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We have tried to avoid using acronyms and jargon where possible, however, there are still many terms widely used in international development and in our toolkit. These are defined below:

Accessible documents

It is important that documents are readable by all those in your target group: think about things such as font size, layout, headings & so on. It can’t be assumed that everyone has access to the web, or to a printer or current software. There may be language considerations, literacy issues or disability needs to be taken into account, as well as ways of distributing documents, especially where people are marginalised.

Action plan

A suggested framework for an action plan is shown at the end of the MOT section & again at the end of the full assessment. An action plan sets out clearly what has to be achieved, by whom & by when, preferably identified in SMART targets.


This is a political process by which an individual, group or organisation chooses to influence policy by activities such as running media campaigns, gathering petitions, public speaking,  direct action, carrying out research or lobbying politicians.  Advocacy is a strong element in campaigns that try to highlight the difference between the current situation & how it should be in a more socially just society.


These are the reasons why your organisation or project exists and the broad, longer-term impact you want to have on the lives of the people you work with. Your overall aim should be brief, focused and guided by your organisation’s mission and strategy. It should say what you want to achieve. It should not describe your services. That comes later. Each project or service you run should have an aim.


These identify best practice in order to measure ourselves against other, similar organisations.  They also suggest minimum standards.

Best practice

This is a statement of the methods of doing things that consistently show superior results. It’s not a static picture & can always evolve into something better. Here, we are considering best practice in the context of small to medium sized NGOs working in International Development.


When we use the term “Board” we mean the group of directors, committee members, trustees or governors that is required by the constitution or other legal document of the organisation. The Board is responsible for making sure the organisation meets its legal requirements, has a clear strategy that will deliver the mission & ensure financial compliance and security.

Capacity building

Capacity building usually means taking actions to strengthen the skills, competencies and abilities of organisations or communities.  In relation to international development the focus is to prevent international aid from creating perpetual dependency and to help communities to get stronger. This is a long-term process that involves all stakeholders, including ministries, NGOs & local authorities to build institutions and skills to ensure that a community can continue to overcome the causes of their suffering & exclusion after funded projects have ended.

For NGOs capacity building often involves strengthening skills in fundraising, training to develop skills, or by using consultants in order to be better able to deliver their mission.

Civil society

Civil society is where people come together to advance their common interests,  outside the family, the state or private businesses.  Volunteering is a prime example of this & civil society includes NGOs, charities & other institutions that are independent of the government and represent the wishes of citizens.

Climate change resilience

Southern communities are disproportionately affected by climate change. When we work with them to design our projects and look at their future needs we need to make sure that we take account of the current and likely future impacts of climate change and design adaptation to climate change into our projects. This will help communities to be safer and more able to cope and thrive when they are affected by climate change impacts like floods or droughts etc. They might also look ahead to ensure that their livelihoods will be sustainable in a future – e.g. that the crops they are growing will thrive etc. We can also help make sure that we bring these changes to the attention of decision makers.   


We use the term “communities” to indicate those people we seek to help and work with.  NIDOS prefers this to a term like “beneficiaries” which suggests a more unequal relationship.  We recognise that southern communities, while struggling with the effects of poverty & other difficult or dangerous concerns, have their own ideas, resources, organisations & capabilities to develop solutions and international development projects and organisations can add value and resources to help make these happen.


This is where information is kept available only to those who need to have access to is and where it is important to protect the privacy or security of a person or group.  This might related to the personal details of people, their medical history, etc.


This is a supplementary plan or a fund that is earmarked in project budgets, to be available in case situations change and extra resources or a change of plan are required at short notice.  It’s usually considered when doing risk assessment. Contingency funds are usually within projects and are different from Reserves which are funds which an organisation aims to build up over time to ensure that if their overall financial position declines they can continue to operate for a period of time while the difficulties are being dealt with or allows the organisation to close in a planned way.

Data collection

This covers the gathering and storing of information about project activities or project results, to enable monitoring, evaluation and reporting.  The information collected might be quantitative (numbers, percentages, etc) or qualitative (satisfaction levels, changes in policy, changes in behaviour etc) and will tell you whether things are improving.


Diversity has a broad meaning, but here we use it to reflect on the make-up of our own organisation as well as of our partners. This is regarded by some as box-ticking or political correctness, but diversity can strengthen our organisations by bringing more varied understanding, knowledge & skills than we might otherwise have and ensure we are more representative of the community we are trying to work with.


This is about achieving the goals of an organisation & focusses on the long-term impact of our work in the future. It has been identified as “doing the right thing” or “Are we travelling in the right direction?”.

