Which career improves the world the most

Hamburg (dpa / tmn) - Anyone who works for a non-governmental organization campaigns for human rights or against nuclear power plants. Getting involved in civil society professionally attracts idealists in particular. But passion alone is not enough.

Almost everyone knows non-governmental organizations, or NGOs for short, from the media. Greenpeace, Bread for the World and Human Rights Watch draw attention to themselves in various campaigns, some spectacularly. They are active in areas such as development policy, human rights, humanitarian aid or nature and the environment.

The cliché of the thrown together, grassroots democratic action groups has meanwhile become obsolete due to the increasing professionalization of most NGOs. "You can find lateral entrants, but in many work areas NGOs, like other employers, expect appropriate training," says Kathrin Voss from Hamburg. The consultant has specialized in the NGO sector. "Interest in the topic and commitment are no longer enough."

Anyone striving for a job at an NGO should, in addition to professional competence and practical experience, above all have flexibility and communication skills. He also has to identify with the employer's goals to a greater extent than is the case with companies, for example, explains Voss.

For Anike Peters (30), campaigner for climate and energy at Greenpeace in Hamburg, this is the decisive drive: "For me, the main thing about working at Greenpeace is that my personal goals coincide with those of my employer." The aim of the campaigns that she is helping to develop is the German phase-out of climate-damaging coal power by 2040 at the latest.

At first, Peters volunteered in a Greenpeace group. "Even then, I was particularly interested in the topics of climate protection and the energy transition," she says. After her first jobs and internships in industry during her studies, she quickly realized that environmental protection often only plays a subordinate role for companies. After graduating, she did an internship in the energy sector at Greenpeace and was then offered a permanent position. "I was in the right place at the right time," she says.

Peters' path is exemplary for many NGO workers: Often times, they start their careers first through an honorary position or internship. This has the advantage that beginners can initially gain very precise insights.

A typical job for beginners is project assistance, explains Kirsten Prestin from the Association for Development Policy of German Non-Governmental Organizations (VENRO). Volunteers or trainee positions are also suitable. Applicants increase their chances if they do an internship first.

Basically, people with a wide range of professional qualifications are in demand at NGOs - from commercial clerks and teachers to doctors and engineers. Sales and distribution staff for fundraising, the foundation of NGO work, are also in great demand.

When it comes to salaries, however, NGO employees have to cut back on average - especially in smaller organizations. "Compared to the private sector or state jobs, the remuneration is rather low," says Torben Klages, office manager of the Lüchow-Dannenberg citizens' initiative for environmental protection. He can't get by in his job without overtime: "50 to 60 hours a week with a pay of 40 hours a week are not uncommon for me," he says. Nevertheless, there is no dissatisfaction. "I've made more money in other jobs in my life, but they were much less meaningful for me," he says.

The opportunities for advancement are also rather limited. However, they grow with the success of the NGO, explains Klages. Then the need for staff usually increases. In addition, there may be opportunities to switch to politics. But most choose the profession because they find it meaningful. "For me, the question of whether my daily actions make sense is of central importance. I can no longer imagine an occupation that is solely geared towards making money," says Klages.


Frantz, Christiane: Careers in NGOs. Politics as a profession beyond political parties, Springer, 2005, 49.99 euros, ISBN-13: 978-3531145884