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NGO Reference Model

An enabler for digital transformation

Having a common understanding for how NGOs operate is critical when NGOs have internal discussions, collaborate with peers, and conduct business with suppliers and supporters. The NGO reference model provides this high level, consistent business process language abstracted from the specifics of the International Development, Humanitarian Response, and Conservation sectors.


What is a reference model?

Industry/sector reference models provide best-practice structures, guidelines, and processes.

Originating from the disciple of Enterprise Architecture, the NGO reference model primarily focuses on defining common business processes for the sector. It adapts Porter’s Value Chain construct from strategic management theory to provide a visual framework and umbrella for lower level processes to be outlined. Where possible, the model has made use of industry standard best practices/processes, such as PMD Pro.

Sector-specific business process

Value Chain Diagram

Process Classification Framework

Why develop a Reference Model?

In the digital age, NGOs are being forced to develop and execute on digital strategies to remain relevant to donors and beneficiaries. Digital transformation and a digital strategy as being born in the nexus of people, platform, and process. The NGO Reference Model gives a standardised view of business processes to allow NGOs to plan for their digital future.

Other benefits of the model include:

  • Identifies which activities create value/impact and which are the enabling/supporting services needed by the organisation
  • Promotes cross-departmental and cross-organisation collaboration
  • Useful tool to educate new employees or partners/suppliers to an NGO
  • Helps to mainstream ‘Enterprise Architecture’ into NGOs
  • Provides a basis for shared services discussions or the outsourcing of non-value add processes
  • Benchmarking across organisations (e.g. what systems are in place to support business processes)
  • Build a common understanding of who is doing what and create clear roles and responsibilities
  • Help define the organisation operating model (how the organisation fits together):
    • Identify who is doing which part of the value chain
    • Enterprise–wide or local services
    • As-is vs to-be business process architecture



The NGO Value Chain

Enabling activities – cross-cutting support activities

  • Organisational Management & Governance
  • Knowledge Management
  • Supply Chain Management
  • Finance
  • Human Resource Management
  • Information Technology

Primary activities – directly contribute to the organisation mission


Programme Design

  • Context Assessment
  • Programme Planning


  • Fundraising Research and Analysis
  • Income Strategy
  • Donor Acquisition & Retention

Fund Management

  • Portfolio Matching
  • Compliance Management

Programme Delivery

  • Setup
  • Implementation
  • Control
  • Monitoring
  • Evaluations
  • Accountability
  • End of Programme Transition


