International NGO Recruitment Strategies: Attract & Retain the Top Nonprofit Employees

International NGO Recruitment Strategies: Attract & Retain the Top Nonprofit Employees


Last updated April 8, 2024 21 minutes read

How NGOs Can Hire for Impact and Build a Committed Workforce

As an international NGO operating in diverse areas around the world, you face unique challenges, particularly when it comes to recruiting and retaining top talent. From limited budgets to navigating complex operating environments, managing risks, and cultural diversity, attracting, and retaining the right employees can be an uphill battle.

By implementing the practical strategies and considerations in this article, you can significantly improve your NGO’s appeal and recruitment process. This will not only help you attract and retain a committed team with the skills and passion to fuel your organization’s mission, but also ensure its continued success and impact.

While a high turnover rate isn’t unique to NGOs specifically, it is a major barrier to recruitment. A Personio Foundation’s survey of 1,100 NGOs from 115 countries found that 52% of NGOs have a major problem with attracting skilled staff while 40% report a lack of HR tools and resources.

Recruitment Strategies for Nonprofits and NGOs

Of course, candidates who consider working for an NGO may do so thanks to a strong desire to help others, but they also highly value competitive salaries and robust employee benefits. Let’s look at innovative recruitment strategies you can use to offer much more than fair salaries and align with the expectations of top talent. Inspire your employees with comprehensive benefits, attractive perks, professional development, access to international healthcare networks, a supportive work environment, and more.

Don’t let limited resources limit your talent pool. Let’s look at strategies to attract and keep passionate employees:

1. Build Your Brand Around Your Mission

One study analyzing the career choices of NGO employees in India, published in the IOSR Journal of Business and Management, found most respondents were more motivated by the organization’s mission than monetary compensation:

“They have joined the sector with the motive of contributing to the society to work for social change.

“… Gen Z respondents who indicated plans or hopes to leave their current roles [are] the leaders in seeking better alignment with their values (80%)… Millennials [are] the next-most-driven group about values (59%).

Source: LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence survey

Chart of the importance of alignment of organization with employee values by generation.
Gen Z leads the way in looking for jobs that alignment with their values.

By implementing these strategies and tailoring them to your specific context, you can improve your chances of attracting and retaining the talent needed to fulfill your mission. Remember, your dedication to a just cause, coupled with a strategic approach to recruitment, can make your organization a magnet for passionate and skilled individuals.

2. Invest in the Professional Growth of Your Workforce

While NGOs may have limited financial resources, they can still provide non-financial benefits that attract talent.

Survey results chart shows job seekers want professional growth opportunities.
Young job seekers want more professional growth opportunities. (Source: LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence report) 

According to NonProfit PRO, NGOs and nonprofits can offer opportunities for advancement as a way to entice current employees to stay with the organization:

Allowing employees more opportunities to move up in the workplace is a good starting point. One benefit of hiring internally is that employees will see more career possibility within your organization.

3. Create a Supportive Workplace Culture

Create a positive work culture by nurturing a respectful and inclusive environment where all voices are valued, regardless of geographical location, position, or seniority.

The job may be in your field, the commute may be great, or the pay package may be exactly what you are asking for — or more — but that isn’t good enough. It’s critical that the organization is a good fit with your values and offers a healthy workplace environment with effective leadership that will support and nurture you on your career journey.

Michael McCarthy, instructor at Harvard DCE Professional & Executive Development, host of the “Happy at Work” podcast. (Source)

Pulse checks can be a valuable tool for gauging employee sentiment and identifying areas for improvement. By fostering an environment of trust and open communication, nonprofits can better understand the needs of their employees and make adjustments accordingly. This helps create a more inclusive and supportive work culture that ultimately benefits the entire organization.

Joan Garry, nonprofit expert and founder of the Nonprofit Leadership Lab

NGO provides medical care to vulnerable populations and children.
NGOs face a constant need for medical professionals willing to work in remote locations.

Nearly 40 percent of respondents say they have turned down or chosen not to pursue a job because of a perceived lack of inclusion at the organization.

Source: McKinsey survey 

By implementing these strategies, NGOs can foster a diverse and inclusive culture that embraces and celebrates the unique perspectives and contributions of all individuals involved.

4. Stand Out with Competitive Benefits

While competitive salaries are important, they are just one piece of the puzzle when attracting and retaining top talent within the NGO sector. By offering a robust global insurance package that goes beyond simply medical insurance and includes disability benefits, life insurance, and more, can help NGOs demonstrate their dedication to their staff’s well-being. This, in turn, contributes to a more engaged, productive, and resilient workforce, ultimately boosting the impact of their vital missions.

Nonprofits offering tailored benefits saw a 33% higher retention rate than those with standard benefits packages according to a report by Nonprofit HR. A study by MIT Sloan found that:

“When it comes to predicting a company’s culture score, benefits are more than twice as important as compensation.

