‘Uber’ is coming to the NGO Sector

Josie PaganiJosie Pagani
Council for International  Development

International NGOs are changing the way they work. Part of that is a response to the public who are changing the way they give.

While the New Zealand public continues to be the principle source of funding for international NGOs, providing 56% of revenues, that support has declined by nearly 15% over a decade (18% of NGO funds comes from government, and 26% from self- generated income – selling goods and services).

Our recent survey of members shows that revenues from child sponsorship have declined for the forth-consecutive year, while support for emergency appeals has increased.

People are still giving, they’re just giving in a different way. They haven’t stopped caring about famine in South Sudan, or conflict in Aleppo, and cyclones in the Pacific.

But they may go over the heads of the NGO here in New Zealand, and donate via a give-a-little page, or direct to a school, a health clinic or a micro-finance programme in a developing country. They can get information online, direct from the source, and instantly. If people don’t see the need to go through an NGO in New Zealand, they won’t.

The good news is that New Zealand’s NGOs working in some of the most challenging regions in the world know this and are already adapting. They’re ‘uber-ing’ their own organisations.

The 21st century NGO is going to look very different to the NGO model we have become accustomed to, where the NGO sits in the middle between ‘rich country’ donors and ‘poor country’ recipients.

NGOs have struggled over the years to make the case to the public that ‘if you give us $1, yes – its’ true – some of that dollar will go towards making sure we have supplies and staff able to respond, and maybe only 60c gets to those in need. It’s a rational and legitimate argument to make. NGOs wouldn’t be able to re-stock their warehouses between disasters, have relief packages ready to go in the first few hours, and staff to deliver them, if they didn’t do this.

In the USA, NGOs ran a campaign to get this message across, with billboards saying  ’Don’t ask us if our overheads are big, ask us if our impact is big’. It was a great campaign.

But the message is starting to change as the NGO model evolves. Today, an international NGO is less likely to say – ‘give us $1 and we’ll get 60c to where its most needed’ – and more likely to say ‘give us a $1 and we’ll turn it into a $1.60. We know where to invest your $1 so that it has the biggest impact.’

Tomorrow’s NGO will look more like a ‘development broker’ to get the best possible development returns for each donated dollar.

Our survey shows a membership constantly exploring new ways of working and funding, and making new partnerships – both with other NGOs and with the private sector.

The New Zealand NGO now works far more closely with local NGOs on the ground in conflict torn, or post-disaster countries.

63% of CID members are working in partnership with another NGO. 69% partner with the private sector. And that’s not just in the ‘backroom’, helping NGOs improve their financial systems or their governance structures. In some cases the private sector are working alongside NGOs, even leading the delivery of programmes in-country. A New Zealand law firm is helping TearFund catch child traffickers with state of the art investigative software; Vodaphone help our NGOs and local people get on line and back on the phone after a cyclone in the Pacific.

In Canada, leading aid agencies have even banded together to form a ‘one-stop-shop’ for humanitarian needs. This ‘Humanitarian Coalition’ and others like it in the UK, are making history. Rather than competing against each other, it’s a ‘coalition of the willing’ NGOs who have decided to fundraise together, speak with one voice to the public, share resources and coordinate their work on the ground. As a result, each NGO is able to have an even bigger impact in conflict-torn counties or post disasters than if they worked alone.

The future international NGO will look very different to the model we’ve become used to. It’s evolving before our eyes, and its the NGOs themselves doing the disrupting.

This blog has been contributed by a member of ComVoices

ComVoices  actively promotes the value that community sector organisations and their people, both paid and unpaid, add to New Zealand’s economic and social wellbeing through information, and political advocacy and dialogue.

Click here for our website:  http://comvoices.org.nz/