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Critical factors that determine, contribute to the success and effectiveness of NGOs

By Rohit Rakshit 

Over the last few years, I have been fortunate to work with numerous non-governmental organizations (NGOs) across various states in the country. This experience has allowed me to gain insights into their diverse areas of work while also enabling me to analyze the key attributes that contribute to the success of a good NGO. According to my observations, the following are the critical factors that determine the effectiveness of an NGO.
1. Visionary Leadership & Governance – This is a very important point to the list. Leaders are the ones who can make or break an organization. An organization's success hinges on the leadership and managerial skills of its leaders. Over the last few years of my career, I have been able to engage with leaders of non-profit organisations, including founders and have analyzed how their qualities correlate with the organisation. Several aspects define leadership in non-profits, including the following-
A. Leaders Vs Bosses – There is a huge difference between leaders and bosses, which might have been described in detail in other articles. Picture a dance floor where the leader orchestrates a symphony of collaboration, while the boss commands a solo act. Nevertheless, leaders view their employees as co-facilitator and travelers in the whole journey while bosses are very dominating, hardly participates in the process and are always in the look out to exploit their employees without contributing hardly anything to the process. This is a huge contributing factor to the culture and environment in the organization and the work which they do. If employees are provided with a good working environment with a decent pay and opportunities, employees are more likely to stay and contribute for an extended period, put in all their efforts and working as a team generating synergies where the organization realizes more than it intends to.
B. Absence of second line leadership – In most NGOs, there is now an absence of a second line leadership. Most founders stay in both the board and in the management, refuses to let loose their hands of control and hardly promote second line leadership. In this case, the organization is as good as the person heading it. Some organizations, even larger ones, goes haywire when their leader suddenly expires, and the organization comes at the brink of shutting down. Needless to say, I have seen that too.
C. Gender disparity – Only a handful of NGOs are being led by women. Sometimes, it is so paradoxical to see that the organization working for women empowerment and feminist movements in the community does not have any women in their senior leadership positions and does not have an approach to give opportunities to women members.
D. Board Governance – A well-structured and engaged board of directors is essential. NGOs with strong governance ensure that the board is actively involved in oversight, decision-making, and supporting the organization's goal. The organization doesn't merely maintain a board in name, but rather, it ensures active engagement, selecting members who actively contribute, regularly attend meetings, and play substantive roles, rather than adopting a tokenistic approach.
2. Intent & Ethical leadership – A significant distinction lies between having a genuine intent to serve society and being primarily motivated by profit while operating under the non-profit facade. In this case, the intent and skills of the leader becomes very important. Skills are something which can be improved over time, but the intent should remain consistent over time. The leader’s intent is sometimes what drives the way for the organization, moistly smaller organizations, and sometimes the head of the organization works for their own rather than the communities they serve. Their primary intent becomes deriving benefits, sustaining, and improving their own lives rather than the communities. It is here where corruption can seep in, and the organization goes very far off their mission, vision and values.
3. Bold and Clear Strategic Vision & Mission – The NGO must have a clear vision and mission with defined goal in place. It should do what it intends to do and achieve over the next few years with effective monitoring processes in position. We come across several NGOs who engages themselves in almost everything because they want a share of every one’s pie and would engage donors to even write their proposals, with less or no inputs, agreeing to almost everything they are told to do. They lack a vision and do not care to check if the particular project aligns with their organization’s goal. They are more interested in preparing the budgets.
4. Right Attitude – NGOs should promote the right attitude within the organization amongst its employees and outside the organization with the communities with which they work. They should provide a space for the communities to participate, should listen to what they have to say and the changes they want to make and build it within the organization. Creating the right atmosphere within and outside the organization is very crucial.
5. Acquiring Knowledge & Skills – In the world of NGOs, stagnation is a silent killer. Knowledge and skill set are very important for an organization. Most organizations do not want to upgrade themselves and learn the new skills. They do not want to promote a learning environment and the employees are not provided a platform where they can participate, gain understanding, and acquire knowledge and then tend to improve the systems within the organization. An important characteristic of an organization should be that it should be open to learning and adapt to the changing circumstances and environment. It is already evident that those who do not change perish with time and close down very soon.
6. Networked Collaborations - The best way for an organization to grow and learn is to collaborate with others, getting into partnership with different campaigns and networks and learn and contribute therefore creating more opportunities to increase visibility to potential donors and highlight their work.
7. Transparency – Needless to say, the organization must be transparent in its approach, work, structure, and financial management. Transparency is the golden thread weaving trust. Some organisations are not transparent because they do not want to be transparent while some organisations fail to show or prove that they are transparent. Embracing transparency is a virtue that, when valued will attract donor in the long run, which many fail to understand while looking at the short-term gains.
In short, a non-governmental organization must be vibrant!

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