Learning to Ask NGOs the Right Questions

Looking back 2 years ago, in the aftermath of the 5.12 Sichuan earthquake, it was clear that something had changed.  That, through this experience and the millions of donations, another step forward for civil society awareness and participation had occured.

It was a process that was largely controlled at the central level, and primarily benefited a small group of organizations.  Which lead to average citizens beginning to ask a lot of questions.

Questions that were recently presented to me by a volunteer who wanted to know more about one of the organizations I established 18 months ago.  Questions that 2 years ago would have not been asked.  Questions that could not be ignored.


But as a member of Hands on Chengdu, she has the following questions regarding Hands on Network of China:

1. How many branches does Hands on have in China? Are Hands on Shanghai, Chengdu and Hongkong all legitimate and registered NGO braches with related Chinese government department? When did these braches establish? How was the process of establishment? What is the present size of each branches in China?
2. How is organization structure of Hands on China?
3. The human resources management condition of Hands on China. Such as the number of the full-time employees and their assignments; their salaries, welfare and benefits; and how does Hands on network managing the volunteers and employees?
4. Whether Hands on Network’s branches in China legally registered with related Chinese government department? Are they all legitimate NGO organizations?
5. Please advise the source of the funds for Hands on China? The allocation of funds? How do you use your funds on program service, administration and general and fund rising etc? Can you please provide the annual Financial Reporting of these Branches?

There are also some inquiries refer to the Hands on Chengdu Branch:
1. The reason of establishing the Hands on Chengdu Branch. Do you concern the requirements for post-earthquake reconstruction?
2. Why there is no aid program especially for earthquake zone?

Reviewing the questions below, what initially struck me was that they were so direct and focused on the organization, its legal status, how we raised our money, and our level of transparency. It was a list that to be honest put me off balance a bit as there seemed to be little focus on our programs, the goals of our programs, etc. It was like I was on the stand being grilled by a prosecutor. After giving some thought to the questions, the tone, and the source, what I realized was that there were two dynamics occurring here. The first being that the volunteer genuinely wanted to size up our organization, its stability, and its true intentions. That, as a volunteer, they had gained a level of comfort with our programs and their experience, but that in the wake of a number of NGO related scandals (mainly misspending), an further commitment required a personal investigation. Something that I feel shows a mature approach on some level The second dynamic though was simply that the volunteer did not know the right questions to ask. That, in lieu of not know what to ask, she asked questions that some would say was overly intrusive, while others would say lacked an understanding of how NGOs operate. Something that once again exposed the knowledge gap that exists in the market. A gap that requires further education about the roles, responsibilities, structures, and limitations of NGOs in the marketplace, and how to more effectively judge what is, or isn’t, a successful NGO.

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