As Effectiveness does not have a focus on the levels of resource needed, then Effectiveness needs to be balanced with Efficiency.


Doing things in the best possible manner, so that the maximum outputs are gained in exchange for inputs, without wasted effort. The focus is on improving the way that things are done at the present time, correcting errors & speeding up processes.

Efficiency needs to be balanced with effectiveness to consider long term sustainability.


Ethics addresses our values by asking questions about how we do things, as well as about what we choose to do. In international development, questions arise around social justice, human rights & basic needs.  Our choices inevitably involve discussions about means as well as ends.


A systematic process to judge the effectiveness and impact of a project, programme or organisation. There may be some ongoing (or ‘formative’) evaluation of the delivery of the project during a longer-term project to make sure it is progressing well, but there should always be a final (or ‘summative’) evaluation at the end which makes a judgement & records the lessons learnt so that future projects & activities can be better designed & implemented.


To ensure objectivity, projects often use external evaluators for the final (or summative) evaluation.


This is commonly divided into positive & negative feedback returned to the organisation by the user, which provides an opportunity to identify & remedy any gaps in expectation & improve performance as a result.  We generally take positive feedback to mean “praise” & negative feedback to mean “criticism”, but it’s only when we take action as a result of someone stating their opinion that it becomes feedback.

In a “feedback loop” we would let them know what we have done as a result of the feedback they gave.

Feedback to individuals on their performance is an important motivation for many. Sometimes the term has come to serve as a euphemism for criticism, as in "the boss gave me feedback on my presentation", but it should be a mechanism that reinforces some good actions & modifies others.

Complaints are important as they enable us to understand how others see what needs improving.  It’s only when we decide to change something as a result of that insight that it truly becomes feedback.

Financial authorities

There are various financial agencies (statutory and guidance agencies) that charities and other civil society organisations should be familiar with and whose requirements you may need to keep you to date with depending on whether or not you employ people, etc as below:

HMRC deals with all taxation issues – collecting tax and NI, for example if you are employing staff, as well as dealing with VAT. They also administer certain benefits such as child benefit.

FSA regulates the financial services sector and may be useful where your organisation is getting financial services and wants to make sure they are safe or following proper procedures.

Fundraising Standards Board is a UK body that oversees the self-regulation of the fundraising sector. They produce useful standards and guidance on best practice in fundraising and your organisation can become a member and get a widely recognised ‘badge’ of good practice if it adheres to these – helping to build the public’s trust in your organisation.   sure what should go in here

Financial strategy

This is the financial element of an organisation’s overall strategy both in the short term and in the longer term. It helps an organisation plan for how it will ensure sufficient income to ensure the achievement of its mission & business plan in the longer run.  In most NGOs this would include a strategy for fundraising both for projects and core overhead costs, including trying to diversify its sources of funding. It might also include a strategy for building reserves or a pot of money for a rainy day – e.g. enough to keep the organisation running for 3 – 6 months if its sources of money dry up.


A framework is a structure that supports & contains policies, standards or some sort of methodology so that it can be more easily understood as a whole rather than picked at in a piecemeal manner.


These are diverse organisations, from government departments, like the Scottish Government or DFID, to charitable Trusts or organisations that seek to add value to projects & communities by providing funding. These range from small, one-off payments to extended programme funding, with the aim of making some social impact.  The Scottish Funders’ Forum has useful documents putting across their viewpoint on funding applications. Individuals giving money are usually called ‘supporters’ or such like rather than ‘funders’.

Funding base

This is an analysis of the different sources of money that any organisation might have.  If it receives, for example, a single grant from one source, that is a narrow funding base. If, on the other hand, an organisation gets its income from a variety of grants, sales, service fees & individual donations it would have a wider funding base. If the first organisation has its grant removed it is much more vulnerable than the second.

Gender sensitivity

This is concerned with raising awareness of our own & other people’s attitudes to gender.  It takes care about language that is used [such as “mankind”] & helps to develop empathy to issues such as sexual harassment & violation. We would also include here sensitivity to sexuality & sexual orientation.

Health & safety

The Health and Safety Executive is the official body overseeing H&S in the UK . If you are employing staff or working with volunteers, if you are running events and interacting with the public, etc you will need to ensure your organisation complies with H & S regulations and makes risk assessments to ensure that you are working within the law and you are looking after the safety of people. Good practice would also dictate that you consider H & S issues wherever you work in the world – at least meeting local regulations but also not cutting corners where the local legislation might be weak. needs a link

Human Rights

These are the fundamental rights to which a person is entitled simply by virtue of being human. This international doctrine is embodied in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and forms the cornerstone of public policy around much of the world: Needless to say, it is at times the subject of controversial debate.