Chart with study results showing benefits are the most important for employees.
Benefits are the most important for all employees.
The Surgeon General’s Framework for Workplace Mental Health and Well‑Being.
Build your NGO to be a desirable workplace by using the Surgeon General’s Workplace Mental Health and Well-Bing framework.

Investing in a comprehensive benefits package can lead to a more engaged, productive, and resilient workforce, ultimately contributing to the organization’s success and its ability to achieve its mission.

5. Operating and Recruiting in High-Risk Environments

Ensuring the safety and well-being of your staff is paramount and it becomes quite complex when you operate in high-risk areas, crisis situations, war zones, etc. Recruiting for these extremely challenging locations when your employees know the risks they will face, can be extraordinarily hard.

If you operate in a country with political instability or unsafe conditions, make sure you have procedures and policies in place, such as travel assistance, security plans, and insurance packages, such as international group health insurance, group life insurance, group personal accident, and additional specialized coverages to show employees you value their health and well-being.

Clements’ knowledgeable advisors would be happy to explore your specific needs and discuss your options. You can request a free consultation via this form.

While our policies are catered more to expats, depending on the location and circumstances, we may be able to offer some coverage to local nationals working for you.

Recruiting strategies for high-risk environments, like refugee camps, are a huge challenge for NGOs.
Working in refugee camps requires dedication and resilience. Highlight your NGO’s unique value proposition and compelling benefits package to attract the best talent.

Is a Full Medical Plan Too Expensive?

At Clements Worldwide, we have a long history of enabling international organizations to operate in high-risk areas, very often in crisis situations and during times of unrest, by finding and securing flexible international insurance solutions for NGOs.

For example, we understand the challenge where often insurance is a big expense for an NGO, but the welfare of your staff is still extremely important. As such a benefit rich medical plan may be too expensive, but at Clements we can offer a custom global Personal Accident solution that will ensure your staff have emergency medical cover in place at a fraction of the cost.

We’re happy to provide you with a free consultation about the global insurance options we offer for international organizations to help you provide fair and competitive nonprofit employee benefits.

6. Effective Recruitment Strategies for Diverse Locations

Operating in remote or high-risk areas can deter potential candidates due to safety concerns or limited access to resources.

Several donors presently consider localization as the best strategy in crisis response in Cameroon and Africa, who have demonstrated a commitment to supporting local initiatives and capacity building.

Bongwong Justin Berinyuy, Crisis response specialist in Africa (Source)

Local communities are key in NGO recruiting for protecting wildlife.
Investing in local talent strengthens the NGOs impact, creates meaningful employment opportunities, and helps grow donor support.

UNICEF’s case study on the impact of localization in emergency response in Burkina Faso highlights the benefits of a localization approach in humanitarian response. By focusing on empowering local communities, the “Rapid Response and Community Resilience” program improved coordination among different aid groups for a more effective response, increased capacity of local organizations to deliver essential services, and built stronger community resilience to future crises.

7. Streamline Processes from Recruitment to Onboarding and Beyond

Empowering Your Workforce, Protecting Your Mission

Running an international NGO is demanding. Recruiting and retaining top talent while ensuring their safety and well-being can be complex. At Clements, we understand.

Partner with Clements:

We specialize in crafting comprehensive insurance policies specifically designed for NGOs operating in challenging environments.

Focus on your missions. Let Clements handle the risks.

Contact us today for a free consultation and let our experienced specialists design an insurance plan that safeguards your organization and empowers your workforce.

Contact us

Together, let’s ensure your mission thrives.

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Employee relationships and the I-Care values are core to the Clements culture.

About Clements

Clements Worldwide specializes in understanding the unique risks faced by NGOs and tailors global insurance solutions to effectively mitigate those risks. Whether your NGO operates in high-risk countries or conflict zones, Clements Worldwide can provide the flexible protection you need to operate with confidence.

Clements is a trusted provider of international insurance for expats, diplomats, and organizations in over 170 countries. Since 1947, we have enabled millions of people and organizations to live and operate anywhere in the world.

Our relentless commitment to customer experience and expertise in crafting tailored insurance solutions enables us to serve individuals, corporations, government agencies, international schools, nonprofits, and NGOs with global aspirations. Headquartered in Washington, DC, Clements has a worldwide presence with other locations in London, Dublin, and Gibraltar.

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In Our Customers’ Own Words

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Golden West Humanitarian Foundation has been using Clements for its global brokers services for our international insurance needs since 2015. Over the years they have supported us in multiple countries throughout Europe, Asia, and Southeast Asia. They always seem to be available when we need them, and they have been able to provide solution quickly even when others could not. We are very satisfied with their services and would recommend Clements Worldwide as a broker for insurance solutions

– Michael L Trocino, Chief Financial Officer

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Thank you very much for your usual prompt support. It is really a pleasure working with you and Clements. I am very happy that I decided to use Clements as my insurer.

– Global NGO in Kenya

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