What makes an NGO great?

Leaving aside ample evidence that greatness flourishes in tiny NGOs where everyday miracles ease humanitarian distress, NGO Advisor has updated the way it selects what it calls the world’s top NGOs.

The ranking, due in December, measures activity at the most visible end of a vast nonprofit economic sector. The U.S. alone is home to more than 1 million public charities and 105,000 private foundations, according to the National Center or Charitable Statistics. Nonprofits pay nearly 10 percent of all wages and salaries in the U.S., and their economic activity exceeds 5 percent of the gross domestic product, an annual measure of all goods and services produced in any nation.

Because of this secctor’s dimensions, NGO Advisor devotes all of its effort to organizations engaged directly in human welfare and human rights. The ranking leaves for a later day evaluations of organizations that support such causes as animal welfare, animal rights and conservation with spillover implications for people.

According to NGO Advisor, top NGOs excel in three “pillars of interest”: impact, innovation and governance.

  • We use the term “impact” to indicate an NGO’s output, or how it transforms the lives of its beneficiaries. In evaluating an organization’s impact, we not only look for evidence that its work has added value to the community it serves, but we also pay attention to how the organization demonstrates its efforts in its reports.
  • We use the term “innovation” to indicate an organization’s drive to challenge itself and its ability to creatively overcome obstacles. This pillar also allows organizations with newer or more unique methods to be rewarded for their work to upset the NGO status quo.
  • We use the term “governance” to indicate how an organization applies its good-doing mission to its employees, directors, and stakeholders.

Evaluation criteria populate four main categories: economics and finance; marketing and communications; governance and human resources; an overview section comprising organizational history, mission, strategy and operations.

The process can accommodates unique or special considerations.

For instance, sub-criteria accounting for the expansion of an NGO’s activity cannot be applied in the same manner to two NGOs as different as, say, Partners In Health (#5 in 2013) and Wikimedia (#2 in 2013). The added complexity of these sub-criteria is counteracted by a more consistent coding rubric in the evaluation process.

Performance in 165 criteria in 2016, up from 145 a year ago, across one or multiple categories determine results. The top score is 1400 points, with totals subject to bonus points and penalties. Independence, transparency, accountability and quality of information provided in the questionnaire an win up to 100 bonus points. Conversely, dependence on corporations, governments, single funders or other specified sources can erase 80 points.

The race is on to see if a new NGO will displace last year’s top 10, starting with Bangladesh-based BRAC, which bills itself as the world’s largest development organization, dedicated to empowering people in poverty. Its website reports that BRAC operates in 11 countries, “touching the lives of 1 in every 55 people.”

Rounding out the top ten in 2015:

  1. BRAC
  2. Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders: Emergency Crisis — health < http://www.msf.org >
  3. Skoll Foundation: Economics empowerment <http://skoll.org>
  4. Danish Refugee Council: Children and youth, Demining, Emergency — crisis, Human rights, Refugees — shelter <https://drc.dk>
  5. Oxfam: Economic empowerment, Emergency – crisis, Refugees — shelter <https://www.oxfam.org>
  6. Ashoka: Economic empowerment <https://www.ashoka.org>
  7. Mercy Corps: Community Building, Emergency — crisis, Refugees — shelter <https://www.mercycorps.org>
  8. Landesa: Economic empowerment, Gender issues, Human rights, Law and justice, Social justice <http://www.landesa.org>
  9. Save The Children: Children and Youth, Education, Health, Inclusion <http://tinyurl.com/c9uw922&gt;
  10. Handicap International: Children & youth, Demining, Economic empowerment, Health, Refugees — shelter <http://www.handicap-international.us>

One thought on “What makes an NGO great?

  1. This organization strives to make the world a better place and I support their mission 100%. I am interested in learning about how their contributions is setting a big difference in our world.


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