This is the action, sometimes stated in a written policy, of including people in an organisation or in society who might otherwise be excluded or marginalized on the grounds of their gender, race, class, sexuality or disability, etc.   This will sometimes require extra efforts or resources to ensure that disadvantaged people can participate alongside others.  It could involve, for example, the development of new methods of recruiting to our Board or selecting staff or volunteers, ensuring services are accessible, or enabling excluded groups to give feedback, etc.


This is the word that we have used for the statements describing practice within each benchmark in the Effectiveness toolkit. This allows organisations to consider their practice against, so that they can judge their current level of practice against the benchmarks.

Job Description

This describes the general tasks & responsibilities of a job, the salary range & who they report to.  It is good practice for volunteers to also have a job description. (Job descriptions are often combined with a Person Specification that indicates the required qualifications, experience, skills & knowledge the post holder needs to have to do the job.) These form the basis of any good recruitment and for appraisal of someone’s performance in their duties.

Learning sets

These are groups [sometimes facilitated by an expert] where peer participants present problems or challenges to each other and discuss them in some detail in a supportive environment. The aim of a learning set is to help each other identify useful solutions or courses of action to tackle these challenges. Each participant takes it in turn to have their issues discussed.

Long-term dependency

International aid often supplies short term fixes in critical situations. If this aid were to replace or undermine the local economy, it would be creating dependency. International development seeks to implement long-term solutions to problems by enabling developing countries and their people to build the capacity needed to develop sustainable solutions to their own problems.

A truly sustainable project is one which will be able to carry on indefinitely with no further international aid or support, whether it is financial or otherwise & thus avoids long-term dependency. This is different from useful and long term exchange or trade etc.

Long-term impact

This is the impact of the project or work well into the future, after the end of the project or programme. For example, what were the employment or income levels of someone following their improved education - did they have a better chance of getting a job or making a living? This can only be measured after they have left school and been looking for work or earning an income for a number of years.


This word describes the process of becoming or being relegated to the fringe of society & is used in many parts of the world to describe extreme social disadvantage. Marginalised people can be systematically blocked from rights, opportunities & resources that are normally available to members of their society and which are key to social integration.


MEL stands for Monitoring, Evaluation & Learning. This useful acronym reminds us that the purpose of gathering information & making judgments about how well or otherwise things have gone is to learn from our successes & mistakes so that we learn and perform even better next time around.


This is a where an experienced or more knowledgeable person (the mentor) helps to guide a less experienced or less knowledgeable person in their personal development or in an organisation’s development. It’s more than just answering occasional questions or providing ad hoc help. It’s seen as an on-going relationship of dialogue, challenge & learning, though usually time bound or until the specific capacity has been built.


This is a statement of the purpose of an organisation, answering the question: Why do we exist? Or What long term change are we trying to achieve? The mission statement should spell out the overall goal & guide the actions & decisions of an organisation.

It provides a framework within which we can formulate our strategies.


This is the regular and periodic checking that is done to ensure that projects & organisations are meeting the agreed plans and milestones, that budgets are on track & outputs are being achieved efficiently. The aim is to ensure that things can be put right in good time as the project goes along.  Information [data] collected by monitoring checks will then also be used in evaluation.


We are using this term in the sense of a basic annual check up of the activities and practice of an organisation (much like an MOT does for the annual check up of the safety, roadworthiness & environmental impact of a car). We do not issue a certificate for the MOT, but have borrowed the car MOT as an image of stopping to look annually at all the important working parts of an organisation.

Needs Assessment

This is a process whereby the needs and priorities of individuals or groups in the community are more clearly understood and identified – ensuring the needs of marginalised groups are central in this. This might be done by using participatory approaches to asking them about their priorities, through consultation with representative groups etc, although sometimes this might also be done by assessing or testing.  Needs assessment might also include the gathering of statistics and reviewing the wider context of gaps in provision by other agencies.

Understanding the genuine needs of communities will be hard to accomplish unless those communities feel able to speak openly & we listen well. Otherwise, they might only tell us what they think we want them to say & we might only hear what we want to hear.


