NGOs 101: What are NGOs?

NGOs 101 Series

Many times I get asked: What are NGOs? The answer is usually a bit more complex than you’d expect.

But before going into my own definition, let me share with you some definitions by some renowned sources. So here they are:

  • “A non-governmental organization (NGO) is a legally constituted organization created by natural or legal persons that operates independently from any government.”- www.UN.org
  • “A non-governmental organization (NGO) is any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level.” –  www.NGO.org
  • “A nongovernment organization is an association which is based on the common interests of its members, individuals, or institutions has no governmental status or function, and is not created by a government, nor is its agenda set or implemented by a government.” – www.SIL.org
  • “Private organizations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development” – www.WorldBank.org

 

Now the problem is, none of the above is complete or accurate, here is why:

  • The UN definition misses out that such organizations should have a cause for the benefit of the community and that they should be not for profit. According to UN definition, most private sector companies would fall under the category of “NGOs”, which is obviously incorrect.
  • The NGO.org definition misses out that they should not be initiated, managed or has members of NGO bodies. Moreover, it limits the to “voluntary” work, while in reality there are thousands of NGOs that have paid staff.
  • The SIL.org definition also misses out on the not for profit part, thus once again being an inadequate definition.
  • The World Bank definition misses out on many factors. Their definition misses out on the fact that should not be initiated, managed or has members of NGOs, nor that they should be not for profit. Just to name a few that is.

 

In this context, after further research, discussions and meetings with stakeholders from NGOs, I’ve managed to identify the components that one can use as a checklist to check if the organization in study is an NGO or not. Here are the components or attributes if you’d like to call them so:

  • Is a legal entity founded by natural or legal persons.
  • Not initiated nor managed by any government.
  • Doesn’t accept membership of governmental bodies.
  • Works to fulfill community needs rather than profit, i.e. not for profit.
  • Can be based on voluntary work, paid staff or both.

 

Using the above, I can assure you that you’d be able to clearly identify what is an NGO and what is not. You can put them in a definition as follows:

“An NGO is a legal entity founded by natural or legal persons that is not initiated nor managed by any government nor does it accept membership of governmental bodies. An NGO works to fulfill community needs rather than profit, i.e. not profit, and it can be based on voluntary work, paid staff or both.”

Thus, the following organizations are not, and should not, be considered as NGOs or labeled as such: UNDP, ESCWA, UNESCO, ILO, OPEC, FAO, Arab League.

I hope that clarifies the issue for you and I look forward to hear your feedback on the definition.

NGOs 101 Series

NGOs 101 Series
Dear reader,

Considering the sheer number of questions and consultations I get regularly about NGOs, their types, fields of work, definitions, structures, proposal writing, fundraising and the like, I will be posting a series of articles about NGOs to cover such topics.

Here is a quick overview about some of the articles I’ll be posting:
• Defining NGOs
• Types of NGOs (by geographic scope)
• Fields of Work of NGOs (by industry)
• Functional Types of NGOs (internal structure)
• Project Management in NGOs (how it differs from those in private and public sectors)
• Fundraising in NGOs
• Proposal Writing in NGOs (how it differs depending on the donor/funding agency)
• Logical Framework Approach/Matrix (what it is, how it came into existence, when is it to be used)

If you’d like to know about other topics related to NGOs don’t hesitate to drop me a comment about it.

Stay tuned!

Volunteering: How It Changed My Life!

volunteer

Believe it or not, volunteer work changed my life. The first time I volunteered I was 11 years old! Yes that young. In fact I’m glad my school (ISC) had something called Student Life Organization (SLO) which engages students in their school life to run this student led organization that acts something like a Student Affairs in a typical school.

Starting at that young age helped me overcome some personal weak points, from shyness to knowing how to interact and deal with people and responsibilities. Yet the seed it planted in me…didn’t stop there, it grew multiple folds to flourish in my university life and beyond.

From the first year of university, I just had that drive to give back to community, to serve, to grow, to meet people and so I ended up joining student societies and clubs at my university (AUB) as well as cofounding an NGO called Aie Serve among my involvement with many others that I am still involved in till this day whether as founder or Board Member or Advisor or simply as a member.

So here are some of the things I believe volunteer work gave me:

  • Opened my mind to new ways of thinking about life.
  • Gave me a purpose beyond my own self and my day to day life.
  • Got me to meet the most inspiring people I would have never dreamed of knowing.
  • Made me more friends that I could have possibly done in 50 years.
  • Gave me life changing experiences and challenges that made me mature way faster than many of my colleagues and friends that were not involved in volunteer work.
  • Made me feel proud about the achievements I was able to accomplish with the teams I worked with to make Lebanon a better place to live in. From improving the life of underserved children to giving back to nature through tree planting and beach cleanups to mentoring youth to training and sharing knowledge with aspiring young leaders to many many maaany more.
  • Gave me opportunities to learn how to manage projects, lead teams, do strategic planning, explore my training skills, brainstorm for ideas that will make the world a better place…just to mention a few.
  • Lead me to having a career in consultancy and training that I wouldn’t have if I didn’t do all the volunteer work I did, simply because a typical university life and a 8-5 job wouldn’t have given me half as much opportunities to learn, grow and meet new people.