NGO Reference Model - Activity Table

Activity (Level 1) Function (Level 2) Description Level 3 - examples only
Primary Activities Programme design Context assessment Research and analyse the environment surrounding the programme, establish organisational fit and decide whether to intervene or not. Collect Data; Analyse Data (Problem Analysis, Stakeholder Analysis, Lessons Learnt Review, Organisation Strategic Fit)
Programme planning Engage stakeholders to define how the programme will be completed within a certain timeframe and with designated resources. Partner Identification; Risk And Assumption Assessment; Intervention Options (Advocacy, Education, Health, Research etc.); Identify Intervention Logic (Log frames etc.); Budgeting; Develop Implementation Plan; Target group Participation; Capacity Assessment
Fundraising Fundraising research and analysis Research and analyse donors and markets. Identify funding opportunities, prospects and potential. Detect grant givers.  Identify tender opportunities and new engagements. Identify any market and/or donor limitations. External/ market research; Internal learnings; Identify opportunities (prospects, potential, tenders)
Income strategy Forecast based on scenarios. Define strategic objectives and activities to meet these objectives. Organisation plan, including resources, systems and ROI to support the funding strategy. Alignment with organisation Strategy; Objective setting; Income Projection; Resource Planning; Fundraising activity development
Income acquisition and retention encompasses a spectrum of funding streams from selling goods and services through individual donations to institutional donors. Activities include customer services, account management, responding to tenders, proposal development, planning and executing the donor journey as well as networking and fundraising campaigns including event management. Campaign management; Donor-led programme design; Proposal development; Donor relationship management;  customer services
Funding Management Portfolio matching Arbitrating restricted and unrestricted funds with programme needs to achieve confirmed budgets per programme. Understand donor and funding requirements; Understand programmes requirements; Pipeline analysis; Match funds with programme needs
Compliance management Monitor and report on compliance of programmes and partners to the agreement of the organisation and donor. Donor reporting; Monitor compliance
Programme delivery Setup Establish governance structure, authorise the start of the programme, communicate the launch, and mobilise resources. Communications; Establish Governance (Internal & External); Gain Official Authorisation To Start (District Government etc.); Resource Mobilisation
Implementation Implement the delivery plan including the management of issues and resources. Task Management; Logistics; Managing Risk; Managing Issues
Control Manage variances between the programme plans (in terms of scope, cost, schedule, etc.) and the realities of programme implementation Change management process; Tolerances; Issue escalation
Monitoring A continuing assessment that uses systematic collection of data on indicators to provide stakeholders an indications of progress against objectives and identifies necessary corrective action if appropriate. Define programme indicators; Collect and review indicator data
Evaluation The systematic and objective assessment of an on-going or completed programme, its design, implementation, and results to determine the impact and sustainability. Define programme indicators; Collect and review indicator data
Accountability Ensures accountability of the programme to all stakeholders through: participating, analysing responses and providing feedback to stakeholder groups.  Includes collective accountability activities with other stakeholders (e.g. other NGOs). Provide information, communicate, and participate with stakeholder groups; Collect, analyse and respond to feedback from stakeholder groups; Collective accountability activities with other stakeholders (e.g. other NGOs).
End of programme transition Define and manage transition strategy (redesign, extend, expand, terminate), complete programme learning, verify scope/deliverable acceptance, and complete governance closure.  Governance Closure; Complete Programme Learning; Verify: Scope, Deliverables, Acceptance; Define Transition Strategy (Re-design, Extension, Expansion, Termination (hand-off to another Duty Bearer)
Enabling Activities Organisation management and governance Develop vision, mission, values and strategy Establishes organisational direction and vision. This involves defining the mission and vision, as well as developing the organisation strategy and moral framework (including values and ethical policies).  
Governance Establishing and administering the system of rules, practices, and processes through which the organisation is directed and controlled.  
Portfolio and programme management (non-programmatic) Identifying programmes and initiatives; initiating, delivering and closing programmes; monitoring the overall programme performance and status; establish a programme overview and provide decision basis for programmes.  
Change management Plan, develop, implement, and monitor major changes throughout the organisation or in a selected unit, department, division, etc.  
Process and quality management Ensure that an organization, product or service is delivered at the appropriate quality using suitable processes.  It has four main components: quality planning, quality assurance, quality control and quality improvement.   
Risk management Identify, assess and prioritise risks.  Coordinate the application of resources to minimize the probability and impact of unfortunate events and to maximise the realisation of opportunities.  
Communications Communications among stakeholders both within and outside the organisation, helping an organisation achieve its goals through building understanding and engagement based on, for example, the organisations core values, strategy and advocacy targets.  
Monitoring and controlling Develops and implements a framework that guides decision makers as they use resources in the pursuit of sustainable impact. It ensures that decisions are aligned with organisation goals by designing targets, measuring performance against KPIs and managing corrective action processes.  
