. There are over 100,000 non-profit organizations in Los Angeles alone[1]. With thousands of organizations, there are nearly endless opportunities around the country and the world to support a cause you feel passionately about.

Company types: What do they do? Who do they do it for? And why do they do it

All charities are non-profits, but not all non-profits are charities. In fact, there are many types of non-profit organizations, including Not-for-Profit organizations (NFPO) and Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO).

  • Non-Profit - Non-profits are corporations that are based on the premise that none of the corporation’s net profit – from donations, membership fees, or other business activities – will benefit any individual. Examples of non-profits include universities, religious institutions, and homeowners’ associations.

  • Not-for-Profit Organization (NFPO) – NFPOs typically carry-out smaller group activities or interests. Some examples of NFPOs include club sports and hobby groups, like your local little league or DIY crafting clubs. They typically do not have a legal entity or governing board.

  • Charity - A Charity is a type of nonprofit organization whose goals and purpose are to benefit the general-public. Charities include organizations like Goodwill, the Salvation Army, and Habitat for Humanity.

  • Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) - An NGO is an organization that operates independently and without any oversight or representation from any government, though they may receive funding from governments. NGOs have a broader and more internationally driven goals, often related to public health or conservation. NGOs can be operational or campaigning. Operational NGOs achieve small-scale change directly through projects while campaigning NGOs achieve large-scale change indirectly through influence on the political system (advocacy).

2. The Job Market

Market outlook: Who's hiring?

The non-profit sector has had substantial growth following the economic downturn. Donations reached their pre-recession levels in 2013, as the non-profit sector contributed an estimated $905.9 billion to the US economy, 5.4% of the country’s GDP[2]. The sector has continued to grow nationally. As of 2016, 57% of non-profits expected to create new positions, while only 36% of private companies planned to increase staff in the new year[3]. NGOs also make up a large portion of the US workforce. There are over 1.4 million NGOs in the United States alone, employing over 11 million Americans. As of 2016, over 90% of NGOs worldwide have websites and Facebook pages. Platforms enabling online donations have also contributed to the trend of increasing levels of charitable donations across the sector, with 62% of donors worldwide reporting that they prefer to give online[4].

Roles, career paths, earnings and work-life balance: What can I do?


  • Development Director: Development Directors are responsible for building, executing, and overseeing the implementation of strategic plans for growing and expanding a company’s outreach, typically through fundraising campaigns and special events.

  • Grant Writer: Grant writers are responsible for gathering documentation and fulfilling the necessary requirements of various funding bodies to formally seek grants on behalf of their agency.

  • Program Manager: Program managers ensure that the projects of an organization are in line with the stated goals. They provide quality control for their organization's programs by overseeing budgets, staff, activities, and intended final products.

  • Community Outreach Coordinator: Community Outreach Coordinators are responsible for cultivating strategic partnerships in the local community through outreach activities. Outreach coordinators create awareness about their company, promote its presence to the community, and initiate and develop key relationships between individuals or groups in the community and the organization.

  • Volunteer Coordinator: Volunteer Coordinators are responsible for selecting, training, and supervising the volunteer staff of an organization. Volunteer managers ensure that an organization has enough volunteers to fulfill its service mission.


Salaries can range from $25,000-100,000+ depending on position, experience and specific company. The US National Average
industry salary for non-profit employees is around $68K for non-profit roles, and the average salary for an NGO employee is
about $69k[5] [6].

A typical career path may look like so:

  • Coordinator
  • Manager
  • Director
  • Executive Director

Work/life balance

Working at a non-profit or NGO can easily turn into an all-consuming job. There often isn’t any downtime for those living with poverty, for example, and it can be hard to justify taking a break. Be sure to prioritize your tasks, and remember that you can – and should – have some time to yourself to avoid burnout.

Academic, hard and soft skills: What do I need?

Graduates looking to enter the non-profit sector will typically need at least a bachelor’s degree. For more senior roles, a Master’s degree may be preferred.

According to US News, some of the best schools for those looking to pursue a career in the non-profit sector include:

  • Indiana University - Bloomington
  • University of Minnesota - Twin Cities
  • Syracuse University
  • New York University
  • University of Southern California

You will need to show:

  • Communication and Interpersonal Skills - You will be dealing with people both in and out of the office. In order to have a positive impact in a chosen community, you will need to be able to speak to community members and get an understanding of their needs. You will then need to communicate those needs back to your organization, so you can building an effective aid strategy.

  • Written Skills - Grant and proposal writing is an important part of any non-profit’s revenue model. Non-profits and NGOs often rely on grant and endowment money for a lot of in-office expenses, as overhead costs are not typically covered by donations. Writing a strong proposal is the key to securing that funding for your company.

  • Marketing Knowledge - In order to maintain a strong volunteer and donor base, you’ll need to reach out to the community. Creating compelling donation campaigns and keeping community volunteers involved are crucial to a non-profit’s success.

3. Industry Knowledge: Things you should know

Terminology: What terms, phrases and concepts should I know?

  • Charitable Donation: a contribution to an organization which is officially created for charitable, religious, educational, scientific, artistic, literary, or other good works. Such contributions are deductible from gross income, and thus lower the taxes paid.

