Non-Government Organisations

Many people see Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) as the main agents of development. However, out of Australia’s $4.3 billion aid budget, only $135 million is allocated to NGOs and community engagement programs, this amounts to a mere 2.5%. [1]

What is a Non Government Organisation (NGO)

NGOs are a diverse mix of organisations with varied purpose, issues and supporters.

A small number of NGOs pioneered private overseas aid during the colonial period before World War II. A larger number were established in the post-war period, and today over 1.5 million Australians are involved in supporting an overseas aid and development NGO[1]

NGOs play an important role in development. There are over 100 NGOs working towards development in Australia and overseas.  


Different NGOs take different approaches to development work, including grassroots development, humanitarian / emergency relief, advocacy and international volunteering. 

Working with NGOs enables AusAid to benefit from community partnerships and specialised knowledge. 



Practical matters such as fundraising activities have an impact on NGO work - raising issues of financial and political independence and sustainability.

NGOs rely mostly on donations from philanthropic individuals and organisations, rather the government.  In 2008, 1.7 million Australians donated $812 million – 76% of all money raised by NGOs.[2]

Many Australians want to give money and take action when immediate help is needed, but deciding who to donate money to can be a difficult process.


Effectiveness and Accountability 

NGOs have a responsibility to be accountable to the communities in which they work and to effectively support poverty alleviation. These responsibilities may be challenged by:



Provision of humanitarian or disaster relief can be particularly problematic unless local communities are actively and meaningfully engaged.  

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Faith-based NGOs have a strong presence in the development sector. It is worth considering whether the religious foundations of an organisation potentially impede their activities  


Want advice about how to make decisions on donating? Click here




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Last updated 16 November 2010


[1]ACFID, 2009, Facts and Figures,, last accessed 8/10/10


[2] ACFID, 2009, Facts and Figures,, last accessed 8/10/10


What is an NGO?

NGOs are a diverse mix of organisations with varied purpose, issues and supporters.

Some common characteristics of NGOs according to Ball and Dunn[1] are:

  • They are formed voluntarily;
  • They are independent of government;
  • They are not for private profit or gain; and
  • Their principal is to improve the circumstances and prospects of disadvantaged people.

Overseas development NGOs are just a small fraction of this wider group, with more than 100 operating in Australia. Some international development NGOs have local affiliates, such as Red Cross, Oxfam and World Vision, whilst others are wholly Australian, for example Palms Australia. Some NGOs operate from Australia whilst others transfer funds to partner NGOs in recipient countries.

A small number of NGOs pioneered private overseas aid during the colonial period before World War II. A larger number were established in the post-war period, and today over 1.5 million Australians are involved in supporting an overseas aid and development NGO, with almost $800 million raised by Australian NGOs for overseas aid and development in 2008.[2]

NGOs enjoy high levels of public confidence. Research by the World Economic Forum in 2004 based on interviews of 19,000 people across 20 countries revealed that NGOs are widely regarded as the most trustworthy of organisations. Australians had an even higher degree of trust in NGOs than the other nations involved in the survey.[3]

NGOs can help provide a voice for disadvantaged people in society, a crucial aspect of a democratic society.[4]  However, this role has been threatened, with the attitudes of previous governments ranging from apathy to outright hostility. The previous Howard Government was particularly hostile towards advocacy NGOs in all areas, for criticising government policy, and sought to exclude NGOs deemed too political from charitable status, which allows them to offer tax-deductible donations. The removal of charitable status can drastically reduce an NGO’s funding, as donor foundations are only able to donate to NGOs because of their tax-deductible status.[5]


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Last updated 4 November 2010





[1] Ball, C. and Dunn, L. Non-Governmental Organisations in the Commonwealth: Guidelines for Good Policy and Practice, London: The Commonwealth Foundation, 1994

[2] ACFID, 2009, Facts and Figures,, last accessed 8/10/10

[3] World Economic Forum, Global Survey on Trust: Update 2004,

[4] Dalton, Bronwen; Lyons, Mark, Representing the Disadvantaged in Australian Politics: the Role of Advocacy Organisations, Canberra: The Australian National University, 2005.

