A “good” NGO — bridging the trust deficit

A recent question on Facebook made me realise it was time to share more thoughts on one of the key elements of FieldWorks. When Fede and I started this journey we felt, and continue to believe, that the system is unbalanced. It overlooks organisations who collaborate effectively with their end users in favour of those who are better at “marketing” their work. Ideally the two things should go hand-in-hand.

But if you have ever tried to find a non “mainstream” charity you may have discovered; a) how hard it is to find one; and b) if you get as far as identifying one, how difficult it is to know whether you can really “trust” them. In truth, the ease of access to information and the suggested arbitrary allocation of your money to an activity is going to determine who you fund.

The trust-deficit

Some guidance platforms try to offer clarity, distinguishing one charity from another like members of an airline loyalty card. Other crowdfunding platforms also have their method for assessing partners and “rubber-stamping” them. What we felt they lacked though was a balance set of criteria that gave the organisation the ability to safely present how they operated.

When it comes to non-mainstream NGOs there is a “trust deficit”. Local NGOs are more trusting of you, the donor, (because you hold “the power”) than you are them.

What is our aim?

We feel that in order to get people to bridge this trust deficit we need to make information that fairly represents grassroots organisations, easily available to you. Additionally we would have to ensure this information addressed the concerns of both the NGO giving the information as well as the people receiving it.

You might find this odd, but the relationship between “donor” and NGO over the last 40 years has been quite “extractive”. Think about how we keep focussing on “administration costs” and “number of xxxx achieved”. No one though thinks to ask what the NGO’s journey has been, nor how the NGO wants to portray themselves and talk about their work.

One of the strongest assets of a local NGO is their connection to, and collaboration with, the communities they work to support. This relationship built over time, that mobilises members of communities, should be the essence of determining whether an NGO is good or not. Yet this is overlooked and often taken for granted. It seems to be assumed that just because an organisation is doing good, they are doing well. Unfortunately it isn’t. Many are just doing something to someone else.

A company’s brand is built on the trust of its customers. The beneficiaries here are the “customer”.

The FieldWorks Confidence Profiling Index focuses in part on these relationships and in part on the structure of the NGO because one is the vehicle and the other the fuel for social change. We’ve expressly not focussed on a programmatic evaluation because

  • this is something the community being helped should determine they are happy with and
  • this is something you, the donor, need to feel aligns with your interests

By providing a balanced “assessment” of the NGO that takes into consideration their context and includes their stakeholders’ opinion of them, the FieldWorks Confidence Profiling gives sufficient confidence to allow you, the donor, to bridge that initial “trust deficit”.

What does this mean in practical terms?

Take for example a requirement such as an “Independent Board” that a charity guidance platform has as a criteria. This is undoubtedly important, but simply having one doesn’t mean the NGO (or it’s board) is any good. How is the board composed? Should those that include a member of the community on their board be more “rewarded” than those that just have executives who might not even reside in, or be citizens of, the same country? Does the board actually contribute anything? And finally, is the board’s structure relevant to the local context? Just because it makes sense in our society and context, why is it necessarily the case it should be the benchmark on which to evaluate it in a completely different culture?

Following our trip to Nepal and the Philippines last year we reviewed our original criteria and based on what we learnt redrafted the attributes of a “good” NGO. We formulated 6 attributes. An NGO;

  • Is organisationally sound and minimises risk of corruption/nepotism, theft and fraud
  • Has as a clear vision/mission which is understood by its stakeholders, and its values are reflected in the way it works
  • Has a relevant governance structure that acts in its best interests and in accordance with its stated mission/vision and values
  • Achieves clear and outcome oriented impact and ensures outcomes are accepted and prioritised by its stakeholders (both internal and external)
  • Includes target groups and stakeholders at all stages of its Programmes / Projects and holds itself to account to them
  • Its staff feel ownership of the organisation and are supported in the implementation of their work

For each attribute we considered what elements were required that help determine whether that attribute was being met. Then, for each element a series of questions, cross-referencing verifications and stakeholders who needed to be interviewed.

The resulting map looked something like this…

Yes…a little freaky.

What does this mean to you?

The aim of the confidence profiling is just that, a profile. It is not an audit, and it is not meant to be disruptive of the NGO and their operations. It provides a balanced overview that allows for context and gives weight to that which should be most important to charity; what the end user thinks.

It should provide you with enough initial information to get a feel for how the organisation is operating and provide the foundations of a relationship if you wish to build one.

Got any thoughts? Get in touch, we’re always keen to listen — email us on hello@fieldworks.info


Originally published at fieldworks.info on July 9, 2017.