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The Top 100 NGOs.

March 1, 2012

The Global Journal recently published a list of the Top 100 Best NGOs. The list includes big-name organizations like the Wikimedia Foundation and Médecins Sans Frontières, as well as relatively smaller campaigns such as Movember. While there are benefits to the publication of such a list, there are also certain downsides.

First, the pros of publishing such a list. The Global Journal’s circulation is reported to be 15,350 magazines in 30 countries, a considerable audience. Factoring in viewership on the Internet, readership numbers for The Global Journal are substantially high. What is more important though, is who reads the magazine. Considering the profile of a reader who would pay for a magazine in global affairs (88% of The Global Journal’s circulation is paid), such a list could have a huge impact. The list recognizes the work these organizations do, which could help match them with donors and funding in the future. This push is especially important for organizations that rely on active participation by donors. One such example is Movember. Movember’s funding predominantly comes from money raised during the November campaigns, during which volunteers grow out their moustaches in an effort to raise money for men’s health. Their inclusion on the list only serves to raise awareness about the campaign, which will hopefully add to the increasing number of charitable moustached men in the month of November.

The list also gives NGOs more credibility, which is increasingly important in today’s economic climate. Accountability in the way organizations choose to use their funding has always been a hot topic among donors. The publication of this list serves as a public affirmation of the level of transparency these organizations practice and the legitimacy of their causes. Donors would be more inclined to trust their money to an organization that has achieved a certain level of credibility, which this list helps to ascertain.

Now for the not-so-beneficial aspects of the list. The measures that The Global Journal used during their assessment boiled down to several overarching metrics – innovation, effectiveness, impact, efficiency and value for money, transparency and accountability, sustainability, strategic and financial review, and peer review – all of which The Global Journal used to rank these NGOs. Yet, how the organizations perform based on these metrics can be heavily influenced by one variable – the amount of available funding. A large NGO that has been in operation for some time and has considerable financial support will most likely do better than a smaller NGO that has less funding. For example, an internationally renowned NGO like Oxfam, is more likely to be able to afford the best technical advisors to provide on-the-ground support, financial advisors to audit their accounts and legal counsel to advise them, compared to smaller NGOs. The amount of financial support has an undeniable influence on the metrics The Global Journal has chosen to measure the success of these NGOs, yet there is no attempt to control for the difference in financial resources.

Portable Light at work

Another downside to the list is the danger of over-generalizing the work NGOs do. The list includes a myriad of organizations, from the Wikimedia Foundation (which is committed to the free sharing of knowledge), to the Portable Light Project (which aims to create renewable energy for the world’s poorest people). The objectives of all these organizations are highly varied, which raise the question – how would one purport to measure the success of these organizations against each other? A list that surveyed other organizations with similar objectives, using their performances as benchmarks, would be more useful.

Furthermore, the editors have noted that ‘there is no science in the measuring’ when it comes to the indicators used to qualify the organizations on The Global Journal’s list of Top 100 Best NGOs. The results can still be taken with a grain of salt — the list is never going to guarantee that one agrees with a certain cause or approves of an organization’s method of operations. However, despite its flaws, the list does feature organizations that have made a significant difference in the field. Hopefully, similar lists, that account for more indicators and distinguish between established NGOs and budding ones, will become instrumental in changing the way we give and what causes we give to.

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