[5] Maddison, Sarah; Denniss, Richard; Hamilton, Clive, Silencing dissent: non-government organizations and Australian democracy, The Australia Institute, 2004. Accessed at

Australian Development NGOs

For many Australians, Non-Government Organisations (NGOs) are the most visible representation of development assistance and a major source of information on issues related to international development.

Australian Development NGOs

NGOs play numerous roles in development work, including:

  • providing direct services to members of marginalised groups;
  • advocating for changes to the nature of aid; and,
  • providing a necessary and critical voice about implementation of international aid.

Financially the NGO sector is tiny, out of Australia’s $4.3 billion 2010/2011 aid budget, only $135 million is allocated to NGOs and community engagement programs, this amounts to a mere 2.5%. [1] 

In addition, of the tendered contracts shown in the Australian tenders database, less than 4% of the total value of aid contracts between 2007 and 2010 were given to NGOs - see the pie chart below [2]

Percentage of Total Value of Contracts 01/07/07 - 30/06/10

Graph sourced from Crikey, October 2010.

Many NGOs rely on public support to stay viable. By definition, they are not-for-profit and although some may receive funds from government, it is donations from philanthropic individuals and organisations that keep them going.

International aid and development funds managed by Australian NGOs, 2004–2008[3] 

Funds Managed by Australian NGO's


Graph sourced from ACFID.

In the 2008-09 period, Australian NGOs received just over $800 million in private donations. This makes up 73% of total funds raised by NGOs. Private donations include Australians supporting overseas aid and development NGOs as regular donors,by supporting a fundraiser event, or giving a one-off donation.

In comparison, government funding for NGOs through Aus AID amounted to $160.45 million in the 2008-09 period, which represents 14.5% of the total funds managed by the sector. [4]

Many Australians want to give money and take action when immediate help is needed - but who to give to? There are over 100 NGOs fundraising in Australia working towards development through different methods and in different fields.

Check out some key considerations to take into account when donating to NGOs.

Check the NGO profiles for more detailed information on specific NGOs.


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Last updated 17 December 2010




[1] Australian Council For International Development, Aid Budget Analysis 2010/11, June 2010  p7 , p3

[2] Bacon, W. and He, S.S, 23.7.10, Who Profits from our foreign aid?: Carving up the pie, where the little-known dominate, Crikey ,, last accessed 17/12/10

[3] ACFID, 2009, Facts and Figures,  , last accessed 17/12/10

[4] ACFID, 2009, Facts and Figures,, last accessed 20/12/10

NGO involvement with AusAID

Cooperation with development NGOs enables AusAid to benefit from their longstanding community partnerships in recipient countries and specialised knowledge regarding development practices and local communities.

There are a limited number of ongoing forums for government and NGO policy dialogue. The Committee for Development Cooperation (CDC) is a joint consultative body drawing representatives from NGOs, AusAID and the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID). The CDC facilitates debate on policy issues relating to AusAID, NGO accreditations and the operation of NGO programs.[1]

Australian NGOs deliver very little of Australia's bilateral aid, winning only an average of 6% of contracts in the period 2007-2010.[3] Direct funding to Australian Development NGOs through the AusAID-NGO cooperation program this budget (2010/11) received only $69 million and direct funding for local recipient countries is even less with $8.25 million allocated to the Direct Aid Program (DAP) for 2010-2011.[4]

Comparison to Public Giving

World Vision receives the most funding from private donors in Australia, accounting for 42.03% of all donations to Australian development NGOs in 2008.[6] Oxfam Australia is a distant second, raising just 5.75% of funds from the Australian community. Caritas, Childfund Australia, Save the Children and PLAN International Australia are NGOs that are some of the larger recipients of both AusAID funding and public giving.

