To understand its nuances – where it differs from other European-based NGOs – and to grasp its relationship with the German government is important if you want to know what it’s like to work for such an organization.
German NGOs by the numbers
It’s worth noting that Germany doesn’t need NGOs to take care of basic necessities like clean water, or access to education. Yet there are plenty of organizations that provide these services that have their headquarters in Germany – an indicator that the German government is willing to facilitate the existence of non-profits on its territory.
As of 2019 there are roughly 620 NGOs actively operating in Germany, and there is an organization for almost anything. They range widely in size, and their goals include AIDS counseling, homeless shelters, family planning centers, pregnancy conflict counseling centers, to counseling centers of any kind.
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Salaries for employees in non-governmental organizations range anywhere from €24,000 to €65,000, depending on your position at the non-profit.
Financing: A prevalent issue
As any NGO employee knows, one of the main challenges working for a non-profit is scarce funding. Rarely is there full financing for both staff and material costs, and at most centres, it's necessary to raise money through membership fees and donations.
However, whilst funding is always an issue, the German government does support NGOs in other ways. For example, in a recent paper entitled “Strengthening Agroecology” 59 German NGOs called upon the government to make agroecology the centerpiece of the fight against hunger and poverty around the world, as well as to help fight climate change via a radical transformation of the agri-food system.
Even though the relationship between NGOs and the government may not always be easy, they often do work together to tackle both humanitarian and environmental issues.
Greenpeace activists in front of the Brazilian embassy in October. Photo: DPA
Politics is crucial
Politics plays a crucial role in the financial support of an NGO. So much of the financial support an NGO benefits from depends on which party currently holds political power.
Generally, left-wing parties, such Die Linke and Die Grünen, tend to support social counseling centers, whilst the CDU and other right-wing governments are perceived as being less encouraging of finances allocated towards social counseling projects.
Unfortunately, most counseling centers or social institutions periodically fear for their existence because, after an election, they may find themselves unable to finance themselves. Every four years there’s a complete redistribution of financial resources necessary for NGOs and charity organizations to survive.
For many employees, the most pressing challenge of day-to-day operations when working for humanitarian organizations or counselling centres around Germany, is the fear of losing funding. NGOs need to constantly prove their social value. This is true in Germany as well as all over the world.
Typically, the main action that restores some of the necessary funding are protests or strikes. Fighting for financing is a daily struggle.
This can create a work situation that does not do justice to the seriousness of the mission. Especially from a clientele standpoint. The general consensus is that many NGOs feel socially marginalized and have no way to achieve their end goals. Most NGOs therefore rely on the dedicated and hard-working employees who want to see real change in society.
Making an impact
While working in an NGO can seem to be a lot of work with few financial perks, it’s important to remember that choosing a career in this particular field is not about recognition or money. It’s about making the lives of others less fortunate better.
If you wish to pursue a career in this field, generally, there are three ways to go about it. The first is to go on an online platform where it’s extremely easy to upload your CV, along with a brief letter of presentation to showcase your passion and get noticed by employers and recruiters all around Germany and Europe.
Aside from well-known platforms like LinkedIn, Indeed.de and Glassdoor.de, if you’re looking for English-language vacancies there’s also an interesting search engine platform here on the Local.de where you can find jobs in any sector, NGO included.
Secondly, you can write an Initiativbewerbung, or a speculative letter, which is a way to propose your candidacy to an organization without them showing their interest first. It might sound a little “too forward”, but many people choose this route as it shows an intrepid and confident spirit.
Lastly, if you volunteer enough, give it your all, and build your network properly, then there’s a good chance you’ll get a good recommendation from someone you know and might believe that you’re the right person when a job opportunity presents itself!
Having a genuine passion for volunteering is crucial if you want to be able to adjust to the frantic rhythm of life in an NGO. And although it can be frustrating to see hard work and effort not being compensated adequately, there can be no doubt about the satisfaction that comes from making the world a bit better.
By Nicola Clothier, CEO of Accurity GmbH, a Swiss-based employment service provider.