Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Donated or Mandated?: The NGO/Donor Relationship

Academic journal article Journal of Information Ethics

Donated or Mandated?: The NGO/Donor Relationship

Article excerpt

Since the 1980s, the number of non-governmental organizations (NGOs1) has exploded as governments from the industrialized North have shifted away from state-directed to market-centered economic development and social change. Governments are willing to give increasing amounts of aid to NGOs for two reasons: 1) NGOs can deliver welfare services to the poorest of the poor more cost effectively than governments can, and 2) NGOs are seen as vital for developing democracy and a thriving civil society, which, in turn, is essential for the economic growth that the governments want to see. This increased aid has not only allowed NGOs to grow and proliferate, it has also made them increasingly dependent on government funding. For the majority, it represents more than half of their funding. As Ian Smillie notes, "When CIDA (Canadian International Development Agency) sneezes, Canadian NGOs reach for their vitamin C" (Edwards & Hulme, 1996, p. 3). NGOs walk a fine line in translating their monetary support into community projects. Accepting funds in the form of grants from government or private sources opens the agency to a broad spectrum of ethical considerations in planning, implementing, and evaluating its actions. The issues that balance the roles of funding, accountability, program quality, and capacity building are political, programmatic, and operational.

Political Issues

When government grants are a major source of funding, it is not uncommon for political issues to be considered in the process. In accepting funds from one source, non-profit organizations must balance whether accepting the donation will give the wrong message to other potential donors or beneficiaries, whether they will be pressured to decrease political activism and auton- omy, and whether they will have to give up their ideals in order to not bite the hand that feeds them. Is compromise an option or an unethical breach?

NGOs operate within a global community that is not stable and is not likely to become so. This means that foreign assistance will continue to be part of foreign policy strategies and objectives, including counterterrorism, and may at times be driven more by geopolitical concerns than by moral imperatives. For instance, the area affected by the 2003 earthquake in Iran received lots of official aid,2 to some extent because it was in a strategic area, whereas despite continued conflict and human rights abuses by Russian soldiers, conflict in Chechnya remains invisible as a humanitarian crisis (International NGO Training & Research Centre [INTRAC], 2004, p. 5). Aid to Afghanistan, Iraq, and other parts of the Middle East is also, in part, a political tool and takes precedence over other humanitarian needs elsewhere in the world that are not connected to terrorist threats or the stability of oil production and distribution. The war in Iraq has also shown the ambivalence of NGOs toward accepting US government aid. Some took on government contracts to provide aid; some refused donor funding from US-led coalition governments and worked only directly with Iraqi partners; and others did not go to Iraq at all (Interactional NGO, 2004, p. 4).

Many NGOs such as Amnesty International or Greenpeace have their own political missions and use advocacy as a way of educating the public on issues, gathering support for their causes, effecting change, and encouraging communication and participation within communities. Their programming may also include teaching their target population how to advocate for themselves as a part of developing civil society. But if an NGO's political views differ substantially from those of one of its donors, the agency might face the dilemma of whether it needs to become less political for fear that the donor will withdraw funding altogether or insist that resources be pulled away from political activism (Bloc, 2005, p. 2). An agency also needs to weigh the concern that staff morale may suffer, if workers perceive that the organization's goals or vision is being affected by donor demands (Bloc, 2005, p. …

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