Funds raised by Australian NGOs from the Australian community, 2008

This shows the top 14 surveyed Australian NGOs that generate the largest amount of funds for their international development work through donations, fundraising, legacies and bequests from the Australian public.[7]

Source: ACFID, 2008, ACFID member and Code of Conduct signatories’ audited financial statements, , last accessed 12/10/10


1.   World Vision Australia 42.03%

2.   Other NGOs 18.74% (total 85 agencies)

3.   Oxfam Australia 5.75%

4.   Médecins Sans Frontières 5.46%

5.   Save the Children Australia 3.88%

6.   ChildFund Australia 3.46%

7.   CBM Australia 3.06%

8.   Global Development Group 2.79%

9.   Caritas Australia 2.72%

10.  Plan International Australia 2.63%

11.  CARE Australia 2.42%

12.  WWF-Australia 1.79%

13.  TEAR Australia 1.79%

14.  The Fred Hollows Foundation 1.78%

15.  UNICEF Australia 1.70%

The regional distribution of these funds differs somewhat from the Australian Aid Program priority areas. For example, Africa recieved over 40% of publicly donated funds in 2008, whilst AusAid fund channeled through Australian NGOs in the same period directed only 17% to the same region. See ACFID for more details.


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Last updated 4 November 2010





[1] AusAID, 1999, Working with Australian NGOS: an Australian Aid Program Policy Paper, Canberra

[2] AusAID, ibid

[3] Crikey “Who profits from our foreign aid?” 23 July 2010, , accessed 21 October 2010

[4] Australian Government: Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, ‘Direct Aid Program (DAP)’, , last accessed 20/10/10

[5] ACFID, May 2010, Analysis: AID Budget 2010/11,, accessed 28/10/10

[6] ACFID, 'Facts and Figures'. Online: Accessed July 2008

[7] ACFID, ‘Which Agencies raise most?’, last accessed 3.9.2010

NGO approaches to development assistance

Below are some of the popular approaches to development assistance...

Grassroots Development targets disadvantaged groups through small, locally based projects. The overall aim is to empower people to become self-reliant through projects that take into account their specific environment and needs. These projects usually involve training and education programs to transfer skills and build the capacity and confidence of local organisations and communities. This approach at its most successful allows the benefits of a project to continue beyond the duration of the project itself.

Humanitarian/Emergency Relief focuses on relief in times of disaster such as earthquakes, floods and cyclones. NGOs in this area aim to gain access to disaster zones as quickly as possible to provide emergency health services and food aid.

Advocacy aims to draw public attention to an issue and influence government policy either on behalf of, or alongside, a particular community interest group. In the international development context advocacy is normally associated with communities in the majority world. Different NGOs target specific communities, groups or sectors in their advocacy work. Advocacy can be approached through NGO participation in high level policy dialogues, lobbying, or through grassroots and community campaigning. Approaches to advocacy and the level of involvement of affected communities differ with each organisation.

Volunteer programs run by NGOs facilitate sending volunteers overseas to offer technical assistance, project support and capacity building in a variety of sectors such as nursing, education, engineering and agriculture.


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Last updated 4 November 2010





NGOs obtain their funds through a variety of sources and fundraising strategies. Raising funds from the public can also raise awareness of development issues and engage the community in development cooperation.[1]

Fundraising costs

How much does an NGO spend on fundraising compared to program spending?

A US-based organisation, Smart Givers, has set a standard for the NGOs it accredits, with at least 70% of the organisation's annual expenses going towards program activity and not more than 30% for management/general and fundraising combined.[2]

However, comparing the fundraising costs of NGOs can be problematic. There are a number of factors affecting fundraising costs that have little to do with efficiency, accountability or transparency, including the size of the organisation and the initial costs of developing a public profile.[3]

All NGOs should be open to public scrutiny on the strategies behind their fundraising activities. Ethical fundraising should provide donors with clear information on an organisation's purpose and programs rather than exploiting people's guilt. When presented with emotive images and little information, it is worth asking questions about the specific activities and projects the organisation engages in. See here for more tips on donating responsibly.It is the responsibility of an organisation to be accountable to their members and financial supporters.

