Strengths and weaknesses: how CSOs assess their levels of organisational development

How open are NGOs (CSOs) to changes, what makes their projects successful, and how do they get on with their employees?


On 16 February an online presentation took place of the results of the study titled ‘Assessing levels of organisational development of CSOs’.


  1. What is the study?
  2. Results: strengths
  3. Results: weaknesses
  4. Expert opinions

What is the study?

The study was carried out for the “CSO Pulse” project by the Centre of Social Initiative Assessments at the Higher School of Economics’ (HSE) Institute of Applied Political Studies. The project, which will collect data about the operations of Russian CSOs, is financed by HSE’s Faculty of Social Sciences, with additional expert support from the ‘Help is Needed’ foundation.

The leaders of 377 CSOs took part in the study. 30% of these were foundations, 27% were autonomous non-profits, and 27% were social organisations. 55% were small organisations. 33% of participants were based in Moscow.

The aims of the study were to assess the organisational development of CSOs, find their strengths and weaknesses, and together finds avenues for growth. Each participant receives an individualised report with tailored recommendations.

Participants were asked to provide scores on 12 indicators:

  1. Strategy and planning
  2. Management of the organisation
  3. Organisational culture
  4. Employees
  1. Projects and events
  2. Volunteers
  3. Financial resilience
  4. External communication
  1. Advocacy
  2. Working with risks
  3. Readiness to change
  4. Assessment and monitoring

The results may not be used to assess the entire non-profit sector in Russia, as they are based on the self-assessments of the survey’s participants.

Results: strengths

The results of the study were presented by Yulia Skokova, head of the ‘CSO Pulse’ project and director of HSE’s Centre of Social Initiative Assessments.

The study’s participants gave a score of 3.57 for the overall level of organisational development of their CSOs. 66% of the CSOs had an average score of 3-4 points.

A high level of organisational development of CSOs was found in three indicators: organisational culture (4.15 points), projects and events (4.11 points), and readiness to change (4.02 points).

‘Organisational culture’ refers to interaction between managers and employees at CSOs. 90% of participants said that their workforces share common values.

“Many CSOs are created to tackle a social issue, so their employees have common values and convictions. This is an important trait of CSOs which gives them long-term resilience,” commented Skokova.

The ‘projects and events’ indicator reflects how well CSOs plan and manage projects, and how well these are integrated into the organisation’s everyday work and overall aims. Skokova believes that this indicator reflects the grant funding model of CSOs and their ability to produce project proposals.

Participants indicated the level of their organisation’s openness to changes: 89% were open to the suggestions of employees and 77% allow employees to initiate projects themselves. On the other hand, only 49% of participants said that they put recommended solutions into use at work.

Results: weaknesses

The study showed that the weak points of CSOs include advocacy (2.85 points), financial resilience (3.13 points), working with risks (3.25 points), employees (3.30), and volunteers (3.33).

The ‘advocacy’ indicator included a subjective assessment of the influence of CSOs on events in the sector and in society:

  • • 39% replied that they can influence events at the municipal level;
  • • 36% replied that they can do this on a regional level;
  • • Only 17% believed that they can do this on a federal level.

The ‘financial resilience’ category showed that only 39% of participants have a diversified source of revenue. Only 29% have enough funds to meet the requirements of their current operations.

The most widespread sources of income were the following: the Presidental Grant Fund, donations from businesses, and income from selling goods or services. The least widespread income sources were from public tenders, donations from foreign donors, and federal subsidies and grants excluding presidential grants.

Only 32% of participants believed that their staff received a fair salary. 46% responded that professional and emotional burnout is an acute problem for their employees.

Meanwhile, 70% of CSOs have a stable workforce and nearly the same amount (68%) provide training and instruction courses with volunteers. But only 30% responded regarding planning and willingness to work with volunteers.

“Many CSOs fall into the ‘average’ category in terms of organisational development. This means that many have a lot of potential, but it also means there’s a risk of stagnation. Very strong and very weak CSOs are far fewer,” noted the authors of the study.

Expert opinions

The results of the study may be used as an instrument of self-diagnosis for CSOs, as well as a basis of support from organisations providing resources and infrastructure.

Marina Mikhailova, director of the ‘Guarantor’ centre, believes that the results of the study are useful, as they show regional CSOs that they are not alone.

“Because sometimes they feel that they’re the only ones who have these issues, of a lack of staffing and funding. But the study shows that it’s not just them and they don’t need to give up, they must carry on and keep growing,” said Mikhailova.

Vyacheslav Bakhmin, an independent expert, called the study a ‘self-portrait of an active part of the non-profit sector’.

According to him, the self-perception of participants plays a big role in the study, leading to some results being inflated. For example, any manager asked about their openness will naturally respond that their organisation is open to everything. In practice it may not be so.

The study is long-term; after a period the same participants will be surveyed again.

According to Bakhmin, the main value of the study will be to show the changing dynamics of organisational development of CSOs.

The full report of the study can be found here and a recording of the presentation can be found here.


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