External relationship management External relationships are those relationships with specific stakeholders of the entity, including partners, government and industry (not donor or beneficiaries), including activities such as complaints management etc.   
Compliance and resiliency management Manage and audit compliance with external standards, regulations and legal responsibilities (such as sector standards, environmental, contextual, data, fraud prevention, health, organisational reporting, safety and security) as well as ethical policy enforcement.  
Brand Management Create relationship between the organisation's product/service and emotional perception of the stakeholders for the purpose of generating segregation and partnerships among competition and building loyalty among donors and partners guided by our organisational values  
Product and service portfolio management Create new solutions, and revise or retire existing ones so that the revamped portfolio recognises shifts in programmatic context and/or the market expectations while aligning with the overall organisational strategy.  
Innovation Management Facilitates the organisation to respond to external or internal opportunities using creativity to introduce new ideas, processes or products (both incremental and disruptive innovations).  
Knowledge Management Identification Identify the knowledge necessary to be able to effectively run and improve the organisation  
Capture Ensure data, information and learning and experience from programmes and the external environment is captured as evidence  
Storage Knowledge which has been captured is appropriately stored to create a knowledge asset and can be accessed and found efficiently when required.  
Synthesis Knowledge is analysed and synthesised to support organisational learning in a format which can be easily understood and a length which is digestible.  
Sharing and dissemination Knowledge is shared fittingly with the most apt audience. Linking people and content and linking people with people, including both tacit and non-tacit knowledge.  
Re-application Knowledge is used as evidence to inform future programme development and practice  
Supply Chain Management Plan Balance aggregate demand and supply to develop a course of action which best meets sourcing, production, and delivery requirements.  
Source Source and procure goods and services to meet planned and actual demand  
Make Transform product to a finished state to meet planned or actual demand  
Deliver provide goods and services to meet planned or actual demand, typically including order management, transportation management, and distribution management (including storage).   
Return Processes associated with returning or receiving returned products for any reason as well as disposal of products  
Finance Budgeting Encompasses financial planning processes, including preparing quarterly and annual projections of revenue, expenses, operating liquidity and capital investments.  
Financial accounting Contains processes related to managing an organisation’s ongoing financial records, including the maintenance of the chart of accounts, the processing of journal entries, and the adjustment of the organisation’s general ledger accounts. This group also encompasses all operational activities performed to close the books on a periodic basis as well as the recording, tracking, and depreciation of fixed assets, income and expense recognition, accruals, reversals.  
Management accounting Provide partnering for management decision making, devising planning and performance management, and providing expertise in financial reporting   
Process payroll Transacting salary to staff / contractors, adjusting for tax, benefits etc.   
Process debtors and creditors  Consists of processing payments for operating expenses and other supplier charges, which includes verifying of accounts  payable with vendor records, maintaining and managing electronic commerce, auditing invoices and approving payments, processing payments and taxes, researching and resolving exceptions, and adjusting accounting  records.  
Manage treasury operations Includes the management of treasury policies and procedures, cash, bank accounts, debts, investments, and financial risks (incl. foreign currencies).  
Manage internal controls Consists of operating controls, monitoring compliance with internal controls policies and procedures, and reporting on internal controls compliance.  
Human Resource Management Compensation and benefits Process and decision making framework for salary and benefits management  
Time reporting Workforce time allocation recording and reporting (e.g. pay, full economic costing of grants, programme planning and absentee management).  
Talent and performance management Talent and skills log with employee performance and development history.  
Learning and development Share and increase skills and competencies of the workforce.  Evaluate development needs and manage their implementation.  
Recruiting and on/off boarding Workforce planning as well as, attracting, screening and inducting candidates into the workforce, and off-boarding exiting staff.  
Workforce administration Maintain workforce information and legal documents as required by law.  Ensures all necessary exchanges to the legal authorities and institutions.  
Information Technology Service design & transition Identify, fund, design and implement adequately secure innovative IT services to meet currently agreed and expected future business requirements.  
Service operation Deliver and manage IT services at agreed levels as well as channel new or changed business requirements to serve as input for the Service design & transition activity.  
Enterprise architecture Concerns the strategic alignment of IT services to best serve the business. Includes defining, planning, and managing the interface between business and IT across: Business, Data, Application, and Technology domains. Develops and maintains models and practices that support high-level enterprise assessments and investment trade-off decision.  

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