Choosing the right aid agency can be a daunting and frustrating task

As Director of D-TRAC in Thailand, I was regularly approached by donors wanting to fund aid agencies  helping with the tsunami recovery. With over 200 aid agencies to choose from they quickly became overwhelmed and sought advice on choosing aid agencies. D-TRAC aid agency folders - Photo by Saundra Schimmelpfennig

The photo is of the blog’s author at D-TRAC. The blue folders are filled with information on different aid agencies responding to the tsunami.

Choosing the right aid agency can be a daunting and frustrating task

Without adequate information or guidelines, many people choose aid agencies based on name recognition, speed of implementation, or percentage spent on administration. Unfortunately, none of these are real indicators of the quality and appropriateness of aid.

To ensure that your donation has the greatest impact, it would be far better to choose aid agencies that are actively adopting best practices developed within the aid world.

Background on common aid problems

If you’re unfamiliar with these best practice initiatives or the history behind their development I would recommend starting in one of two places.

To understand villagers’ perspective on aid visit the Listening Project website. Listening activities are field based research with multi-agency teams. They visit villages that have received aid and ask villagers, government officials and religious leaders about the positive and negative affects of aid on the area. The CDA website has 13 country reports as well as issue papers examining problems common to all locations.

For over overall evaluations of relief efforts, visit ALNAP.

“ALNAP was established in 1997, following the multi-agency evaluation of the Rwanda genocide. It is a collective response by the humanitarian sector, dedicated to improving humanitarian performance through
increased learning and accountability.”

ALNAP’s website includes lesson papers as well as yearly meta-evaluations.

Principles and Guidelines

The following are some of the key principles and guidelines developed to improve the quality and impact of aid. Links to more efforts to improve aid can be found on this blog’s sidebar.

  • MANGO (Management Accounting for Non Governmental Organizations) has a newfinancial health checklist “The Health Check is a simple set of questions, specifically designed for small and medium sized NGOs. It comes complete with explanations, and can be completed by any member of staff or trustee.”
  • The Principles of Partnership are guidelines endorsed by the Global Humanitarian Platform to help ensure that local aid agencies are treated as real partners in the recovery process.
  • Good Humanitarian Donorship principles were developed for donor countries, but many of the guidelines can be used by foundations and corporations as well.

These and other best practices have been created in response to endemic problems within international aid. Unfortunately, with no regulating body overseeing aid, following best practices is purely voluntary. Donors are key to the adoption and success of these initiatives.