Seven different dimensions of the NGO sector are analyzed in the 2003 NGO Sustainability Index: legal environment, organizational capacity, financial viability, advocacy, service provision, NGO infrastructure and public image. In the Index, each of these dimensions is examined with a focus on the following questions:
1. What has been accomplished?
2. What remains a problem?
3. Do local actors recognize the nature of outstanding challenges?
4. Do the local actors have a strategy and the capacity to address these challenges?
A brief explanation of the criteria used to evaluate each dimension of sustainability follows:
For an NGO sector to be sustainable, the legal and regulatory environment should support the needs of NGOs. It should facilitate new entrants, help prevent governmental interference, and give NGOs the necessary legal basis to engage in appropriate fund-raising activities and legitimate income-producing ventures. The legal environment dimension of the Index analyzes the legal status of non-governmental organizations. Factors shaping the legal environment include the ease of registration; legal rights and conditions regulating NGOs; and the degree to which laws and regulations regarding taxation, procurement, access to information and other issues benefit or deter NGOs' effectiveness and viability. The extent to which government officials, NGO representatives, and private lawyers have the legal knowledge and experience to work within and improve the legal and regulatory environment for NGOs is also examined.
Questions asked include: Is there a favorable law on NGO registration? Is the internal management, scope of permissible activities, financial reporting, and/or dissolution of NGOs well detailed in current legislation? Does clear legal terminology preclude unwanted State control over NGOs? Are NGOs and their representatives allowed to operate freely within the law? Are they free from harassment by the central government, local governments, and tax police? Can they freely address matters of public debate and express criticism? Are there local lawyers who are trained in and familiar with NGO law? Is legal advice available to NGOs in the capital city and secondary cities? Do NGOs receive any sort of tax exemption? Do individual or corporate donors receive tax deductions? Do NGOs have to pay taxes on grants? Are NGOs allowed legally to compete for government contracts/procurements at the local and central levels?
A sustainable NGO sector will contain a critical mass of NGOs that are transparently governed and publicly accountable, capably managed, and that exhibit essential organizational skills. The organizational capacity dimension of the Index addresses the operation of NGOs.
Questions evaluated include: Do NGOs actively seek to build constituencies for their initiatives? Do most NGOs have a clearly defined mission to which they adhere? Do most NGOs incorporate strategic planning techniques in their decision making process? Is there a clearly defined management structure within NGOs, including a recognized division of responsibilities between the Board of Directors and staff members? Is there a permanent, paid staff in leading NGOs? Are potential volunteers sufficiently recruited and engaged? Do NGOs' resources generally allow for modernized basic office equipment?
A critical mass of NGOs must be financially viable, and the economy must be robust enough to support NGO self-financing efforts and generate philanthropic donations from local sources. For many NGOs, financial viability may be equally dependent upon the availability of and their ability to compete for international donor support funds.
Factors influencing the financial viability of NGOs include the state of the economy, the extent to which philanthropy and volunteerism are being nurtured in the local culture, as well as the extent to which government procurement and commercial revenue raising opportunities are being developed. The sophistication and prevalence of fundraising and strong financial management skills are also considered.
Questions asked under this dimension include: Do NGOs raise a significant percentage of their funding from local sources? Are NGOs able to draw upon a core of volunteer and non-monetary support from their communities? Do NGOs typically have multiple/diverse sources of funding? Are there sound financial management systems in place? Have NGOs cultivated a loyal core of financial supporters? Do revenues from services, products, or rent from assets supplement the income of NGOs? Do government and/or local business contract with NGOs for services?
The political and advocacy environment must support the formation of coalitions and networks, and offer NGOs the means to communicate their message through the media to the broader public, articulate their demands to government officials, and monitor government actions to ensure accountability. The advocacy dimension looks at NGOs' record in influencing public policy. The prevalence of advocacy in different sectors, at different levels of government, as well as with the private sector is analyzed. The extent to which coalitions of NGOs have been formed around issues is considered, as well as whether NGOs monitor party platforms and government performance. This dimension does not measure the level of NGOs' engagement with political parties.
