Managing Teams in NGOs–what doesn’t work..My Take




Had an interesting conversation with a friend of mine over team and people management in NGOs/ voluntary  organizations . NGO is a basically a non government non profit making organization,dedicated to a social cause and majorly supported by volunteers.

Me with kids at Shri Gurusankalpam
Me with kids at Shri Gurusankalpam ,parent association for mentally challenged

We have been working with various volunteers for organizations like Lead India 2020 ,Vande mataram youth front etc for past 5 years and one thing we have learned is that everything we learn about team skills,team management and people management breaks down in a voluntary organization.

Its much harder to sustain a voluntary organization  than a business. Yes it seems counter intuitive because when we say NGO,it brings out an image of volunteers working tirelessly to uplift the society,people working for satisfaction rather than money.

Well nothing wrong in that imagery,most part of it is right but then why it is so hard to sustain an NGO,why don’t voluntary organizations work with the same level of maturity and professionalism as many corporates do.

Well here is my Take on it

Lets forget NGOs and voluntary organizations for a moment

Why do people work the way they work? What drives them to work better and harder

a. Money: Only objective is to sustain. Eat Live Die. Better work=better money

b. Ambition: Have a goal in life ,want to reach somewhere someplace pretty soon. Could be power,prestige ,respect or anything else

c.Work ethic:/Conscience: Yes you smiling people,many people still have it,actually most people have it to varying degrees. There is a level/quality of work you expect from yourself and if you don’t do it you feel guilty. Its that irritating voice which asks you to correct that small little HTML,correct that simple image on your site,keep your record books organized.

d. Need for appreciation: This is closely related to point c and d. We all like to be appreciated for our work .

Most people have one or many of these drives

Now the strongest of these forces is Work ethic and conscience,something that tells you what is the minimum you would expect from yourself. This is exactly the factor that prevents NGOs from achieving what they can and what NGOs need to research more on.

When volunteers work for an NGO all of them work with good intentions, a need to do something good and satisfy their conscience . I do not doubt their intentions,what i believe happens is that their level/minimum self expectation suddenly becomes LOW in a an NGO. Anything that they do is extra work and this satisfies their conscience very very early on.

I call this Short Changed Conscience


Since it is a voluntary work,it was never expected of them  and hence anything they do directly adds to their conscience as good work,thus making them feel good about whatever they do even if it is shoddy work from their professional standards.

I may receive brick bats for saying this but most NGOs stand on the half hearted works of many volunteers. and half hearted work ,irrespective of intentions can never match the professionalism.

Now dont get me wrong here,i am not writing this paper because i am frustrated with anyone, I am trying to find out what goes wrong. It is these volunteers only who make things work,it is these volunteers who keep the wheel of development turning,but my point is that this wheel can turn faster.


If you need to create a website for your business,or maybe your client you will spend considerable amount of time to find the best possible technology,best possible interface,you will take feedback and implement it . But what if you are building for an NGO, you will still make the website,but you may not be willing to consider changes based on feedback,you may not research too much and most importantly you may not polish all the edges.

Is that true or is it just me?????


Yes there are exceptions to this,people who take this work more seriously then their professional work also,these are the people who form the nucleus of any voluntary organization,hats off to them. But their percentage is relatively low

Before you guys tell me how dare i question the pure intentions of volunteers who spend their time with NGOs helping them ,let me clarify,I do not question that,I Respect people who want to and do spend time,this paper is to identify areas where we go wrong,why most voluntary teams don’t work the way they should/could and maybe identify what can be done to improve them.


Here are some suggestions:

1. Defined structure: Have a clear structure and role division like any corporate team with clear objectives and responsibilities. More you bring people in that zone,better results you may get

2.No Reliance on the nucleus: Generally the nucleus of the group or you may say the most dedicated person drives everything. He/she handles all activities. This definitely needs to stop. Have clear cut owners of every activity and try and stop this nucleus from working everywhere. The reason is simple ,the nucleus is a GEM but if he/she handels everything you loose the chance of creating more nuclei. Every team should have a nuclei .

Try this in one important activity or a movement of your organization,do not involve your best volunteers. Yes explain them the reasoning,its important

3. Implicit feedback mechanism: Irrespective of what work a person is doing, how dedicated he/she is to the cause or even how old a member he/she is have a compulsory feedback system. the moment people know that their work will be commented upon their productivity goes us. The Work ethic of their corporate work kicks in and standars improve. I would suggest always have 1 compulsory improvement point for every every feedback.

4. View volunteers as leaders and not as temporary workers: No explanation required,try doing that and see the result


So this was my take on teams in Voluntary organizations,…if you have any comments/suggestions/criticisms please do enlighten me.

Am i seeing the way things are or is it just me 🙂





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