[skip to content]

Centre for Development, Environment and Policy (CeDEP)

NGO Management

Course Code:
P532
Unit value:

The growth in non-governmental organisations (NGOs) that started in the latter part of the 20th century has, despite some early concerns, continued into the 21st century, in almost all parts of the globe and in all spheres of human activity. NGOs have become highly visible components of civil society and are recognised as significant players in the fields of human rights, the environment and social development at local, national and international levels.

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 NGO 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 levels. 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

By the end of this module, students should be able to:

  • use and critically compare a variety of frameworks to understand the organisational characteristics of NGOs
  • critically analyse and understand the key issues and challenges facing NGOs as development organisations
  • selectively apply a range of tools and approaches to the development of NGO structure, systems and strategy
  • summarise, interpret and prioritise the important issues in managing people as individuals and as groups
  • recognise the broad range of resources available to NGOs, evaluate their potential contribution to financial sustainability and identify and interpret the key elements of financial management information
  • specify and evaluate 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 continued growth of the NGO sector and the focus on effectiveness and transparency. It introduces frameworks for understanding NGOs. It then moves on to describe the issues faced by NGOs as a result of their distinctive identity and relationship with a wide range of stakeholders in the context of a changing aid environment, and concludes with an examination of the key functions of management, leadership and governance as they relate to NGOs.

Part II, Managing People and Finance (Units 6-8) first examines what an NGO can and should do to recruit, develop and retain the commitment of its people. The use of competency-based approaches in NGOs is an important thread running through unit 6, which concludes with an examination of people management systems and approaches to staff development. Units 7 and 8 provide an overview of the major sources of income available to NGOs, the challenges created by dependency on official aid donors, the increasing importance of foundations as funders of NGOs, and the importance for NGOs of developing a resource mobilisation strategy. It then moves on to outline 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 forums, and the development of a local constituency.

Part III, Managing People and Finance (Units 6-8) first examines what an NGO can and should do to recruit, develop and retain the commitment of its people. The use of competency-based approaches in NGOs is an important thread running through unit 6, which concludes with an examination of people management systems and approaches to staff development. Units 7 and 8 provide an overview of the major sources of income available to NGOs, the challenges created by dependency on official aid donors, the increasing importance of foundations as funders of NGOs, and the importance for NGOs of developing a resource mobilisation strategy. It then moves on to outline 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 forums, and the development of a local constituency.

Part IV, Managing for Effective Impact (Units 9 and 10) discusses approaches to monitoring and evaluating NGO work. NGO managers have to manage, monitor and evaluate increasingly complex programmes in the context of an intensified focus on effectiveness. The section concludes by outlining the importance of NGOs being learning organisations that are able to continually adapt and change. It looks at some of the barriers to learning within NGOs, and concludes with strategies, competencies and behaviours that the NGO manager can draw upon in order to develop a learning NGO.