Fundraising activities

An organisation's fundraising activities are influenced by organisational factors such as resources, organisational values and priorities as well as external factors such as fundraising regulations.[4]

Common fundraising sources and strategies:

  • Canvassing/Face-to-face solicitation
  • Grants from government, trusts and foundations
  • Media advertisement
  • Mail-outs
  • Membership
  • Merchandise sales
  • Door knock appeals
  • Roadside collections
  • Special events
  • Online donations



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Last updated 4 November 2010





[1] Report of the Committee of Review, One Clear Objective: poverty reduction through sustainable development, Canberra: AusAID, 1997.

[2] Charities Review Council (no date), Statement of Accountability. Online: Accessed 12 June, 2008.

[3] Fundraising Institute Australia, Research on Key Issues in Fundraising, 2004. Accessed at

[4] Fundraising Institute of Australia, Research on key issues in fundraising, 2004. Online, accessed October 2010

Are NGOs Effective?

Whilst NGOs often have established relationships with local communities and organisations, as well as a more thorough understanding of development than their corporate aid delivery counterparts, they are not guaranteed to always work in the interest of communities.

Challenges NGOs face in maintaining faithfulness to their primary goal of poverty alleviation include:

  • Differences in pay and lifestyles between international and local workers can result in local inflation and economies dependant on the aid industry dollar.
  • Opting for visible short-term results, particularly in emergency and humanitarian relief, over the longer-term needs of communities.
  • Failing to prioritise working alongside local partners.
  • Failing to adequately consult and communicate with communities, resulting in culturally inappropriate and ineffective aid.

NGOs have a responsibility to be accountable to the communities in which they work. The best way to do this is to build relationships with those communities and to seek to make aid unnecessary. NGO aid should:

  • Empower people and strengthen community processes.
  • Be based on respect, dialogue and long-term partnership.
  • Be poverty-focussed.
  • Be sustainable.
  • Work in solidarity with local communities for social justice.
  • Be mutually transparent and accountable.
  • Actively seek to address unequal power between international and local staff and the organisations and the communities they work with.

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Last updated 4 November 2010

Religion in aid

Faith-based NGOs have a strong presence in the development sector globally. These organisations might operate as a direct subsidiary or mission of a religion or religious order, or simply base their operations upon religious values or teachings. In 2008, 61% of donations from the Australian public to the top 14 ACFID member organisations were given to religious-based groups. The top 14 ACFID member organisations make up 81.26% of public donations to NGOs.(1)

Historically, religious missionary activity has been related to hardships, cultural disruption and social upheaval for communities all over the world.  Some are sceptical of ideologies and values being presented as intrinsically linked with material wealth. Some argue that modern faith-based aid still poses a risk of delivering a hidden evangelical agenda.

Alistair Gee, Executive Director of Act for Peace, disagrees:

[Act for Peace] is based on (what we believe to be) universal values or 'good practices', including full recognition of the importance of local participation, transparency, mutual responsibility, developing capacity, non-discrimination, gender equality, cultural and spiritual sensitivity, protection of human rights, advocacy, promotion of peace and reconciliation, effective communication and environmental sustainability. Religious values can help to reinforce these universal values. There is an important distinction though between a development agency set up by a church and a mission agency. It is very important to us that we support development work which is distinct from evangelism and we monitor programs to ensure this is the case.(2)

It is worth considering whether the religious foundations of an organisation potentially impede an NGO's ability to participate in vital development activities. For example, would the Catholic Church's anti-contraception stance hinder its involvement in HIV/AIDS prevention programs? If so, are there other organisations working in partnership with the faith-based organisation and fulfilling such needs?


