An Introduction to the Methodology Behind the 2015 Top 500 NGOs

The concept of “non-profit” has evolved far beyond traditional charity work to encompass myriad associations, foundations, coalitions, alliances, movements, and even businesses that serve a diversity of objectives and engage in many ways with public and private institutions. Global_Geneva monitors the international non-profit community for ideas, values, and models that challenge normal approaches to policy, the market, and NGO activity as they pertain to human rights and human welfare. A key monitoring tool is the Top 500 NGOs ranking. This ranking grows out of The Global Journal Top 100 NGOs rankings, which have been expanded to the Top 500 and moved to Global_Geneva, a non-profit platform for the Top 500 NGOs ranking.

Global_Geneva is currently chaired by Jean-Christophe Nothias, former editor of The Global Journal, who brings to the table years of journalism experience in politics, policy, and social development. Through a journalistic approach to research and reportage, Global_Geneva uses the rankings as a lens to bring into focus the social transformations of the NGO sector, and to magnify the broad and evolving range of values that non-profit work generates, values all but invisible from the standpoint of stock indices and other revenue-based perspectives. Global_Geneva’s overall goal is to engage and encourage thought leaders and remarkable innovators interested in the power of the non-profit concept, whether they come from academia, politics, civil society, or the private sector.

In 2013, the previous rankings benefited from a commissioned academic critique and review (see the Discussion paper: “Evaluating Non-Governmental Organizations” by Cecilia Cannon, PhD, IHIED, Geneva), which resulted in the following improvements:

  • More researchers in different languages extending geographic reach across the NGO sector (English, French, Spanish, Portuguese, Japanese, and Russian).
  • More NGOs surveyed (over 2,000) for a much deeper and more balanced view of the non-profit sector, for which the number of entities varies from 3,500 to 65,000, depending on the source.
  • A refined definition of “NGO” with a broader application of “non-profit”, “public interest”, and related groupings to catch more activity outside of private and governmental sectors.
  • Business interest NGOs (BINGOs) are excluded, as well as NGOs relying entirely on one donor or one grouping of donors from the business sector in terms of funding. Many of these BINGOs might be accredited by ECOSOC and registered in Part C of ECOSOC’s roster of NGOs in consultative status with the UN. Still, these NGOs are not eligible for the Top 500 NGOs ranking.
  • International organizations belonging to the United Nations system are excluded due to their governmental constituency.
  • Funds working with/under Public Private Partnerships (PPPs) may be eligible. This includes funds such as the GAVI Alliance or the Global Alliance for Improved Nutrition. They must demonstrate that they act independently from governmental, business, private, and academic partners.
  • A process grounded in public access to NGO’s information and data. Where journalism relies on fact-checking, the NGO rankings rely on statements and data furnished by the NGOs themselves, which admit of fact-checking to varying degrees. By relying on public information, Global_Geneva expects the highest degree of transparency and accountability from the NGOs it ranks, and, in turn, places its trust in each NGO. A corporate IPO requires a high degree of public accountability from the corporation; similarly, Global_Geneva encourages the public to have a stake in NGOs, and expects NGOs to practice accountability to the public, especially where they rely on public support.
  • A process that foregoes formal application. Global_Geneva recognizes the value of being an independent ranking editor, and therefore does not ask permission to evaluate an NGO, nor are NGOs asked to apply or participate. Global_Geneva researches an NGO regardless of the NGO’S familiarity with the ranking. A registration form is sent to each nominee to facilitate the process, but this is not to be understood as an application.
  • A codebook detailing procedures for ranking each NGO. Among the changes in methodology for evaluating NGOs, one suggestion in the discussion paper was to use “a documented codebook clearly articulating the criteria for evaluation that facilitates systematic and consistent analysis by all staff members and across the evaluation period. Documenting detailed information on what each criteria and sub-criteria entail, including details on what a low score for each criterion looks like, and what a high score for each criterion looks like, not only facilitates consistent and more rapid ‘coding’ of NGOs in the evaluation process, but would also permit an external actor to assess any of the NGOs in the ranking using the same criteria, and potentially replicate the results.”

For more details, please read the full methodology.