So my recommendation to you, no matter how old you are or what your social/economic/academic/marital status is, if you’re not engaged in some volunteer work already, then get to it! You can never do too much volunteer work, the more the merrier, and trust me it just gets better with time, just make sure you join the organizations or causes that you feel passionate about or at least interested in, the rest will follow!

Other interesting posts:

PMI’s International Development CoP Member Spotlight – Afif Tabsh, PMP, CBAP

Dear Friends,

I’m glad to share with you the below interview/article written about me and published in Project Management Institute (PMI’s) International Development Community of Practice. Link to the official article on PMI’s website for PMI Members is here.

Enjoy the below and let me know what you think,

Afif

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International Development CoP Member Spotlight

Afif Tabsh, PMP, CBAP
Consultant & Trainer at CMCS – Cofounder & President at Aie Serve
Lebanon

About Afif
As a management consultant and trainer at CMCS Lebanon I assist corporations and NGOs in Strategic Planning, Process Improvement, Human Capital Management, Project & Program Management and Leadership. 

I’m especially interested in the fields of Youth Empowerment, Diversity & Acceptance, Leadership, NGO & SME Management, Social Entrepreneurship, Coaching & Consultancy, and Training Techniques.

I’ve participated, organized, trained and was a guest speaker in numerous conferences, camps, workshops, conventions and seminars under Aie Serve, PMI, UNDP, UNESCO, Rotary, Youth Economic Forum, AUB Alumni Council, Arab Economic Form, LAU Peace & Justice Institute among others.

What Does International Development Mean to You?
With our growing interconnected world, global diversity is becoming a key topic on discussion panels as people from all walks of life are becoming interconnected with each other, do business together, volunteer for similar causes, even though they might be thousands of miles away.

Thus respecting differences and accepting the other has become a crucial factor of successful projects, programs and organizations at large, worldwide.

What Are You Most Passionate About?
I’m very passionate about professional volunteering, this has been reflected through the NGOs and clubs I have founded and others that I’m engaged in at the Board level.

Who Is Your Hero & Why?
My biggest hero so far has been my father who was able to balance a very busy life as a doctor with his passion for serving the community and promoting active citizenship along with taking care of his family and private life.

What Is One Strategy for Inclusion that You Can Share?
One of my best strategies is believing in the potential of individuals and focusing on respecting the differences, accepting the other and loving them for their humanity. Every person has a lot of potential to give, it’s just a matter of taking your time to understand them and see things from their perspective, know what they are good at and put it to work. When working in teams, it proves to be the best tool to really utilize the full potential of the team, as you don’t point fingers at them or have a prejudgment that they are incapable, but rather start from the preposition that they have the potential and you’re just there to uncover it.

What Exciting Projects, Programs or Portfolios Are Your Working On? 
I’m currently working on 4 very exciting programs in the volunteer youth NGO I’m leading called Aie Serve (www.AieServe.org – http://www.Facebook.com/AieServe). The programs are:

  • Aie Power – Platform for Youth to Transfer Project Ideas into Reality
  • Aie Consult – Incubator & Consultancy Program for Youth Led NGOs
  • Aie Skills – Training Program to Empower Youth with Soft, Life and Managerial skills
  • Aie Clubs – Network of Youth Lead Clubs in Universities and Local Areas that do Community Development, Service and Awareness Activities

What Is Your Favorite Book & Author?
I have 3 favorite books:

  • Who Moved My Cheese
  • The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People
  • Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us 

What Have You Done to Change the World? What Will Your Legacy Be?
One of my proudest achievements is Aie Serve, I cannot say enough about it. I co-founded the organization 6 years ago with a group of friends from all walks of life, different countries, different majors, different ethnicity and different interests but with a shared vision: Serving The Community. From there it grew from a group of friends, to a team and an organization.

The true value of Aie Serve is not just what it does, but the fact that it is run completely by volunteers and the way it is managed internally. The core values of the organization drive it, and drive its programs and way of work. Those core values are simple, yet powerful as they make the way to move forward simple and straight forward.

Our values are: Respect, Acceptance & Love. 

Respecting others’ point of views and beliefs no matter what, accepting differences and considering them the seeds of diversity and finally, loving others for who they are, and not for their background, ethnicity, beliefs, colour or economic status.

If You Weren’t In Project Management, What Would You Be Doing?
If I wasn’t in project management I would be in the field of talent or human capital management. I believe working with, developing, empowering, and supporting people is absolutely crucial for everything we do in this world. Human potential is infinite, thus those who know how to tap into it, grow it and sustain it, will lead success.

