When it comes to what makes an aid organization truly successful, we usually think first about the numbers and the flashy website. How many children in rural areas get an education thanks to this organization? How many mosquito nets are being handed out to curb malaria? And how fancy is that all-important website?
All this is important, at least to a degree. But we often neglect to consider what is behind the scenes. We forget about the fundamental structure that makes global poverty NGOs effective or not. In order to be successful, NGOs must…
1. Work together
Collaboration is key. No organization can be entirely efficient on its own. While working together sometimes proves difficult because so many voices spout so many different opinions, cooperation allows for greater expansion of ideas and more creative solutions.
Additionally, organizations gain more influence and issues are given more weight when there is a large rallying force of NGOs and aid organizations behind the cause. This increased importance can get the public more involved, as well as proving to governments and policy makers that these topics need to be discussed. For example, the United Kingdom Food Group is the largest network in the U.K. that helps organizations working on food issues to share ideas and expertise by working together, thus creating maximum change.
2. Be narrow enough to do good work
In order to put the most into a cause, organizations must be narrowly focused. This allows them to put the maximum resources into one issue and thus enables them to make a difference that is more than a drop in the bucket. For instance, the Fistula Foundation focuses specifically on healing women who suffer unnecessarily from an injury sustained in childbirth. True, the organization could tackle prostitution and sexual health in other capacities, but because it focuses on fistula treatment, it is able to make a substantial difference for the cause.
3. But not too narrow as to only solve one narrow slice of the problem
All things related to global poverty are interconnected. Food security goes hand in hand with the local economy. Water sanitation plays a huge role in global health. Organizations need to understand that no matter what topic they choose to address, it is attached to all other aspects of global poverty. ONE combines its efforts to address reducing global poverty on top of reducing the incidence of preventable disease. In doing so, ONE accepts that disease perpetuates poverty, and remedying one helps alleviate the other.
4. Be easy to get involved with
The harsh reality is that while most of our society sympathizes with the plague of global poverty, it has no time to go out of their way all the time to do something about it. Organizations must realize that if they are to be successful, they must be easy to reach, easy to get involved with and easy to share. NGOs must have key small ways to get involved like buying a T-shirt, sharing a video or donating a few dollars. But on top of this, they must have larger scale methods that are just as easy.
Many organizations like Charity: Water and Nothing But Nets, ask people to donate their birthdays by essentially asking for donations to the cause rather than gifts. It is a simple, brag worthy and effective way to get people involved and raise money for the organization.
5. Be transparent
People want to know where their hard earned money goes when they donate, and they are more likely to be resistant when the paths their cash takes within an organization are unclear. Therefore, organizations must work twice as hard to show that the donations they receive go directly to the projects they advertise. Charity: Water has found a way to be utterly transparent.
The organization relies on private donors and sponsors to support its offices’ operations, thus allowing it to ensure with absolute certainty that the donations it receives from the general public go straight to water projects building pumps in rural villages. Charity: Water even shows you exactly what well was built by your donations and their annual reports are easily found on their website. Basically, it is key that people know directly where their money goes when they donate to encourage confidence in the NGO.
6. Work with the local population
The only way to create stable, lasting change is for NGOs to work directly with the local population in the target region. Without it, practices put in place and infrastructure built can fall victim to tradition and cultural practice, and thus become ineffective. However, by working with the local population, organizations can change the local perspective and approach to the problem. They can employ local workers to run the operations, thus helping the economy in more ways than one.
Rape prevention organizations tend to be particularly effective when they go straight to the local people. For example, Apne Aap is an organization in India that aims to change the perspective of rape in the culture and protect women through sustainable development of a new, empowered mindset. By going to local women, organizations like this are able to find the root of the problem and work toward a solution that will cause lasting change.
7. Be memorable
Finally, an organization must be memorable in order to be successful. People need to feel that itch to share the video, to tell their friends, to spread the story in order to ensure that the organization gets the publicity it needs to do effective work and the cause gets the vocalization it deserves. For all the flaws the Kony 2012 and Invisible Children campaigns had internally, they were undeniably memorable. Everyone who went to high school in 2012 had the group’s logo as their profile pictures and now knows a bit more about child soldiers in the LRA. This is knowledge that can be spread in order to get more and more people involved.
Overall, no matter what process NGOs take, their work is beneficial. However, there are certain criteria that will make their efforts more effective and provide for longer-lasting, sustainable change. Simple changes to the structure of the organization can increase the general interest in the topic as well as improving the overall success of the organization.
– Caitlin Thompson