Holding NGOs to Account

They're often called simply NGOs, instead of the clunky "nongovernmental organizations." These activist groups abound, taking on a wide range of causes, working alongside governments or often against them.

They usually aim to improve the human condition. In Iraq and Afghanistan, for instance, NGOs are working in concert with government efforts to rebuild those countries.

But in this new era of heightened accountability, who should watch the watchdogs?

As they gain in number, size, and strength, some NGOs run into trouble, such as by mishandling money or simply not delivering on what they set out to do. And since many are on the left and very influential in government policymaking, NGOs are naturally coming under a conservative spotlight.

One example is a new website, ngowatch.org, recently launched by a Washington think tank, the moderate- to conservative American Enterprise Institute, and the conservative legal group, the Federalist Society.

Measuring an NGO's success, however, can be difficult. Individuals and organizations that fund NGOs often operate largely on faith that their money is well spent. And NGOs involved with democracy building or human rights, for instance, can take a long time to show results.

Patient donors know not to demand quick results out of concern that NGOs might claim successes falsely or spend too much money on satisfying donors and not clients.

Even so, the best NGOs hold themselves to high standards and are willing to be open and held to account for their practices and results (or lack of them). Independent corroboration of the work of NGOs can only help lend authenticity to their efforts.

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