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Do-gooders come under self-scanner


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February 20, 2003
Times News Network
Namita Devidayal


MUMBAI: It's the donor's perpetual dilemma. People want to contribute to a charity (especially around tax time) but are confused about where they can find a truly deserving organisation.


Recognising the need for greater accountability, a group of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has created the Credibility Alliance, a ratings agency for the do-gooder world.


The alliance, which is still in its formative stages, has worked with close to 15,000 NGOs as well as donors and government bodies to come up with a list of norms. For instance, an NGO should go through an annual audit, or it should discourage its staffers from needless conference-hopping.


"There is a need to be accountable not just to donors, but also to benefactors. Even the government has the right to know what is going on, after all they're giving the tax benefits," said Venkat Krishnan N. of the Give Foundation, a fund-raising body.


The Give Foundation is about to launch a website, giveindia.org, which will list 70-odd NGOs that have passed the Credibility Alliance's norms. Another website, Indianngos. com, will also actively promote the guidelines.


There have been numerous individual attempts at standardisation in the past. For instance, Childline, a support group for street children, had got one of the big five accounting firms to rate its work and has been one of the key promoters of the Credibility Alliance.


Three years ago, the Planning Commission had surveyed 3,000 NGOs in an effort to validate and rate them.


"We suddenly realised that since we're all looking at the same thing, why not consolidate efforts," said Pervin Varma of Child Relief & You, which supports 163 children's organisations.


The result was numerous meetings across the country. In place of AIDS and rural welfare, social workers debated subjects like corporate governance and ISO standards. "It was a tremendous learning experience for all concerned," said Mr Krishnan.


The IIM graduate describes how people like him had to unlearn their corporate urban mindset and recognise that different elements constitute a 'good' NGO. For a small NGO working with tribals in Orissa, for instance, publishing an annual report would be irrelevant because it presumes literacy.


Said Mathew Cherian, head of Charities Aid Foundation, an international fund-raising body and honorary convenor of the Credibility Alliance, "We need to reach out more to the grass-roots organisations. We've now translated our guidelines into nine languages and will hold workshops across the country." So far, 300 NGOs have signed on.


Recognising the need for greater accountability, a group of NGOs has created a ratings agency—the Credibility Alliance

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