14 Questions to Ask Before Working for a Purpose Driven Organisation
Sexual misconduct. Fraud and corruption. Short term thinking. Misplaced funding.
Scandals also shed light on internal issues, such as program mismanagement or lack of monitoring and evaluation.
For those exploring a career with a purpose, this can be discouraging.
We all want to feel like our work matters and makes an impact. That’s why so many students and professionals are investigating transitioning to a social good organisation - they truly want to drive change.
So in the midst of these events, how can you know if your target organisation’s operations and impact are legit?
We urge you to think critically about the organisations you partner, work and volunteer with. By asking the right questions, you can stay well informed, hold people accountable, and contribute to more effectiveness.
Whether you’re just starting out or are committed for the long term, here are the difficult questions to ask in the domestic and international humanitarian and development industry - plus red flags to look out for.
1. Show me the money: What are the financials? Is the organisation a small community operation with little cash or a big charity with lots of funding?
It’s important you’re familiar with donors, grants, and awards the organisation has received, so you can identify possible red flags, such as a small NGOs annual spend is more than its revenue, or a large one runs out of money too quickly.
2. Reading: Can you access the annual report and financials?
Review annual reports from the past 3-5 years. Identify trends in the financials, look for quantitative evidence of results and strong case studies that build upon each other.
3. Governance: Is there a board and leadership team? Or is it just the founder? What are their governance practices?
It’s important, whether there’s a single leader or a large board of directors, that there are policies in place to hold leadership accountable.
4. How do they identify communities or individuals to work with? How have they worked to build trust and relationships in the field?
Be careful of organizations that choose issues and locations randomly. There should be a Theory of Change, or program description available on their website, as well as demonstrations of relationships and partnerships in the field.
Sustainable change never occurs on a vacuum. It requires partnerships.
5. What services, projects or programs are offered to communities? Do they meet the needs and / or strengths of the community?
Change is complex. Giving goods never solved a challenge long term. Look for support initiatives that are based on community identified needs and strengths.
6. Is the organisation willing to admit to mistakes and failures?
If the social purpose organisation continues making the same mistakes again and again, you’ve found a red flag.
7. Can you demonstrate success beyond self-reported “case studies?” Is there data that can prove the organisation achieves results?
Look for data, quantitative and qualitative, from metrics to testimonials that provide a clear demonstration of results.
8. Are there plans in place to ensure the work is sustainable? Or exit strategies for short-term projects?
Perhaps the most underused of programming tools; exit strategies must be integrated from an early stage. Otherwise, programs may crumble, or the community becomes aid dependent.
9. How does the organisation communicate to the public and donors?
The work and results must be transparent and honest, no matter the results. In the era of connectivity an organisation without content is a red flag.
10. What is the long-term strategy?
A responsible social purpose organisation understands that long term sustainable change is complex. This should be reflected in a clear organisational purpose, vision and mission beyond a short term strategic document… all available online!
11. Is the organisation growing? Can the current structure manage the growth?
Be careful of organisations that seem to be growing too quickly or promoting instant change.
12. Do they operate ethically? How may culture, fundraising, and financial gain impact its ethics?
Sometimes, projects are implemented in areas with limited, or no central government. This can be challenging to navigate. Ask about contextual analysis, internal policies on corruption, fraud, misconduct, unethical behaviour and so on.
13. Is there a mechanism for staff, community, or volunteers to air grievances or concerns?
Transparent feedback loops are an internationally recognised Humanitarian standard. The best organisations have systems in place whereby feedback and concerns can be collected, processed and responded to.
14. Does the public face measure up to what’s going on behind the scenes?
This is something that you will have to determine on the ground, after you’ve started working. If you see a very different organisation behind the scenes than what’s presented, its OK to call a spade a spade.
These questions may seem a bit heavy. But they’re important to achieving impact.
We know social change never occurs quickly or in isolation, even if certain organisations marketing efforts suggest otherwise. The reality is that making an impact is complex, and that even with the best intentions, organisations must navigate tremendous challenges.
We need to recognise and speak out when something is amiss. By having the courage to ask and follow up on the tough questions, we can help organisations be accountable and transparent and do their work more efficiently.
Your for purpose career is there for you. But it doesn’t mean it’s a bed of roses.