NGO: From Charity to Social Enterprise

Image

With the dwindling funds and grants that are available, many NGOs are struggling to survive. They are either shutting down their operations or moving into new fields that have nothing to do with their mission but rather are chasing the money.

Majority of the people I meet, when I tell them “NGO” the first thing that comes to their mind is “Charity”. Now the fact that most NGOs depend on donations, grants and fundraising activities to sustain make it reasonable enough to have people link the word NGO to charity. Nevertheless, new innovative ways in income generation have been making their way to the NGO world.

In this context, and for the past few years, I’ve been advising and consulting NGOs on how to adopt a business model into their operations and projects, to create a shift in how they think about their work in an NGO not only as a way to generate enough income to sustain and grow but also a whole new mindset in what an NGO.

The point I focus on is to transform the NGO from a charity to a social enterprise. This happens when the NGO integrates into its work an income generation model that allows it to make money while leaving the positive impact it hopes for. It’s not just a matter of selling something, but rather a mind shift in how the NGO perceives itself in the community.

So here are few tips I usually share with the NGO leaders on how to go through this transformation:

  • Consider diversifying your income sources; not only donations and grants, but rather start considering fundraising activities, sponsorship,  membership fees, services, products and income generating activities that are aligned with your mission.
  • Income generating activities can be the same exact service you give to your beneficiaries, but include in it a small fee that goes as a donation to your organization. This is step one into becoming a social enterprise. Definitely more complex models can be considered on what services or products are offered for free and which are billable.
  • Invest in R&D to better understand what are the other players is in community, what services do they offer, where can you add value, what does the community really need and what is the best way to package your services/products. Utilize Design Thinking throughout the process, consider empathy and your community, really try to understand what their needs are and how can you package your work in a way that they would be willing to pa for the value they are getting.
  • Invest in Marketing to have a better outreach to your users/beneficiaries, potential partners, donors, sponsors and supporters.
  • Consider that your users/beneficiaries will be willing to pay for a service that fulfills their need, as long as it’s conceived value outweighs its costs. At its core, this is a social business transaction where you are trying to merge social value with the business value. Moreover, it’s important to clarify that the fees they pay will be considered as a donation for the NGO to ensure its sustainability, so that you can serve more people for a longer period of time. This transforms the relationship with your beneficiaries to become service users and partners in the community, a win-win situation for both of you.
  • Develop a Volunteer System into your organization to make it an integral part of its daily work and projects, this in turn gets you more community support, helps you get a better understanding of what the community really needs as the volunteers are most probably going to be from the community itself and it can held reduce running costs on human capital.

The above are just a starting point, but usually are enough to start building on them to transform the NGO from a “Charity” to a “Social Enterprise”. With good analyses, research and hard work, usually NGOs start seeing the impact within a year and will reap its benefits both on the short and long term.

So my advice to all NGO leaders, activists and good-doers, change starts with us. It’s about time we start utilizing some of the lessons learned and best practices in the business world and use them to better serve our communities. So start thinking of how are you going to help your organizations sustain, grow and become more self-dependent on securing its finances rather than having to constantly chase funds, grants and following donor agendas, not for your sake or your staff’s sake, but for the community itself to keep on benefiting.

Other interesting posts:

3 Key Roles of NGO Board Members

NGO Board Pillars

For years now I’ve been involved in NGOs and I’m constantly being surprised with how people perceive Board Members and how Board Members themselves perceive their role. To some, a Board is a group of people who endlessly do meetings after meetings with no avail and to others, it’s some mythical, grandiose, elitist group who got special powers to lead the organization. So let me help you demystify all that…

My involvement ranges from small local clubs to a national organizations to branches of international organizations.  Irrespective of shape, size or topic of those NGOs, I can easily draw a line of similarity among them.

To start with, the Board is sometimes called Board of Directors, Steering Committee, Executive Board or Executive Committee, so in spite of the naming diversity, the roles and responsibilities stay the same.

So let’s talk about the core of the issue. Board members have 3 key roles that form the pillars of any NGO and are as follows:

Decision Making: Board member are usually the founding members or are elected members that lead the organization. In this context, all major decision making in the organization goes through them. Now it has been noticed over and over again that many Board Members become passive and rather apathetic to decisions being taken, which makes the whole organization go biased towards the opinions of the remaining Board Members. So if you’re on a Board of an NGO and you see this happening around you, don’t freak out, you’re not alone…its a trend!

Yet it’s important to deal with this issue as it is crucial to have all Board Members involved in all decisions or else you’ll start seeing resistance and conflicts arising here and there every once in a while, especially from those same inactive Board Members.