  • Private Foundation: A nongovernmental, nonprofit organization with funds (usually from a single source, such as an individual,family, or corporation) and program managed by its own trustees or directors. Private foundations are established to maintain or aid charitable activities serving the common welfare, primarily through the making of grants.

  • 501 (c): A subsection under the US Internal Revenue Code that identifies which non-profit organizations are exempt from paying federal income tax. There are 12 sections that separate organizations according to operations.

  • Endowment: Funds or property donated to an institution, individual, or group as a source of income.

  • Globalization: The process enabling financial and investment markets to operate internationally, largely due to deregulation and improved communications; the process by which a company/organization expands to operate internationally

  • Grant: A contribution, gift, or subsidy (in cash or kind) bestowed by a government or other organization (called the grantor) for specified purposes to an eligible recipient (called the grantee). Grants are usually conditional upon certain qualifications as to the use, maintenance of specified standards, or a proportional contribution by the grantee or other grantor(s).

  • Trust: An institution or organization directed by trustees (a foundation board member or officer who helps make decisions about how grant monies are spent). Depending on whether the foundation has paid staff, trustees may take a more or less active role in running its affairs.

Hot topics: What topical happenings should I be able to discuss?

Lobby vs. Advocacy: Advocacy is the process of stakeholders making their voices heard on issues that affect their lives and the lives of others at the local state and national level. Lobbying describes activities that are in direct support of or opposition to a specific piece of legislation

Grassroots Fundraising: Efforts to raise money from individuals or groups from the local community on a broad basis. Grassroots fundraising activities include membership drives, raffles, auctions, and benefits.

Social Media: According to a recent study by the Public Interest Registry in association with NP Tech For Good, 27% of donors worldwide felt that social media was the most effective communication tool for inspiring them to give to a cause7. Millennials, Gen Xers, and Baby Boomers all cited social media and email campaigns as the most compelling source of inspiration when they do decide to make a donation. Stay on top of market trends, technology is always changing, and how the non-profit sector continues to use it will likely change with it.

4. Resume & Interview Preparation: Things you should do

Resume content: How can I make my skills, experiences and interests count?

Joining societies and clubs on campus is a great way to show your dedication and interest in an organization or a cause. Clubs are also a good way for you to expand your network on campus.

Volunteering at a local organization is another great way to meet professionals in your field and to demonstrate your dedication towards a cause. Volunteering also gives you some prior experience working in an organization, and lets you get to know the company and the cause from the ground up.

Social media is a modern way for employers to check out candidates before they have even spoken with them. Make sure that you share relevant content to your chosen industry and engage in debate surrounding hot topics. As more and more non-profits develop their online presence, be sure to engage with the causes and groups you support through their social media pages.

Interview preparation: What interview questions do I need to master?

  • Why do you want to work in the non-profit sector?
  • Do you have any favorite charities, non-profits, or NGOs? What did you like about them? How did they impact their intended community?
  • What are your long-term career goals?
  • What do you know about our company and our work?

Must read/watch:

AIDS & Accusation by Paul Farmer - In this book, well-known medical anthropologist Paul Farmer documents the efforts of NGOs to provide healthcare infrastructure to Haiti, a country struggling high rates of poverty and their own HIV/AIDS epidemic. Farmer brings historical, ethnographic, and epidemiologic data together to document the stories of individuals in the country, as well as the successes and shortcomings of the NGOs trying to help.

Poverty Inc. - This documentary depicts the ways in which well-intentioned efforts of non-profits and NGOs can end up hurting the very populations they set out to help. This film offers a critical look at the actions of these organizations, gives valuable insight into the unspoken reality of many aid efforts, and attempts to bridge the gap between aid-giving institutions and their recipients.

The Blue Sweater by Jaqueline Novogratz - Jaqueline Novogratz documents her time traveling and working as a consultant for UNICEF. Her memoir uses stories and characters from her travels to show the need to end poverty and to start a discussion on how to empower impoverished people and communities to become more self-sufficient.

The Networked Nonprofit by Beth Kanter, Allison Fine, and Randi Zuckerberg - Kanter, Fine, and Zuckerberg discuss the ways today’s technological innovations have and can continue to influence the non-profit sector. This book serves as a guide to how non-profits can continue to find success by developing a social media presence and incorporating new technology into their efforts. Read this for a modern insight into this growing trend and how it can influence your career.

  1. "US Summary Report: Number of Registered Nonprofit Organizations by State." National Center for Charitable Statistics . Accessed December 22, 2017. ↩︎

  2. McKeever, Brice. "The Nonprofit Sector in Brief 2015: Public Charities, Giving, and Volunteering." Urban Institute. February 01, 2017. Accessed December 19, 2017. ↩︎

  3. Ceniza-Levine, Caroline. "Hiring In The Non-Profit Sector Is Increasing: Five Ways That You Can Benefit." Forbes. May 05, 2016. Accessed December 19, 2017. ↩︎

  4. 2016 Global NGO Online Giving Report.Report. 2016. ↩︎

  5. "Non-profit Jobs Salaries." Job Search. Accessed December 19, 2017. ↩︎

  6. "NGO Jobs Salaries." Job Search. Accessed December 19, 2017. ↩︎