Questions include: Are there direct lines of communication between NGOs and policy makers? Have NGOs formed issue-based coalitions and conducted broad-based advocacy campaigns? Have these campaigns been effective at the local and/or national level at effecting policy change? Are there mechanisms and relationships for NGOs to participate in the political process? Have NGOs led efforts to raise awareness of problems or increase support for a particular position? Is there awareness in the wider NGO community on how a favorable legal and regulatory framework can enhance NGO effectiveness and sustainability? Is there a local NGO advocacy effort to promote legal reforms that will benefit NGOs, local philanthropy, etc.?
Sectoral sustainability will require a critical mass of NGOs that can efficiently provide services that consistently meet the needs, priorities and expectations of their constituents.
The index reviews questions such as: Do NGOs provide services in a variety of fields? Do the goods and services that NGOs produce reflect the needs and priorities of their constituents and communities? Are there goods and services that go beyond basic social needs provided to a constituency broader than NGOs' own memberships? When NGOs provide goods and services, do they recover any of their costs by charging fees? Do NGOs have knowledge of the market demand - and the ability of distinct constituencies to pay - for those products? Does the government, at the national and/or local level, recognize the value that NGOs can add in the provision of basic social services? Do they provide grants or contracts to NGOs to enable them to provide such services?
A strong sectoral infrastructure is necessary that can provide NGOs with broad access to local NGO support services. Intermediary Support Organizations (ISOs) providing these services must be able to inform, train, and advise other NGOs; and provide access to NGO networks and coalitions that share information and pursue issues of common interest. Questions include: Are there ISOs, NGO Resource Centers, or other means for NGOs to access information, technology, training and technical assistance throughout the country? Do ISOs and Resource Centers earn some of their operating revenue from earned income and other locally generated sources? Do local community foundations and/or ISOs provide grants from either locally raised funds or by re-granting international donor funds? Do NGOs share information with each other? Is there a network in place that facilitates such information sharing? Is there an organization or committee through which the sector promotes its interests? Are there capable local NGO management trainers? Is basic NGO management training available in the capital city and in secondary cities? Are training materials available in local languages? Are there examples of NGOs working in partnership, either formally or informally, with local business, government, and the media to achieve common objectives?
For the sector to be sustainable, government, the business sector, and communities should have a positive public image of NGOs, including a broad understanding and appreciation of the role that NGOs play in society. Public awareness and credibility directly affect NGOs' ability to recruit members and volunteers, and encourage indigenous donors. The Index looks at the extent and nature of the media's coverage of NGOs, the awareness and willingness of government officials to engage NGOs, as well as the general public's knowledge and perception of the sector as a whole.
Typical questions in this section include: Do NGOs enjoy positive media coverage at the local and national level? Do the media provide positive analysis of the role that NGOs play in civil society? Does the general public have a positive perception of NGOs? Do the business sector and local and central government officials have a positive perception of NGOs? Do NGOs publicize their activities or promote their public image? Have NGOs adopted a code of ethics or tried to demonstrate transparency in their operations? Do leading NGOs publish annual reports?
Te NGO Sustainability Index uses a seven-point scale, to facilitate comparisons to the Freedom House indices, with 7 indicating a low or poor level of development and 1 indicating a very advanced NGO sector. The following section elaborates on the characteristics of each level of development:
1. Sector's sustainability enhanced significantly by practices/policies in this area. While the needed reforms may not be complete, the local NGO community recognizes which reforms or developments are still needed, and has a plan and the ability to pursue them itself.
2. NGO sector's sustainability enhanced by practices/policies in this area. Local NGO community demonstrates a commitment to pursuing reforms and developing its professionalism in this area.
3. NGO sector's sustainability somewhat enhanced by practices/policies in this area or commitment to developing the aspect in question is significant.