What makes decision making in NGOs different from Private Sector or Governmental Institutions, is the fact that everyone’s opinion matters and most decisions are done either democratically or through consensus, so it should never be a one man show. If it seems to be or become a one man show, then you know it’s about time to change some things…

Organizational/Executive/Functional: In addition to having decision making role, all Board have a distribution of roles and responsibilities where the most common structure is “President, Vice President, General Secretary, Treasurer & Accountant” thus each of those individuals not only has his decision making role, but also a functional role to play, whether it’s taking care of financials, or internal communication or following up on tasks or heading committees..etc. Thus if those tasks and responsibilities are implemented properly, you would’ve successfully built the second pillar of the NGO to ensure that it stands tall and becomes sustainable. When this role is done properly, the internal dynamics of the organization start functioning properly.

Jack-of-All-Traders: Yes you read it right, as soon as you become a Board Member of an NGO you suddenly get to become a jack of all trades as your responsibilities will expand beyond what you expect. So you roll up your sleeves and you start doing tasks related to strategic planning, outreach, public relations, proposal writing, volunteer management, project management, reporting,  web development, graphic design, fundraising, training, consulting, event organizing and so on and so forth. So when you’re joining the Board of an NGO, its not just about doing your decision making or your functional role, but you’re expected to be involved at all levels, in all your projects and operations and to become well knowledgeable about them to assist, support and improve what your organization does.

So in a nutshell, I can say those 3 pillars are what makes a healthy Board and thus a healthy organization if they were implemented properly and professionally. If you’re a Board Member, and you feel you’re missing out on any of those…then double check with your team as you are probably holding your organization back because are doing them. Whereas if you’re doing all three and you feel other Board Members aren’t, then its about time you share the workload with them.

On a last note, properly leading an NGO can be as consuming and demanding, if not more demanding, then leading your own company due to the social factor of it and having several decision makers with you on equal levels of authority, ownership and responsibility…

So if you’re a Board Member on an NGO… God bless you! and if you know someone who is…now you know why they do so many meetings! hehehe

Other interesting posts:

Project Management for NGOs Workshop

Dear Readers,

I’d like to invite you to a workshop that I’m organizing and delivering as part of my work with CMCS Lebanon. Details below.

Workshop Topic: Project Management for NGOs
Date:  September 16 & 17, 2013
Time: 9:00am – 5:00pm
Venue: CMCS Lebanon Office – Hamra
Facilitator: Afif Tabsh, PMP®

Target Group:

  • NGO’s Board Members & Founders
  • NGO Consultants
  • Program & Project Managers/ Coordinator/ Assistants
  • General/ Grant Coordinators
  • Team/ Committee/ Task-force Leaders
  • Company Managers with interest in CSR Projects/Programs
  • UN & International Organizations’ Staff

Learning Outcomes:

  • Understand the difference between NGO projects and private sector projects.
  • Understand and identify how to use standard tools and techniques of project management in NGOs.
  • Understand the relationship between the Knowledge Areas in the PMBOK (PMI) in relation to NGO’s terminology and way of work.
  • Understand how to develop a project idea into a full project management plan.

Description:

  • A practical hands-on workshop designed in alignment with the international standard of project management along with the best practices in Project Management in NGOs.
  • Covers key topics and issues that everyone can build on to enhance the way they transform project ideas into fully functioning plans.
  • Includes numerous discussions, reflection sections and exercises.
  • Is approved by AUB and certified by PMI thus PMP/CAPM holder can claim PDUs for it.

Fees:
$ 550 US (including CMCS Customized Course Manual, a Process Chart, Certificate of Attendance, 15 PDUs, and Snacks & Refreshments). VAT included.

For Registration: PM for NGOs Registration Form

For More Information:
OFC: (+961) 1 345111
Mobile: (+961) 71 69000
FAX: (+961) 1 346111
Email: lebanon@cmcs-mena.com

Other Similar Posts About PM and/or NGOs:

Awarded the Laureate Global Fellowship

Dear Friends and Readers,

I hope you’re doing well. I am writing this post to gladly announce that I have been selected to be 1 of 20, from among thousands of applicants worldwide, to be awarded the “Laureate Global Fellowship”  as part of the YouthActionNet program by the International Youth Foundation.

Launched in 2001 by the International Youth Foundation, YouthActionNet strengthens, supports, and celebrates the role of young people in leading positive change in their communities. Each year, 20 exceptional young social entrepreneurs are selected as Fellows following a competitive application process. The year-long Fellowship program includes:

  • Skill-building
  • Networking and Resources
  • Advocacy

You can read more about the 2012 Laureate Global Fellows Announcement and check my profile and the other 19 Fellows on the Meet the Fellows Page. Moreover, you can better understand Aie Serve, the organization that I’ll be representing, by visiting its Website and its Facebook page.

I’m excited about this year-long fellowship and eager to learn, grow, network and share! 🙂