NGO stands for ‘Non Governmental Organisation’ – i.e. voluntary [but legally constituted] organisations that are not under the control of government and are not-for-profit.  NGOs usually have social aims, such as advocacy or offering a service, and many are registered charities but do not have to be. NGOs might have a faith-linked base (i.e. a religious group might set up an NGO) but not all do - but religious groups themselves, like churches or mosques etc, are not NGOs. NGOs are an important part of civil society

Organisational culture

This is the collective behaviour of an organisation, formed & identified by the values, visions, behaviours, working language, systems & symbols that are used. Organisational culture affects the way people & groups interact with each other & with stakeholders. This becomes obvious to us when we join a new organisation & take a little time to “settle in”.


The Office of the Scottish Charity Regulator (OSCR) is a non-ministerial department of the Scottish Government that regulates charities in Scotland & answers directly to the Scottish Parliament. OSCR has developed a regulatory framework so that each Scottish charity is clear about its rights & responsibilities so that the public would have confidence in charities. OSCR is the equivalent of the Charity Commissions for England & Wales & for Northern Ireland.

Outputs & outcomes

Outputs are the activities or services that are delivered while Outcomes are the improvements and changes in people’s lives or situations that happen as a result of the project. In the example of improving children’s health, our outputs would be the meals delivered, numbers of people fed, volunteers involved. Counting the things we do & who we reach.  The outcome might be the reduced incidence of malnutrition in the children -  i.e. the improvement we have made, which take longer to achieve and to measure.

Participatory methods

This means that when consulting or gathering information from communities or when we work with communities, we devise ways of working that ensure that everyone gets a chance to contribute. This might involve small-group work to get voices heard, or using activities or tools that help people prioritise things or present things visually, through rankings or preferences etc.  


A partnership is an arrangement where 2 or more parties agree to cooperate so that they can advance their mutual interests.  Although in general partnerships can be between any 2 or more agencies – e.g. across sectors [public/private; charity/business; government/NGO] or between nations in this Effectiveness Toolkit we are particularly referring to partnerships between international NGOs and host country civil society organisations and between them and the communities we are jointly working with. These partners (i.e. the international NGO and the local NGO) need to work together and create an agreement (usually written down) that sets out clearly their joint goals, each partner’s areas of responsibility, timescales,  how success will be evaluated and how problems or disagreements will be overcome or dealt with.

Peer learning

Peer learning [or peer-to-peer learning] is a cooperative activity where learners interact with other learners to attain their goals. It’s at the heart of any good network.  It can be formal or informal, being entirely self-organised. In our context, more experienced or better resourced NGOs have worked to guide & support less experienced organisations to reflect on their challenges & opportunities.


A policy is a set of principles or rules to guide decisions or actions that will result in the desired outcomes. A policy (such as an equal opportunities policy) doesn’t normally tell us what is actually done but rather the aims and planned outcomes. A set of procedures or instructions guide what is actually done. Policies are generally adopted by the Board, whereas procedures would be developed & carried out by staff or volunteers, within the guidance of the policy.


A principle is an essential and fundamental characteristic or element of an approach, something which is required for the system or approach to work. In this toolkit we have 10 fundamental principles of good practice - all of which are needed to make international development effective - if any of these are missing then there is a gap in effectiveness.


This is the process to buy good quality goods or services while keeping costs in consideration, taking into account quality, quantity, time & location. Some organisations have policies that define processes that promote fair & open competition while minimizing exposure to fraud.


It’s usual to gather both quantitative data [figures, numbers, statistics] as well as qualitative data [opinions, stories, case-studies, videos] so that there is a balanced understanding of the results of our activities.   

Quick wins

This means that, when we seek to make improvements, it’s a good idea to identify some positive changes that can be brought about early on.  These raise morale & enable people to begin to imagine the long-term benefits.


A quorum is the minimum number of members of a board (or other legal group) that is necessary to conduct the business of that group. It’s important that key strategic decisions are made by a quorate board, or they will not have the necessary legal status. The requirements for being quorate will be set out in an organisation’s legal documents. It is usually a percentage of the group [e.g. 50%] in order to be quorate. This can be altered by changing the legal documents.


Resilience is the positive ability of a community or organisation or individual to adapt itself to the consequences of a catastrophic event, such as a natural disaster or a failure in the infrastructure.  Building resilience in the communities we seek to help is good practice.

Risk assessment

Risks always occur in projects – threats that could affect our desired outcomes.  In a risk assessment, we ask: What are the risks? How likely are they to occur? How severe might they be?  What could we do to lessen the likelihood of it happening? It is good practice to have a written risk assessment for any major project or event. There might also be a written risk assessment for when people travel or work abroad.

Once an event that adversely affects our outcomes has happened, it’s called an issue. Issues need to be dealt with quickly & effectively.


