Kick-Start Your Career In The Social Sector

Posted: June 18, 2013

Working for NGOs need not be restricted to volunteering. Some tips to launch your career in the social sector.

By Arundhati Venkatesh

Voluntary work is widely discussed, but not many know that it is possible to have an actual career in the social sector, where one gets paid working for NGOs. Here are some ways in which Indian women can build a career in the social sector by working with social organizations. 

Who can build a career in the social sector?

– You are passionate about social causes and want to contribute, but don’t know how to go about it.

– You would like to set up your own non-profit organization, before which you want to gain experience and insight by working for one.

– You are on a career break, but want to challenge yourself and put your skills to use.

– You are looking for part-time/flexi work options. Returning to work after a baby can be an incredibly daunting and difficult experience for Indian women. The transition can be made smoother by working for an NGO during the time off.

If any of the above descriptions apply to you, a career in the social sector might just be for you.

What is the difference between an NGO and an NPO?

The social sector comprises organizations with a social mission. These could be non-profit or non-governmental organizations. A Non-Profit Organization (NPO) does not have the intent to make money. NPOs can generate surplus revenues, but these must be used to achieve its objectives rather than distributing them as profit or dividends. Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) are legally constituted corporations that may fulfil quasi-governmental functions but operate independently of government.

NPO versus NGO (analogy: rectangle versus square)

NGOs are non-profit organizations, but not vice versa. The term non-profit is used rather loosely to describe groups that come together to achieve a mission, rather than to make a profit. The term non-profit does not imply any specific type of legal structure. Examples of non-profits are public arts organizations and trade unions.

NGOs work in different fields like human rights, environment, or in the developmental sector (e.g. health, education, disability, microfinance, emergency relief). In each of these fields, NGOs may work at the grassroots-level, or on advocacy, or both. An NGO’s receipts are from donations from individual/corporate donors, grants from trusts, foundations, government and international sources. NGOs may also generate revenue from their own projects.

What career opportunities are available in the social sector?

Not everyone working for an NGO is a volunteer. Many NGOs are highly professionalized and the majority of the workforce is on the payroll. NGOs have strong grass-root level personnel who run programs consistently, but require skilled/experienced professionals in the following areas:

Public Relations & Marketing – NGOs need media professionals with a strong network to reach out to the general public about the NGO’s activities.

Communication – NGOs seek candidates with experience in content development (writing/design) to develop material showcasing the NGO’s work. Material includes marketing collaterals, presentations, proposals, annual reports, nominations for awards, newsletters, press releases, brochures, articles for magazines and publications.

Fundraising – NGOs require candidates with strong networking and interpersonal skills to facilitate the inflow of funds that will sustain programs.

Event Management – NGOs host events for fundraising and to create awareness, and require event management professionals with good organizational and communication skills.

Programme Management – This is a diverse area with a wide spectrum of programs. Different NGOs have different areas of operation aligned to their core mission.

How to get started on a career in the social sector?

Once you have decided that a career in the social sector is for you, it is a three-step process:

1. Identify the operational area based on your interests: Feel strongly about gender issues? An NGO that works for the progress of Indian women could be for you. If you are unsure at this point and want to explore before you decide, there are large NGOs that are diverse and work in multiple fields.

2. Find out about NGOs that function in the operational areas of your choice: Your local newspaper may contain articles about NGOs and their events and activities. Indian NGOs Network is a Facebook group where you can post your queries. Check out online directories with state-wise listing of NGOs such as http://ngo.india.gov.in/state_ngolist_ngo.php and http://www.ngosindia.com/ngos.php. Search for openings listed in generic job sites, as well as portals specific to the social sector like http://www.devnetjobsindia.org/ (India-specific); and http://devnetjobs.org/, http://indevjobs.org/, https://www.devex.com/en/. Most NGOs have websites, where they publish information about programs. This should give you an idea of the scale of operation and scope.

3. Identify the NGO that best suits your requirements: Visit the organization and if you would like to test the waters, volunteer for a while – it will help you gain an understanding of the sector. After a period of volunteering, you will be able to map your skills to the organization’s requirements. Focus on your strengths and think about how best you could contribute.

If you do find job openings, clearly discuss expectations – your position and remuneration, as well as commitments in terms of time, deliverables and tenure.

What can you expect when working for NGOs?

The culture in the social sector is different from that in the corporate sector, and takes some getting used to. Attrition in the social sector is low, but so is the pace at which things move – government grants can take time to materialize or projects may get delayed if funding does not come through as planned.

What are the benefits of working for NGOs?

– Work flexibly
– Utilize your skills and time during a career break
– Gain new skills, expertise and experience
– Strengthen your network
– Derive joy and fulfilment from work. This is the clincher; the satisfaction of having worked towards the betterment of society, and the pleasure of seeing the impact of your work.

*Photo credit: Missie (Used under the Creative Commons Attribution License.)

Arundhati Venkatesh is a children's writer. Her books have won several awards, including the

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3 Comments


  1. Hey Arundhati, nice and interesting blog. I really appreciate your idea of choosing social service as a career.

  2. L Ramakrishnan -

    Very useful piece. The only point I may have to differ with is the ‘work flexibly’ part. In today’s cutthroat funding environment, many NGOs/NPOs work hard to demonstrate (development-related) returns on donor investment, deploying all the tools of modern-day management and planning, and many do work 12-14 hour days, six days a week…

  3. Pingback: How To Start A Career In The Social Sector

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