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Navigating Change for International NGOs

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Navigating Change for International NGOs

A Practical Handbook

Lynne Rienner,

15 min read
6 take-aways
Audio & text

What's inside?

NGOs need to balance content, context and approach to enact change. How prepared is your agency?

Editorial Rating



  • Analytical
  • Concrete Examples
  • Insider's Take


International development experts James Crowley and Morgana Ryan detail the “content, context and approach” that NGO managers must balance when undertaking complex organizational change. They map out how leaders can meet the needs of an NGO’s structure, resources and positioning. They detail how to work with donors, private-sector parties and multiple offices in countries with varied political, economic and social structures. They offer tables and figures to flesh out their concepts and directions for implementation. Though this manual is chock-full of theoretical detail about change, these resources reward a close reading. The authors guide NGOs with multiple offices worldwide, and offer insights also to smaller NGOs with growth potential. This very specific text is targeted to managers and program officers at large international NGOs, who may find it worth sharing with board members or donors.


The three elements of change are “content, context and approach.”

Guiding your nongovernmental organization (NGO) through change successfully requires preparation, resilience, knowledge of your organization, analytical capacity, focus and determination. A nongovernmental organization – or “agency” – may undertake a change process for a variety of reasons. Securing funding for initiatives that enhance an organization’s internal operations can be difficult because donors tend to prefer funding an NGO’s programmatic mission. Internal staff often prioritizes time for fieldwork rather than for meeting internal needs.

Inefficient governance of large NGOs can hinder quick decision making. Most international NGOs spread their resources thin – even before managers add necessary change projects. When you launch your change process, consider, define and evaluate the relationships among:

  1. Content – What do you want to achieve through change? What processes does it involve? NGOs may have to update structures that address geography or performance. They may need to undertake capacity building efforts, augment information technology...

About the Author

Business adviser James Crowley and management consultant Morgana Ryan have extensive experience in the private and “international development sectors,” including involvement with Accenture Development Partnerships. They also co-wrote Building a Better International NGO.

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