Non-Government Organizations (NGOs)

In the field of public health, the term “non-government” is frequently used to describe organizations that participate in the delivery of public health services. The acronym NGO (for non-government organization) was originated in the early days of the United Nations to describe organizations that are funded by a government but maintain a non-government position. Today, the term NGO is used to describe any type of private organization or charity that is nonprofit and free from government control.

Many government services and programs have been privatized in the past decade, leading to dramatic growth in the size and activity of NGOs. According to the Urban Institute, there are currently about 1.5 million nonprofit organizations in the United States, an increase of 25 percent since 2001. Non-profits are a major U.S. employer, accounting for about 10 percent of all jobs in 2009.


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The NGO sector offers a variety of career options for MPH degree holders. Sample job titles include director of fundraising, director of public relations, program director, community outreach coordinator and program analyst. MPH graduates are also qualified for a variety of positions related to hospital administration and hospital management. Graduates of MPH programs with a multi-disciplinary focus are prepared to succeed in a variety of job roles and to move between jobs in the government, non-profit and private sectors.

NGOs have played a role in public health for centuries; in recent decades, the scale of their contribution has steadily grown. NGOs are often referred to as the “third sector” of the U.S. economy, with government and for-profit businesses comprising the other two sectors. According to the Alliance for Advancing Nonprofit Health Care, approximately 60 percent of community hospitals are nonprofit. About 30 percent of nursing homes and 17 percent of home health care agencies are also operated by NGOs. In addition, over 40 percent of private insurance enrollees are served by non-profit health plans.

Kaiser Permanente is an example of a nonprofit healthcare organization. The managed care consortium has nearly 9 million health plan members that are served by 37 medical centers and more than 600 medical offices. Kaiser Permanente also plays an advocacy role by supporting community health initiatives related to good nutrition, active living, neighborhood safety and environmental sustainability. Many career opportunities for public health professionals are available within healthcare organizations like Kaiser Permanente.

Virtually all community-based health programs are run as NGOs. These provide a wide range of services including free medical and dental clinics, free immunization programs and AIDS prevention programs. There are also NGOs that focus on specific health issues. The American Cancer Society is an example of a national health organization that educates the public, conducts lobbying efforts and funds research to address a major health problem. Other examples include the American Lung Association and the American Diabetes Association. The American Red Cross performs specific health care services including donor blood collection and disaster relief services.

Some NGOs use information technology to provide health data management systems and data analysis that can be used in the formulation of healthcare policy. The Colorado Health Institute (CHI) is an example of an informational NGO that serves state leaders and policymakers. CHI provides publications, satisfies requests for information, and performs policy analysis on topics that include community health, the healthcare workforce, health insurance and the healthcare safety net.

As the cost of healthcare rises, the percentage of the population that is underserved continues to grow. Many MPH graduates find employment with national and international NGOs as advocates who develop healthcare policy and lobby for healthcare reform.