GuideStar International's Blog

March 28, 2011

Where, Why and When Should a CSO report?

By Keisha Taylor

CSOs usually report to government regulatory bodies and intergovernmental donors and institutional donors when required. In the majority of countries a lot of information about registered CSOs is held by government departments and in institutional donor databases. Information held by governments and donors is usually difficult to access, though vital to understanding development infrastructure. However, charitable organisations are now reporting a lot more via social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, blurring the lines between reporting and communicating. This however, still tends to be primarily a northern phenomenon. Furthermore, if CSOs believe that reporting via social networking sites may lead to persecution they will be less likely to use them.

Where a CSO reports depends to some extent on why they report. As tax exempt organisations that are funded by the tax payer, registered CSOs are usually legally obligated to report to government departments. However, they can also voluntarily report information via other channels. When information is in the public domain anyone can access it, but finding reliable up to date information about CSOs remains problematic in many countries. Though large CSOs may tend to be more well known, most CSOs are small, voluntary organisations and many remain unregistered and unknown beyond their immediate support group. With stories like Rwanda: Report Exposes Sham NGOs circulating and increasing doubts about the effectiveness of donations, reporting has taken on renewed importance. However, many organisations do not have the resources to prioritise reporting that is not mandatory. If reporting can on some level be integrated with communications this can prove very worthwhile to a CSO.

According to the One World TrustCivil society organisations (CSOs) are facing increasing pressure to demonstrate their accountability, legitimacy and effectiveness. In response, a growing number are coming together at national, regional and international level, to define common standards and promote good practice through codes of conduct, certification schemes, reporting frameworks, directories and awards. However, CSOs, donors and other potential users are often unaware of their existence or what distinguishes one initiative from another, making it difficult for to make choices around which initiative best suits their needs”. The One World Trust created a database of all the self-regulatory initiatives (309 are listed) in existence worldwide, some government supported, others supported by independent regulatory bodies and some by umbrella organisations.  This helps to illustrate how the growth of the sector is leading CSOs and other institutions to set up bodies which aid self-regulatory reporting. Communications efforts can also weigh heavily in such reporting efforts as even awards and quality standards are used to communicate to the public about how an NGO’s performance.

Different political, social and cultural environments influence not only what CSOs report but when they report. Organisations may remain unregistered to avoid prosecution, so their reporting will be voluntary and sometimes in a risk averse manner. Reporting can prove difficult if governments tend to clamp down on civil society organisations that work against government norms, or are supported by foreign donors. The provision of a secure reporting environment within a wider enabling framework therefore increases the likelihood of CSOs reporting on a voluntary basis. Different countries have different legislation, which influence whether reports by or about CSOs should be made publicly available. Freedom of Information laws are increasing worldwide and some of them require CSO information to be made available on request.

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