Non-governmental organizations (NGOs) are very important organizations in every society, as they perform various functions that are generally for the benefit of the society. The NGOs mainly deal with work, which is related to poverty and social justice in a community, although they also deal with work supposed to be done by the government.
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Oftentimes, due to the nature of the government and difficulty in administration, the government may delegate the duties to the non-governmental organizations. These activities include provision of healthcare services, provision of education and activities which lead to poverty eradication. Generally, these organizations achieve their objectives either through direct involvement with the community in the provision of the specific services or through advocating for programs that lead to the achievement of their objectives.
Because non-governmental organizations are involved in various activities, they may have varied legal definitions depending on the locality in which they operate, and they may as well have varied aims and objectives; however, a simple definition of the term NGO would be hard to find.
The simple definition of NGOs is mainly derived from the main activities that most of the nongovernmental organizations are involved in; however, it is important to note that, the definition does not apply to all the non-governmental organizations due to the diverse nature of their activities and different legal definitions.
Non-governmental organizations (NGOs), sometimes referred to as non-governmental development organizations (NGDO), have the following main features:
- They are not profit oriented ventures: non governmental organizations main aim is not generating profits even though they may be involved in some activities which generate revenue to the organization;
- They are voluntary: the NGOs are formed voluntarily and their participation is voluntary;
- Independence: the NGOs are independent in nature and do not have affiliations to either governments, political parties or any commercial ventures. NGOs are only accountable to its members and the donors who fund its activities;
- Formal ventures: NGOs are formal ventures and have some sort of documentation to govern their existence and their activities. The documentation clearly outlines the objectives, mission, and vision of the NGO and its management structures (Anon, 2000 p 3).
Even though the basic characteristics of NGOs are the same, the size and area of operation vary greatly. Some NGOs may be based within a state whereas there are others that may be global and have operations in various continents.
The sources of funding of the NGOs are also varied; however, most of the NGOs obtain their funding from governments and other international agencies such as the UN. The NGOs may also be involved in income generating activities to fund their activities. However, most non governmental organizations depend on the external funding to undertake its activities.
NGOs as agents of development
The main objectives of the NGOs are varied. However, a common feature of all the main objectives of different NGOs is the fact that they tend to empower people in the areas in which they operate and improve the quality of life of the recipients of the services that the NGO offers.
Development can be classified in various forms.
NGOs as agents of economic development
The economic development is one of the main objectives of the NGOs. Most NGOs have specific objectives which aim to reduce the poverty levels in the communities. Through the economic empowerment of the society, the NGOs hope to contribute to the general well-being the society. In most cases, lack of funding contributes greatly to the poverty in many areas. Therefore, to tackle this problem, many NGOs have been set up, which avail financing to people who would otherwise be ineligible to access financing in the conventional banks.
These people include women and people who borrow small sums of money (Narasaiah, 2003 p 7). Due to the fact that the NGOs are not interested in developing into fully-fledged banks, they will therefore avail the financing at a lower interest rate compared to the rates charged by the banks.
The NGO can also be involved in training activities whose main aim is to enable the members of the society identify areas where they can undertake economic activities to get income. Most of the areas where the non governmental organizations target are areas which are related to sustainability.
The NGOs may advocate for the creation of sustainable business ventures, which help in protecting the environment. Examples of sustainable businesses that the NGO may advocate include business dealing with the recycling of the available materials or businesses, which innovatively use the available materials for economic purposes.
NGOs as agents of political development
Various NGOs are involved in advocating for human rights of individuals living within a certain region. These NGOs may also be involved in advocating for the rights and freedoms of people who are underprivileged in the society. By advocating for the rights of these people, the NGOs help in initiating change in the administration and political aspects of the governments and the society.
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To promote development, the NGO may either be directly involved with the governments and relevant organs. The NGOs may also be involved in seminars and other initiatives, which educate the citizens on their rights, and hence helping in initiating political change in the country.
Most of the countries have been pressurized by various NGOs to bring about democratic or political changes at one time of their existence. This was the case in Malaysia where NGOs pressurized the government to undertake several measures to ensure democracy and freedom of the citizens (Shigetomi, 2002, p 193); indeed, the confrontation by the NGOs yielded fruit as the government yielded to the demands of the NGOs.
NGOs as agents of social development
Education helps to improve the social aspects of different communities. Governments have the primary role in the provision of education to their citizens; however, NGOs are also involved in the provision of education to various people within the society. Through the provision of education, the NGOs help in the social development of the community (Chandra 2004, p 193).
