In an earlier article, Mridhula Sridharan wrote about her work experience in an NGO. In this follow-up post, she provides an overview of NGO careers in India – qualifications and entry requirements, average salaries, a list of some good NGOs and questions to ask before deciding if it’s the right career choice.
Careers within the social sector range from a non-profit job to foundations, intermediaries, research institutions and corporate CSR. Sectors range from Education, Sanitation to Sports for Development to Financial inclusion.
Like in any typical corporate a non-profit organization is also divided into verticals-Business Development, Impact assessment, program teams, communications and so on.
Depending on which vertical you enter career path will vary but options are aplenty. Growth like anywhere else will depend on your performance and skills and ability to manage teams and people.
But honestly in sector focused non-profits it’s difficult to grow without a specialized degree.
So if a particular sector interests you equip yourself with knowledge and skill pertaining to that sector.
Many people move on to other things by doing their MBA or a MPA/MPP degree, some move on to work for international aid agencies, UN or even the World Bank.
Few even set up their own institutions. In this space, it becomes very essential to continuously upgrade your skills and be industry ready by finding various avenues to do so.
To transition to a non-profit is risky by all means. It is also a choice to make. If you take up business development role then moving on to impact investing, sales and marketing in mainstream becomes an option.
Similarly with an impact assessment background people move on to do specialized degrees, work for aid agencies and UN and even with the government.
My colleague moved on from Dasra and joined Boston Consulting Group in Delhi and now works very closely with the Rajasthan government.
I hear a groan from college kids and fresh graduates when I mention about NGO jobs. Worry not. The ideal option (if you have tried to get a job but failed) would be to take up a fellowship.
There are many interesting ones out there. My favorite is the LAMP fellowship (Legislative assistant to Member of Parliament) a 11-month fellowship helping out central government minsters with their research.
Or one could try the Teach for India fellowship that requires a two-year commitment.
Then there is Gandhi Fellowship, SBI youth for India fellowship, Prime Ministers Rural Development Fellowship and so on.
Fellowships are grueling and challenging and equally rewarding. They equip you for life with gumption and leadership skills that would otherwise take years to develop in a corporate world.
I’m listing some organizations that I think are doing great work.
• Foundations: Tata Trust, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Deshpande Foundation, Omidyar Network, Piramal Foundation
• Non-profits: Magic Bus, Pratham, Teach for India, SNEHA, Majlis, Praja, Vidhi Center for Legal policy, KhabarLahariya, PRS
• Intermediaries: Milaap, Dasra, Unltd, Villgro
• International: Women on Wings, Charities Aid Foundation, Global Fund for Children
As Dan Pallotta says in a wonderful TED talk, one of the main reason’s non-profits are unable to obtain and retain talent is because of compensation.
Guidestar and CNM report pegs the average median salary of CEO’s of non-profits in the US as between $50,000 – $90,000. Some larger foundations pay up to to $150,000.
In India the entry level salary is anywhere between 10,000 – 30,000 Indian Rupees (INR) depending on the organization and size and funding.
A CEO of a non-profit can earn anywhere between 1,00,000 – 5,00,000 Rupees per month.
A manager with 5-6 years of work experience can earn between Rs. 50,000 – Rs. 1,50,000 per month.
Now we move on to more serious part. What works and what doesn’t in a non-profit.
Reading few articles on Stanford Social Innovative Review will tell you that Non-profits in general have poor organizational structure, HR policies and practices with little to no skill development opportunities and training and sometimes if the funding stops, you could lose your job.
If you choose to work for on-ground NGO working in malnutrition or domestic violence be prepared for emotional fatigue. A site visit with international donors to SNEHA’s malnutrition program in Dharavi’s slums was enough to drain me emotionally for a week.
Poverty porn as it might be, it still remains a good indicator that I made the right choice to work for an intermediary.
What does work is the amazing amount of talent you meet, the sheer passion that rubs off on you and the career options you never thought of.
I never dreamed of becoming an entrepreneur before joining Dasra but testing my skills in a whole new environment made me stop doubting my abilities or myself.
In a small organization you have to take on multiple roles and wear multiple hats and be nimble on your feet. Non-profit organizations (NPOs) are generally under staffed, so cross-functional work is a major plus. With good skill set and eagerness to learn one can work across all verticals if one desires.
How does one decide if this is the right choice?
Before even taking the plunge, I had to ask myself, how much am I willing to sacrifice.
A hefty salary, international travel, expensive clothes, savings? Check.
What is that I’m not willing to give up? Ability to buy PS3 games, travel once a year, ability to live without roommates (that too in Mumbai. Boy was that tough), basic comfort of AC’s, auto travels etc.
Once I made this decision, I was clear about the kind of salary and work I was willing to do and accept, and then I charted my exit plan.
How long am I planning to continue in this sector? Is it long term or 2-3 years?
Once I made that choice and planned my long-term goals the plunge became much easier.
Of course, my plans now have completely changed but that’s a whole new story. Fastest way to know though is to take up an internship and see if the work is suitable.
Talking to the founders of non-profits and friends who have taken the plunge will give you insightful and interesting inputs.
It is not an easy decision to make, especially if your friends and classmates are climbing the corporate ladder, looking to purchase a house, gallivanting across the globe.
But it is a risky choice, one that requires careful deliberation and planning.
Sometimes I wonder if I made the right choice, but my next interesting project comes along and off I go to make some NGOs expansion plans come true.
I will leave with this quote:
The meaning of life is to find your gift. The purpose of life is to give it away.