4. NGO sector's sustainability minimally affected by practices/policies in this area. Progress may be hampered by a stagnant economy, a passive government, a disinterested media, or a community of good-willed but inexperienced activists.
5. NGO sector's sustainability somewhat impeded by practices/policies in this area. Progress may be hampered by a contracting economy, authoritarian leader and centralized government, controlled or reactionary media, or a low level of capacity, will or interest on the part of the NGO community.
6. NGO sector's sustainability impeded by practices/policies in this area. A hostile environment and low capacity and public support prevents the growth of the NGO sector.
7. NGO sector's sustainability significantly impeded by practices/policies in this area, generally as a result of an authoritarian government that aggressively opposes the development of independent NGOs.
Section 3: Ratings - A Closer Look
The following sections go into greater depth about the characteristics in each of the seven dimensions of the sector's development. These characteristics and stages are drawn from empirical observations of the sector's development in the region, rather than a causal theory of development. Given the decentralized nature of NGO sectors, many contradictory developments may be taking place simultaneously. Therefore we do not attempt to break out the characteristics of the seven dimensions into seven distinct steps of development. Instead, these characteristics are clustered into three basic stages: Consolidation, Mid- Transition and Early Transition. The Consolidation stage, the highest level of sustainability and development, corresponds to a score between 1 and 3 points; the Mid- Transition stage corresponds to a score between 3 and 5 points; and the lowest level of development, the Early Transition stage, corresponds to a score of 5 to 7 points on the scale.
Consolidation (1-3): The legislative and regulatory framework makes special provisions for the needs of NGOs or gives not-for-profit organizations special advantages such as: significant tax deductions for business or individual contributions, significant tax exemptions on CSOs, open competition among NGOs to provide government-funded service, etc. Legal reform efforts at this point are primarily a local NGO advocacy effort to reform or fine tune taxation laws, procurement processes, etc. Local and comparative expertise, as well as availability of legal services and materials, on the NGO legal framework exists.
Mid-Transition (3-5): NGOs have little trouble registering and do not suffer from state harassment. They are permitted to engage in a broad range of activities, although taxation provisions, procurement procedures, etc. may inhibit NGOs' operation and development. Programs seek to reform or clarify existing NGO legislation, to allow NGOs to engage in revenue raising and commercial activities, to allow national or local governments to privatize the provision of selected government services, to address basic tax and fiscal issues for CSOs, etc. The local NGO community understands the need to coalesce and advocate for legal reforms benefiting the NGO sector as a whole. A core of local lawyers begins to specialize in NGO law by providing legal services to local NGOs, advising the NGO community on needed legal reforms, crafting draft legislation, etc.
Early Transition (5-7): The legal environment severely restricts the ability of NGOs to register and/or operate, either through the absence of legal provisions, the confusing or restrictive nature of legal provisions (and/or their implementation), or government hostility towards and harassment of NGOs.
Consolidation (1-3): Several transparently governed and capably managed NGOs exist across a variety of sectors. A majority of organizations have clearly defined mission statements, and many NGOs utilize strategic planning techniques. Boards of directors exist, and there is a clear distinction between the responsibilities of board members and staff. NGOs have permanent well-trained staff, and volunteers are widely utilized. Most NGOs have relatively modern equipment that allows them to do their work efficiently. Leading NGOs have successfully developed strong local constituencies
Mid-Transition (3-5): Individual NGOs demonstrate enhanced capacity to govern themselves and organize their work. Some individual NGOs maintain full-time staff members and boast an orderly division of labor between board members and staff. NGOs have access to basic office equipment, including computers and fax machines. While these efforts may not have reached fruition yet, leading NGOs understand the need and are making an effort to develop local constituencies.
Early Transition (5-7): NGOs are essentially "one-man shows," completely dependent upon the personality of one or two major figures. They often split apart due to personality clashes. NGOs lack a clearly defined sense of mission. At this stage, NGOs reflect little or no understanding of strategic planning or program formulation. Organizations rarely have a board of directors, by-laws, staff, or more than a handful of active members. NGOs have no understanding of the value or need of developing local constituencies for their work.
