ITL #163 NGO checklist: choosing partners for CSR programmes in India

7 years ago


Following legislative change, CSR spending in India is projected to surge, making it more important than ever to select the right NGO partners. By Sharmistha Ghosh.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has taken centre stage with the new Companies Act 2013 coming into full force. With the mandate of CSR spending rising to 2% of profits from April 1, 2014, the Rule has brought almost 15,000 new corporates to this fold for the first time.


This will provide an enabling environment, a participatory approach of multiple stakeholders, thereby bringing CSR from the back room to the boardroom. It has created immense opportunities for the implementation agencies to meet the requirements of applicable corporates. 


Given its accountability and expertise to effectively demonstrate a cohesive CSR programme for corporates as well as NGOs, implementation agencies (mainly NGOs) will undoubtedly be one of the most important players in this space.


However, it is vital to try to answer the question: “Which NGO is the most suitable for the proposed CSR programme and is able to help my corporate partner align and comply with the rules laid down by the amended law, thereby, bringing greater efficiency and transparency to CSR practices?”


Today India is home to 31 lakh (in the Indian numbering system, a lakh equals 100,000!) NGOs. However, the actual number of active and transparent NGOs will be far lower. Therefore, corporates need to choose their NGO partners wisely so as to make every rupee accountable through an excellent and effective outcome-based programme, sizeable impact and a sound monitoring and evaluation mechanism.


Listed below are certain parameters that can help corporates shortlist a suitable NGO for CSR implementation:




  • FCRA compliance:
    • NGOs must be registered under the Foreign Contribution Registration Act (FCRA). Under this, foreign funds can be utilised only for purposes specified under the FCRA Act.
  • NGO should not be blacklisted by:
    • CAPART
    • Relevant ministries, Government of India
  • The NGO to be a legally registered entity from one or more of the following:
    • Charitable and Religion Act 1920
    • Indian Trust Act 1882
    • Co‐operative Societies  
    • Societies Registration Act of 1860
    • Section 25 of the Companies Act 1956


Capabilities and expertise


The NGO needs to complete at least three years or more in a particular area of specialisation such as activation, research, development communication, advocacy or programme implementation. Areas of focus may range from education, livelihood, sustainability, healthcare, consumer and legal rights or human rights. This will also ensure that the NGO can submit evidence of having mobilised resources, established partnerships, developed required infrastructure, utilised funds in the appropriate manner and gained rich on-ground experience in the relevant fields.


People behind the organisation


Assess the quality of people behind the organisation – their expertise in the space and testimonials:


There is a need to assess the quality of leadership, skill sets of the core team/senior management, technical staff employed (their qualifications and experience), number of sections/divisions within, and team profiles. For instance, an organisation working on healthcare must have senior level technical staff with medical backgrounds or relevant expertise in public health to oversee health programmes execution. An NGO working on education should preferably be led by a core team with an excellent academic background and/or experience in having implemented education programmes with schools and educators. A research-focused NGO must have good research capacity within the organisation.


Partner feedback


It is essential to look at the NGO’s annual reports, website and also consult corporates and other partners who have worked with them in past. This will enable proper due diligence and help us to know what their partners think of their capabilities overall:


  • Whether the collaborative programmes were executed on time
  • Whether the programme had the requisite outputs and impact
  • The level of the programme team’s commitment, cooperation and skills
  • If reports were submitted on time
  • It would also help to know if the same partners would be willing to work with them again.


Geography - Presence and reach


Geographical presence helps one understand structure and outreach of an NGO/organisation.  It will help us to know if:

  • The organization has a federal or local structure – has presence at urban or rural/community level
  • If it is capable of running the programme at central, state or district level
  • If the organisation has a federal structure with autonomous branches across states, we can assess it through its ground capacity and outreach, sound network of state-level NGO partners, policy-level contacts at State Government level, number of community-based organisations on its list, rapport with regional/vernacular media etc.



Monitoring and evaluation standards


It should be assessed if the NGO has filed requisite balance sheets, including income-expenditure statements, to ascertain compliance with accountability norms.

Is there a monitoring and evaluation parameter the NGO has set for its various programmes? If yes, what are its processes, details and implementation.

It should be seen if the NGO’s state level projects are being regularly monitored through field visits to oversee outcomes, variabilities in output, reasons why this is so and assessing narrative reports and statements of expenditures from all its local partners.



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The Author

Sharmistha Ghosh.

Sharmistha Ghosh, Director - Advocacy, CSR & Development Communications, Avian Me

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