YNPNdc In Focus: Humanitarian nonprofits

By Kathleen M. O'Donnell, YNPNdc Volunteer. 

YNPNdc In Focus is our blog series highlighting nonprofits in the DC area that correspond with awareness months and timely topics. This month, we’re focusing on humanitarian organizations in honor of World Humanitarian Day. Follow along with this year’s campaign, #NotATarget.

Each year on August 19th, the world stands together pay tribute to humanitarian aid workers and those affected by crises for World Humanitarian Day (WHD). Founded by the United Nations, the day commemorates courage and determination of people from all countries and backgrounds who have encountered conflict.

There are thousands of humanitarian nonprofits that seek to provide services to those in need. Often, they are non-governmental organizations (NGOs) providing humanitarian aid that is logistical and material in nature. In many cases, humanitarian aid is provided on a short-term basis until longer term solutions are determined by governments.

Here are some FAQs that may help you understand more about the services and work of humanitarian organizations and provide information if you’re looking to work in this dynamic and rewarding field.

What kind of missions do humanitarian organizations serve?

Humanitarian organizations are most-well known for serving needs related to poverty and access. Food, water, healthcare, and housing are some of the biggest resources such organizations work to deliver, particularly in developing nations. They also seek to provide services to people in emergency events such as natural disasters, epidemics, or armed conflicts.  

What are some of the most well-known or biggest organizations?

Among the largest humanitarian organizations are some you may have heard about. Numerous listings name International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC), Make-A-Wish, Oxfam International, World Food Program (WFP), Cooperative for Assistance and Relief Everywhere (CARE), and Action Against Hunger (AAH) as the ones with the largest economic profiles and widest reach. These, along with a large number of other groups and United Nations programs seek to end poverty and provide support to people in dire circumstances. For a comprehensive list of relief-oriented organizations, visit reliefweb.

Are any based in the DC area?

While most major humanitarian NGOs are headquartered in Europe, a few have US and North American headquarters here in the DC area including Save the Children, Oxfam America, American Red Cross International Services, Africare, and Salvation Army World Service. United Way Worldwide is fully headquartered in Alexandria, VA.

If I want to get involved in humanitarian work what should I be thinking about?

The first step to getting involved with any non-profit is to identify an organization that serves a mission you’re passionate about. Then, determine exactly how you want that mission to fit into your life. Are you looking for a full time or part time job? Check out the InterAction NGO job board. Do you have a job but are looking for a small volunteer opportunity? Go to the website of the organization you want to work with and find their volunteer section. One unique thing about humanitarian organizations is that they often have long-term live/work volunteer opportunities (usually overseas) as well. And finally, if you don’t have much discretionary time, you can always plug in by donating money. Most humanitarian organizations have donation subscriptions, but you can opt for a one-time donation. Giving back what you can may just help a nonprofit save a life.


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