Consolidation (1-3): A critical mass of NGOs have sound financial management systems in place, including independent audits and the publication of annual reports with financial statements, to win potential donors' confidence. NGOs raise a significant percentage of their funding from local sources, including government, corporate and individual philanthropy, and earned income. Most NGOs have multiple sources of funding, which allow them to remain viable in the short-term. A growing economy makes growth in domestic giving possible.
Mid-Transition (3-5): NGOs pioneer different approaches to financial independence and viability. While still largely dependent on foreign donors, individual NGOs experiment with raising revenues through providing services, winning contracts and grants from municipalities and ministries to provide services, or attempting to attract dues-paying members or domestic donors. However, a depressed local economy may hamper efforts to raise funds from local sources. Training programs address financial management issues and NGOs begin to understand the importance of transparency and accountability from a fundraising perspective, although they may be unable to fully implement transparency measures.
Early Transition (5-7): New NGOs survive from grant to grant and/or depend financially on one foreign sponsor. While many NGOs are created in the hopes of receiving funding, most are largely inactive after attempts to win foreign donor funding fail. Local sources of funding are virtually non-existent, in part due to a depressed local economy. NGOs have no financial management systems and do not understand the need for financial transparency or accountability.
Consolidation (1-3): The NGO sector demonstrates the ability and capacity to respond to changing needs, issues and interests of the community and country. As NGOs secure their institutional and political base, they begin to 1) form coalitions to pursue issues of common interest, including NGO legislation; 2) monitor and lobby political parties; and, 3) monitor and lobby legislatures and executive bodies. NGOs demonstrate the ability to mobilize citizens and other organizations to respond to changing needs, issues, and interests. NGOs at this stage of development will review their strategies, and possess an ability to adapt and respond to challenges by sector. A prime motivator for cooperation is self interest: NGOs may form alliances around shared issues confronting them as non-profit, nongovernmental organizations.
Mid-Transition (3-5): Narrowly defined advocacy organizations emerge and become politically active in response to specific issues. Organizations at the Mid-Transition level of development may often present their concerns to inappropriate levels of government (local instead of national and vice versa). Weakness of the legislative branch might be revealed or incorrectly assumed, as activists choose to meet with executive branch officials instead ("where the power truly lies."). Beginnings of alternative policy analysis are found at universities and think tanks. Information sharing and networking within the NGO sector to inform and advocate its needs within the government begins to develop.
Early Transition (5-7): Broad umbrella movements, composed of activists concerned with a variety of sectors, and united in their opposition to the old regime fall apart or disappear. Some countries at this stage have not even experienced any initial burst of activism. Economic concerns become predominant for most citizens. There may be an increase in passivity, cynicism, or fear within the general public. NGO activists are afraid to engage in dialogue with the government, feel inadequate to offer their views and/or do not believe the government will listen to their recommendations. NGOs do not understand the role that they can play in "public policy" or do not understand the concept of "public policy".
Consolidation (1-3): Many NGOs provide a wide range of goods and services, which reflect community and/or local donor priorities. Many NGOs deliver products beyond basic social services in such sectors as economic development, environmental protection or democratic governance. NGOs in several sectors have developed a sufficiently strong knowledge of the market demand for their services, the ability of government to contract for the delivery of such services or other sources of funding including private donations, grants and fees, where allowed by law. A number of NGOs find it possible to cross-subsidize those goods and services for which full cost recovery is not viable with income earned from more lucrative goods and services, or with funds raised from other sources. Government bodies, primarily at the local level, recognize the abilities of NGOs and provide grants or contracts to enable them to provide various services.