A process by which an organisation looks at itself [often against external benchmarks] in order to increase self-knowledge so that an action-plan can be created that will lead to improved processes & better outcomes.

Skills audit

This is a process by which the skills of everyone in the organisation or group are identified. When this is followed by identification of future skills needs, then the organisation or group’s skills gap can be identified and dealt with.  The decision can then be made whether the solution is to train or upskill current people, to recruit new people or to buy in the necessary skills from someone outside the organisation for a period of time.

SMART targets

SMART targets are:

  • SpecificVery clear about what would be different as a result of action & who is responsible. (also Simple)
  • Measurable They are set out in terms of numbers: How much? How many? What there will be more of?  What there will be less of? How will we know we’ve achieved it? (also Motivational)
  • Attainable How are we going to achieve this? Is it realistic? (also Agreed)
  • Relevant This is a check that what we’re aiming for is worthwhile & matches our other efforts. (also Realistic)
  • Time-bound This tells us by when we will have completed the actions. Creates a sense of urgency: what can I achieve in 6 months? (also Trackable)

Social justice

Social justice exists within a society, between the various social classes. A society is socially just when it is based on principles of equality & solidarity between all people, who each have dignity & value the human rights of others. For example a society might try to create social justice by policies on progressive taxation & the redistribution of income & property. These aim to create greater equality of opportunity & outcome for all members of the society than currently exists.

Staff & volunteers


Some organisations have no staff at all, only a voluntary board. Some voluntary boards organise the efforts of other volunteers. Some organisations employ staff to manage the work. Some NGOs use interns to achieve certain tasks.  Rather than separate this out too much, we have tended to use staff & volunteers together to cover all these possibilities and rely on organisations to interpret this in a way that is relevant to their organisation.  If an organisation has no staff, it might wish to ignore some of the benchmarks that seem irrelevant, but it is good practice to manage & support volunteers in a similar way to the legal & good practice expectations of managing & supporting paid staff.


Stakeholders are people, groups, organisations, partners, staff or volunteers who affect or can be affected by our organisation's actions and who are important to our work.

Stakeholder analysis

A process by which we seek to understand all our stakeholders & what their priorities & needs are. This is sometimes created in the form of a map [say, on flip-chart paper or using software] that enables us to look at the whole picture & decide what & how we should communicate with them or work with them.


A strategy is a plan of major areas for action designed to achieve a goal – this might be a plan covering a number of years. There will be a more detailed workplan (say for a period of months or a year) developed to consider how the strategy will be delivered. As there is always an element of uncertainty about the future, strategy is more about a set of options ("strategic choices") than a fixed action plan & will need to change as the external environment changes.  Courses of action are chosen to meet the long-term goals & objectives of an NGO & then resources are allocated to make this happen.  The Board’s main function is to determine & guide the strategy and ensure it can be delivered.

Supporters, affiliates, members

Different NGOs have different ways of identifying the body of people from the community who support their enterprise with cash donations, collections, fundraising activities, publicity & other voluntary services. These supporters are not normally called ‘funders’ – which is a term kept for agencies or Trusts that give grant funding.


This is an organisation’s openness to its partners, volunteers/employees, stakeholders including funders, communities & the general public.  The more that an NGO can be transparent about how it does things, where its money comes from and how it spends it,  what impact it is making through its projects, its successes as well as what it has learnt from projects that were weak, etc, the more that it can build the trust of others.

Value for Money

This concept brings together Efficiency & Effectiveness in the use of resources. Before investing time, resources and energy into an activity or programme, weigh up the costs (what is being put in) and benefits (what is being achieved) of different options or ways of doing things, and make the case for why the chosen approach is the best use of resources and delivers the most value to poor and marginalised people. The chosen approach might not be the cheapest but it will deliver the most benefit for the use of resources.

Weaver's Triangle

To include


A whistleblower tells the public or someone in authority about alleged dishonest or illegal activities occurring in a government department or an organisation. It might be about breaking the law, fraud, health & safety, bullying or corruption. Some countries have laws to protect whistleblowers from repercussions, but many do not.

Written agreements

Some of these will be legal documents, their contents determined by contract law or suggested by legal advisers. Ignoring or contravening the terms will have legal implications. Others will be more informal and will not have legal status, but should nevertheless set out clearly such things as goals, responsibilities, timeframes, monetary arrangements & so forth, including what will happen if there is a disagreement or if things go wrong. Where an organisation has an agreement with a partner or other organisation which involves the use of grants or funds or relates to significant items of property it is good to make sure these have a legal basis in the country in which it is operating.