[skip to content]

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

NGO Management

Course Code:
Unit value:

The last 30 years have witnessed an extraordinary growth in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in almost all parts of the globe, and in all spheres of human activity. NGOs have become a highly visible component of civil society and are now significant players in the fields of human rights, the environment and social development at local, national and international levels.

Despite some deep historical roots, the emergence of NGOs as formalised, structured institutions has been relatively recent. Although they share some characteristics with state and private sector organisations, NGOs are in a category of their own; they have particular organisational features, maintain relationships with a broad range of different actors, and face a number of special challenges. NGO management has therefore evolved as a distinctive practice and field of study that differs in content and perspective from business management and public sector administration.

This module provides a critical overview of the major issues involved in NGO management, with an emphasis on organisations working in development and poverty-reduction in the ‘Global South’. It draws on the growing body of theoretical work and practical experiences to provide an outline of the most significant management challenges facing NGOs today and the tools and approaches that managers use.

This module is aimed primarily at NGO staff with management responsibilities, and for individuals who wish to develop their knowledge and skills in preparation for moving into such positions. NGOs come in many shapes and sizes, and the definition of an NGO and the choice of terminology is itself the subject of much debate and limited agreement. In this module the focus is generally on the management of medium-sized NGOs that typically work at regional or national scales. Those in large national or international NGOs may also find it useful; particularly individuals who work closely with national or local partners and wish to understand some of the organisational challenges involved.

Objectives and learning outcomes of the course

On successful completion of the module students will be able:

  • To use a variety of frameworks to understand the organisational characteristics of NGOs.
  • To analyse and understand the key issues and challenges facing NGOs as development organisations.
  • To apply a range of tools and approaches to the development of NGO structure, systems and strategy.
  • To describe some of the important issues in managing people as individuals and as groups.
  • To recognise the broad range of resources available to NGOs, to evaluate their potential contribution to financial sustainability and to identify and interpret the key elements of financial management information.
  • To identify the main issues in gathering and using information for accountability, learning and managing change.

Scope and syllabus

This module aims to develop management skills and a critical theoretical approach to the topic of NGO management through readings, examples and practical exercises. Ten units are grouped into four parts, each with a particular theme.

Part I, Understanding NGOs (Units 1-3) begins with an analysis of the development of the NGO sector and an introduction to some frameworks for understanding NGOs. It moves on to describe the issues faced by NGOs as a result of their distinctive identity and relationship with a wide range of different stakeholders, and concludes with an examination of the key management functions of leadership and governance as they relate to NGOs.

Part II, Strategy, Structures and Systems (Units 4-5) describes the process by which an NGO scans, analyses, adapts to, and shapes its environment. It introduces some of the principles and models that can be used by an NGO to develop structures and systems according to its mission, vision and values.
Part III, Managing People (Unit 6) examines what an NGO can and should do to recruit, develop and retain the commitment of its people.

Part IV, Mobilising and Managing Financial Resources (Units 7 and 8) provides an overview of the major sources of income available to NGOs, outlines a strategic approach to financial sustainability and summarises the main elements of financial information available to NGO managers and how this should be interpreted. It also considers the importance of mobilising non-financial resources such as volunteer time, access to policy fora, and the development of a local constituency.

Part V, Managing for Effective Impact (Units 9 and 10) discusses monitoring and evaluating NGO work, outlines different approaches to measuring impact, and describes the role of NGO managers in supporting learning and managing change.