Is the NGO I support making a positive impact?

Tuesday 5 July 2016
When you support an NGO, through charitable contributions, fundraising, or using your resources to further their interests, you are deeply committed to the cause they espouse. It is this commitment which serves as the motivation for you, and other like-minded people to commit time, energy and resources, and even a special place in your heart. However, since you are so emotionally invested in this cause, you should also take the time to consider whether this commitment is one of value. Are your money, energy and effort helping the people the NGO claims to be benefiting? Here’s how you can find out.

Regular updates from the NGO
Established and serious NGOs like Save the Children are proud of the work they do and make an effort to showcase this commitment. They do this through social media posts, regular reports, media reportage, as well as direct reports, other forms of donor communication, especially after fundraising for special projects. Discrete operations masquerading as charities, however, avoid any sort of visibility that may bring them into the limelight.

Expect transparency when you support an NGO
Transparency can be seen in many ways. For example, NGOs should be open to questions about their management board, their credentials, and financials and openly publish data pertaining to assessment of their efficiency and effectiveness. They shall also showcase their talents, their track record, and their numbers will let you easily read between the lines about commitments and actual results.  They shall also openly mention religious associations, political affiliations and any other topics of note. More importantly, their annual report should clearly mention any investment in lobbying or political action, and how much of it is channelized for their target of social good. You also need to look for unethical decisions, e.g. working with controversial industries like arms and tobacco.

Audit reports
An in-house audit team or an external body appointed for their due diligence performed by authorised auditors gives you the numbers behind the organisation. The audit reports are the true face of an NGO’s projected image. This combined with their operations and media reports, are considered as part of the homework you can do.

Financials made public
Analyzing a company's financial details will reveal how efficient they are in using the money that people donate online, in fundraising drives, and through CSR inflows. You should check for spending on programs and services (known as “spending ratio”) vs. administration and fundraising costs. You can also check financials year-on-year to see discrepancies in spendings, budgets, increases in overhead cost vs. increases on on-ground activity spends. A long-term financial analysis gives you a deeper understanding of where your funding is going, which is relevant if you plan to sign up as a generous donor or corporate sponsor. Also, avoid supporting an NGO just by donating money to people at malls and public spaces fundraising, as they work on a classic sales commission model i.e. their salaries come from your donations.

On-ground work
While it is easy to generate piles of glossy content to win over corporate sponsors and the hearts of the average citizen, it is worth assessment if this money is translating into actual work or not? There's no dearth of fraud NGOs; you must, therefore, ensure that your money isn't just adding to someone's bank balance. Does the NGO act as the first port of call in a crisis? Do its volunteers pride themselves in getting their hands dirty? Do they pride themselves on measurable results? All these questions reveal their ability for on-ground work.

India may have the world's largest number of active not-for-profit NGOs - 31 lakh, which means one NGO for less than 400 Indians. Considering the number of Indian and international NGOs operating in India, it makes sense to be aware of the NGO you are supporting. Save the Children is an NGO known for setting the benchmarks for such high standards, informing and educating supporters and donors through social media, regular letters, emails, newsletters and also arranges donor visits.