Mid-Transition (3-5): The contribution of NGOs to covering the gap in social services is recognized by government, although this is only rarely accompanied by funding in the form of grants or contracts. NGOs recognize the need to charge fees for services and other products - such as publications and workshops - but even where legally allowed, such fees seldom recover their costs. While NGO-provided goods and services respond to community needs, needs are generally identified by foreign donors, or by NGOs in an unsystematic manner. The constituency for NGO expertise, reports and documents begins to expand beyond their own members and the poor to include other NGOs, academia, churches, and government.
Early Transition (5-7): A limited number of NGOs are capable of providing basic social services--such as health, education, relief, or housing - although at a low level of sophistication. Those who do provide such services receive few if any government subsidies or contracts. NGOs that produce publications, technical services or research do so only for their own members or donors. There are rarely attempts to charge fees for goods and services.
Consolidation (1-3): NGO Intermediary Support Organizations (ISOs) and/or NGO resource centers are active in all areas of the country and provide advanced training, informational services, legal support and advice, and philanthropic development activities. Efforts are underway to establish and endow community foundations, indigenous grant-making institutions, and/or organizations to coordinate local fundraising. A professional cadre of local experts, consultants and trainers in non-profit management exists. NGOs recognize the value of training, although the lack of financial resources may remain a constraint to accessing locally provided training. Topics of available training cover: legal and tax issues for NGOs, accounting and bookkeeping, communication skills, volunteer management, media and public relations skills, sponsorship and fundraising. NGOs work together and share information through networks and coalitions. NGOs are beginning to develop intersectoral partnerships with business, government, and the media to achieve common objectives.
Mid-Transition (3-5): ISOs and resource centers are active in major population centers, and provide services such as distributing grants, publishing newsletters, maintaining a membership database, running a library of NGO literature, and providing basic training and consulting services. Other umbrella organizations and networks are beginning to be formed to facilitate networking and coordinate activities of groups of NGOs. Local trainers have the capacity to provide basic organizational training. Donors' fora are formed to coordinate the financial support of international donors, and to develop local corporate philanthropic activities. The value of intersectoral partnerships has not yet been realized.
Early Transition (5-7): There are few, if any, active ISOs or resource centers, networks and umbrella organizations. Those that do operate work primarily in the capital city and provide limited services such as access to computer equipment, faxes, email and meeting space. Local training and NGO development capacity is extremely limited and undeveloped. Primarily programs of international donors provide training and technical assistance. There is no coordinated effort to develop philanthropic traditions, improve fundraising or establish community foundations. NGO efforts to work together are limited by a perception of competition for foreign donor support and mistrust of other organizations.
Consolidation (1-3): This stage is characterized by growing public knowledge of and trust in NGOs, and increased rates of voluntarism. NGOs coalesce to mount campaigns to increase public trust. Widespread examples of good working relationships between NGOs and national and local governments exist, and can result in public-private initiatives or NGO advisory committees for city councils and ministries. Media covers the work of NGOs, and NGOs approach media and public relations in a professional manner. Increased accountability, transparency, and self-regulation exist within the NGO sector, including existence of a generally accepted code of ethics or a code of conduct.
Mid-Transition (3-5): The media does not tend to cover NGOs because it considers them weak and ineffective, or irrelevant. Individual NGOs realize the need to educate the public, to become more transparent, and to seek out opportunities for media coverage, but do not have the skills to do so. As a result, the general population has little understanding of the role of NGOs in society. Individual local governments demonstrate strong working relationships with their local NGOs, as evidenced by their participation in advisory committees, consultations, public-private initiatives, and the funding of an occasional grant, but this is not yet widespread.
Early Transition (5-7): The general public and/or government are uninformed or suspicious of NGOs as institutions. Most of the population does not understand the concept of "nongovernmental" or "not-for-profit", including government officials, business leaders and journalists. Media coverage may be hostile, due to suspicion of a free but uninformed media, or due to the hostility of an authoritarian government-controlled media. Charges of treason may be issued against NGOs. Due to a hostile atmosphere caused by an authoritarian government, if individuals or businesses donate to NGOs at all, they do so anonymously.