Bridgespan Study Finds NGOs’ Patterns of Growth Create Barrier to Achieving Humanitarian Goals

Seventy percent of leaders surveyed say lack of investment in “good overhead” is fragmenting operations.

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...unlike multinationals that have invested heavily in mastering the challenges of scaling global operations, NGOs have scrimped on making investments in mastering integrative processes.

Boston, MA (PRWEB) April 16, 2013

In a just released paper, Stop Starving Scale: Unlocking the Potential of Global NGOs, The Bridgespan Group reports that while generous private funders have fueled rapid growth of global NGOs in recent years, the strings attached to that money are thwarting these organizations’ ability to create the platforms and infrastructure they need to solve global problems. Seventy percent named “insufficient indirect cost recovery” from funders as one of their biggest obstacles to achieving their potential and 65% of the NGO leaders surveyed said that strengthening their core to enable them to scale their operations was a “distant goal”.

According to Bridgespan Partner and co-author of the paper, Jeri Eckhart-Queenan, “This fixation on restraining overhead on the part of funders runs deep in the social sector, but global NGOs feel this bias more acutely: 58% of donors to domestic causes say they pay significant attention to overhead rates, fully 70% of international donors do the same.” She added, “The reality, however, is that there is no single overhead figure that makes sense for all.”

Co-author and Bridgespan Partner Jari Tuomala said, “A related and equally vexing challenge is the unintended fragmentation of NGO efforts that stems from the prevailing practice of funding a patchwork of decentralized short-term programs and project-based work across the globe. Precious dollars get squandered feeding programmatic branches while starving the operational core.”

Eckhart-Queenan likened the situation to the global scale issue faced by multinational corporations in the 1980s. “Like NGOs today, multinationals struggled to build the administrative and technical infrastructure to take advantage of their emerging global scale; but unlike multinationals that have invested heavily in mastering the challenges of scaling global operations, NGOs have scrimped on making investments in mastering integrative processes.” she said.

While highlighting the barriers to scale, the paper also shares lessons learned from global organizations like Heifer International and Save the Children, and offers some prescriptive measures than can be taken to break down the barriers and improve the performance of global NGOs.

About The Bridgespan Group
The Bridgespan Group ( is a nonprofit advisor and resource for mission-driven organizations and philanthropists. We collaborate with social sector leaders to help scale impact, build leadership, advance philanthropic effectiveness and accelerate learning. We work on issues related to society’s most important challenges in three primary areas: pathways to opportunity for disadvantaged populations, environmental sustainability, and civic engagement. Our services include strategy consulting, executive search, and leadership development, philanthropy advising, and developing and sharing practical insights.


  • Liz London
    The Bridgespan Group
    (646) 562-8906
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