1. Setting strategy

NGOs’ strategies should set out what they will do to make the biggest contribution to other people’s efforts to improve their lives and societies.

Factors that determine how much NGOs can contribute to other people’s efforts include each NGO’s:

  • credibility with key collaborators, the ‘other people’,
  • understanding of their context,
  • technical skills,
  • networks,
  • funding,
  • management capacity.

NGOs should also naturally consider where people’s needs are greatest in relation to other sources of support. But this should not over-ride the other factors listed above. Even the biggest NGOs cannot tackle all the problems of poverty and injustice. NGOs should aim to provide as much high quality assistance as they can, within practical management constraints, not just as much assistance as they can.

… forms of help that override or undercut people’s capacity to help themselves are … unhelpful help.”  David Ellerman, 2005

This approach leads to NGOs specialising in the areas where they can add most value. For instance, NGOs may specialise in terms of location, relationships with specific people or technical areas.

Specialisation can help an organisation make a better contribution to collective efforts, develop expertise and maintain quality. It helps use funds more effectively at the sector level and assists collaboration as everyone knows what the NGO offers.

Resources should be allocated on the same basis: the ability to make the biggest contribution to other people’s efforts, on the basis of the factors outlined above, excluding ‘funding’.

Focusing on ‘impact’ encourages NGOs to allocate resources solely on the basis of recipients’ needs. This can overstate NGOs’ influence and pull them in directions outside their experience, undermining the quality of work. It is also never ending.

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