The NGOs further enhance the social development by providing education to the underprivileged members of the society; these include the poor, the disabled, and orphans in the societies. Due to the sensitive nature of the education on the society, some governments prevent NGOs from venturing in the provision of education, as they would have vast control of the social aspects of the society (Chandra 2004 p 193).
Ethics and transparency in NGOs activities and fundraising
Transparency can be defined as the level of completeness of the information provided by an organization with regard to its activities (Vaccaro and Madsen, p 1). To have transparency the NGOs use different platforms to achieve this. The most efficient platform for the achievements of transparency in the NGOs is mainly by the use of internet (Vaccaro and Madsen, n.d, p 1).
However, most of the NGOs choose not to be transparent in their activities as this would breach the privacy of their beneficiaries, their activities or even their employees (Vaccaro and Madsen, n.d, p 2). Moreover, lack of transparency also makes the NGOs to withhold information which may be used against them with regard to the beneficiaries of their activities (Vaccaro and Madsen, n.d, p 2).
However, different stakeholders who provide funding to the NGOs usually have different conditions relating to the transparency and the ethical conduct of the NGOs in their activities and fundraising. This ensures that the NGOs do not deviate from the ethical and transparency measures that have been put on them. Moreover, failure to uphold the standards makes the NGOs to be non eligible for funding provided by the organisations.
NGO activities: building capacity or dependency?
Capacity building is defined as the assistance that is given to organisations to enable them to develop certain skills necessary for the effective running of their activities. Capacity building is mostly undertaken by the organisation themselves. On the other hand, dependency is the tendency of non governmental organisations to over-rely on the funding provided by the certain types of institutions or donors for their main activities.
Most non governmental organisations are not accountable to the beneficiaries of their beneficiaries. This has necessitated the need for many donors to provide funds to the NGOs to facilitate capacity building (Eade and Oxfam UK & Ireland 1997 p 118). Due to the fact that most non governmental organisations do not have self appraisal methods, their activities mostly do not lead to capacity building (Eade and Oxfam UK & Ireland 1997 p 118).
In addition, most of the activities of the NGOs encourage dependency mainly due to the fact that most of the donors who provide the funding do not state when the funding will cease. Therefore this leads to encouraging the non governmental organisations to depend on the funding for the running of their daily activities.
This also makes the NGOs not to initiate programs which may provide other funding to complement the funding provided by the donors. Since the NGOs services are also continuously needed by the beneficiaries, the NGOs would continue asking for funds to provide the services as the lack of provision of the services would lead to their collapse. Therefore, this makes the NGOs not to evolve from the culture of dependency on the external funds (Eade and Oxfam UK & Ireland, 1997, p 118).
NGOs reference to the people who benefit from their activities
Most of the NGOs are not accountable to the beneficiaries of their services. This has necessitated the funding organizations to institute various regulations with regard to the NGOs accountability to them and to the beneficiaries of their services. These regulations ensure that the NGOs create a close relationship with the beneficiaries of their services, as well as ensuring the secrecy of information provided by the beneficiaries of their services.
The NGOs are also supposed to incorporate the beneficiaries in their decision-making with regard to the provision of various services that they may be offering. The NGOs are also supposed to be undertaking financial reporting to the beneficiaries of their services in order to foster relations between the NGOs and the beneficiaries of their services. In this case, the NGOs should undertake the financial reporting to their beneficiaries in a way that the beneficiaries would easily comprehend (Top Tips on Reporting to Beneficiaries, 2010).
Anon. (2000). The Commission and Non-Governmental Organisations: Building a Stronger Partnership. Commission discussion paper. Web.
Chandra, R. (2004). Social Development in India, Volume 1. Delhi: Gyan Publishing House.
Eade, D. and Oxfam UK & Ireland. (1997). Capacity building: an approach to people-centred development. Oxford, Oxfam.
Narasaiah, M. L. (2003). The role of micro credit and NGOs in economic development. New Delhi: Discovery Publishing House.
Shigetomi, S. (2002). The state and NGOs: perspective from Asia. Pasir Panjang: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies.
Top Tips on Reporting to Beneficiaries. (2008). Guide to Financial Management for NGOs. Web.
Vaccaro, A. and Madsen, P. ICT, nongovernmental organizations and transparency: ethical concerns and perspectives. Web.