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Last updated 4 November 2010





((1)49.6% of total funds raised were shared by 4 religious based NGOs: World Vision Australia, CBM Australia, Caritas Australia and TEAR Australia. Of the remaining 50.4%, 31.66% was shared between 10 secular organisations. The remaining 18.74% represented contributions made to the remaining 85 ACFID members and Code of Conduct signatories, which are both religious and non-religious based.

Source: ACFID, Which agencies raise most? , last accessed 11/10/10 

(2) Interview, Stephanie Lusby, NCCA offices 379 Kent St Sydney, September 2007

Humanitarian and disaster relief

Disaster relief, or humanitarian aid, is delivered in times of crisis or natural disaster, such as after an earthquake or tsunami or in response to conflict and war. It is different to a donor country's regular aid program in that it is delivered to repair, repatriate and fix local areas and people in the wake of sudden crises rather than address systemic problems of poverty and global inequality.
Anastasya Tay/AID/WATCH Aceh

People are often at their most generous when giving to emergency appeals. The 2004 Boxing Day Tsunami attracted Australian public donations in excess of $260 million.[1] Governments also pledge the greatest humanitarian assistance packages during these emergency situations.

There are practical problems with the distribution of such large amounts of funds to a small number of people in a short period of time. For example, only around 20% of the Australian Government's $1 billion Boxing Day Tsunami package went directly to localities affected by the disaster.[2]  Common issues include:

  • loss of donations through corruption;
  • misspending on areas that are not of prime concern or sensitive to the needs of affected communities at the time; and,
  • late arrival of assistance.

Government humanitarian aid may be used to inflate their Official Development Assistance (ODA) figures or repackage existing aid as new aid money. For example, half of the $1 billion Australian Government Tsunami relief package was not in the form of grants, but loans.[3]

              Check out this article on Australia's aid for the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami

NGOs deliver humanitarian assistance and services more directly but still experience problems:

  • The donation of material goods can be problematic as they are difficult to transport and in the case of clothing can be climatically and culturally inappropriate.
  • Humanitarian aid funds have traditionally only funded short-term emergency relief rather than longer-term disaster prevention strategies.

Humanitarian aid is most effective when local communities, local NGOs and grassroots organisations are primarily responsible for coordinating and conducting needs assessments in their respective areas. The expertise and knowledge of these individuals and groups must be utilised to ensure aid activities directly reflect the requirements and desires of the communities they represent. Unfortunately, these groups are frequently overlooked.


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Last updated 4 November 2010





[1] ACFID in AID/WATCH, Australian Aid: The Boomerang Effect, 2005

[2] AusAID, Annual Report, 2007

[3] AID/WATCH, International Response to the Indian Ocean Disaster: a donor analysis focus on Australia, 2005

Child Sponsorship

Child Sponsorship is a means by which many Australians contribute to foreign aid. Child sponsorship organisations are popular amongst Australian donors, many of which are in the top 15 overseas development agencies receiving aid in 2006, including World Vision, Childfund Australia and PLAN Australia.(76)

Child sponsorship is often promoted as giving sponsors the unique opportunity to witness the life-changing effect of their donations, achieved through personalised correspondence with their sponsor child. Child sponsorship has a broad appeal amongst the public due to the emotional aspect of direct communication with disadvantaged children overseas. However, child sponsorship, by focusing on individual children does not empower communities or respond to community needs, limiting its benefits and effectiveness.

New Internationalist, a magazine focused on global justice, provided scathing critiques of Child Sponsorship during the 1980's. The magazine argued that child sponsorship organisations see children as an easy, marketable product which will attract many sponsors because a child is viewed as innocent in what is inflicted upon them.(77) Advertisements can also portray the children and the communities they live in as passive, helpless and needy,(78) thus, over-simplifying the problems afflicting them and perpetuating negative stereotypes of the countries involved in child sponsorship.

Additionally child sponsorship programs involve high administration costs. The letters, reports and photos prepared for sponsors, as well as keeping track of the needs of the child and the family can be quite expensive and time-consuming, reducing the focus on actual development programs and actions. Correspondence from sponsors also runs the risk of being culturally inappropriate and disempowering.

In response to such criticisms, some child sponsorship organisations have modified their sponsorship programmes to focus on the development of the community in which the child lives, rather than simply the individual child, however children are still promoted as the face of those communities. Other organisations have removed child sponsorship from their aid program altogether.


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Last updated November 2007





(76) ACFID, 'Facts and Figures'.Online: Accessed July 2008.

(77) 'A guide to giving', in New Internationalist issue 148, June 1985.

(78) Coulter, P. 'Pretty as a Picture' in New Internationalist, April 1989, issue 194.

How to Donate Responsibly

It is very important to research carefully before donating. This will increase the chances that your money benefits people, and also helps to avoid the possibility of it causing harm.

You can learn more about an NGO by checking their website, annual reports or profile. You can also call them - when NGO’s realise that potential donors are interested in the quality of their work they will be more inclined to improve this.

Some important issues to find out about before donating:

  • What is the NGO’s policy on being accountable to its donors and the Australian public?
    • Do they just give you stories and pictures or do they provide detailed project evaluation reports and budgets
  • What is the NGO’s policy on being accountable to the people they claim to be helping
    • Are communities able to get information about the project plans, budgets and evaluations?
  • What is the NGO’s policy on allowing communities to participate in the projects that are supposed to be helping them?
    • When the NGO approaches a community with a project idea what changes do they allow the community to make to it? In what ways can a community make changes to a project once it has started?  Try asking for examples.
  • Does the NGO directly support local communities, groups and civil society?
  • Does the NGO have environmental sustainability, accountability and human rights as core values? How have they implemented these?
  • Does the NGO have a religious affiliation? If so you should feel comfortable with this
  • Is the NGO a signatory to the Australian Council For International Development (ACFID) Code of Conduct which ensures accountability or equivalent? To find out check on ACFIDs list
  • How big is the NGO?
    • Consider searching out smaller organisations that do equally good work but may not have the public profile of larger organisations. – you can get information on the size of an organisation by looking at the financial and administrative information at Giving One Percent
  • For emergency relief - has the NGO been active in the affected area?
    • This indicates the likelihood that they will continue providing support in the long term, which is very important for recovery.

Check out the links below for specific information on choosing who to give to and how much to give:

Giving One Percent - Information on deciding how much to give and who to give to (free)

Give Well (Australia) - Charity research for fee-paying subscribers, one free charity search per day

Philanthropy Australia - Information on giving, particularly directed at philanthropic foundations and trusts

Did you know…?  

You are already donating $4.3 billion a year for development aid! This is through the Australian Governments tax-payer funded aid budget.[i]

But half of this money is spent on highly paid consultants and training, much of which, according to Canberra’s own review of Australian Aid to Papua New Guinea, has “simply made little difference” [ii]

Also, the official objective of Australia’s Aid program is to “to assist developing countries reduce poverty and achieve sustainable development, in line with national interest.” [i]

  • For example aid money has been used to fund controlling ‘irregular’ immigration and upgrading of detention facilities in Indonesia;[iii] and training Burmese intelligence officers and counter-terrorism workshops;[iv]

One of the best ways to help alleviate poverty is to join the campaign to change Australia's aid policy towards real poverty alleviation.

                                                               Take Action!



[ii] Review  of the PNG‐Australia Development Cooperation Treaty, 19 April 2010, p30 at

[iii] Australian Government, Budget 2010-2011, Budget Paper No. 2, Immigration and Citizenship.

[iv] Goodman, J. (2007) The Australian aid program: Aiding the Burmese Intelligence systems. AID/WATCH, Sydney.