NGO coordination bodies often create a Secretariat (sometimes known as a project office) to support, lead, or implement the work of the coordination body. This is effective when the work of the coordination body expands beyond the voluntary capacity provided by existing member NGO staff.
The Secretariat can be funded directly if it registered as an NGO in the country. Alternative, it receives funding from the members directly, or through grants held by the members in its name. The Secretariat can be an operational body that manages and delivers the core functions/services of the body and leads on fundraising, sustainability and donor relations, whilst monitoring the work and operations of the coordination body. Some contexts require impartial representation outside of any individual NGO - which can be delivered through a Secretariat.
NGO Coordination Body Secretariat Role
A Secretariat may be relatively autonomous and manage activities itself, with overall guidance from a board. Activities may include any of those outlined in a previous section. Alternatively, the Secretariat may be an administrative body that supports the consortium through organizing meetings and minutes, managing security and communication trees, etc. In this latter model, the Secretariat has less independence, and staff of the coordination body’s member agencies do most of the core work.
If a Secretariat or project office is set up for the NGO coordination body, the following criteria are key:
- Secretariat staff with adequate skills: Strong at connecting and uniting, and who can be sensitive to all stakeholders and to the context.
- Appropriate space and guidance: Staff are given appropriate space and guidance to do their jobs.
- Adequate resources: The Secretariat receives adequate resources for the role it is expected to perform.
- Clear governance systems: Governance systems ensure accountability of the staff and to the staff, and define how the Secretariat and its staff will be managed;
- Clear roles and responsibilities defined for the Secretariat: Outlining role and responsibilities for the Secretariat, and what must be referred to the governing body.
- Clear decision on external representation: Ensure clarity on how the NGO coordination body can be represented externally, by whom; and how much independence the Secretariat has to operate independently.
Hosting the NGO Coordination Body
NGO coordination bodies are often hosted by one of the member organisations, as establishing a legally independent NGO coordination body can be difficult, time-consuming, costly, and unsustainable. In a hosting arrangement, the host organisation is responsible for:
· Bearing the financial and legal risk
· Contracting staff
· Holding all donor contracts.
· It may also support management processes and provide administrative support such as IT.
However, the host does not have control over the work of the coordination body; this remains with the membership and any steering committees, advisory groups, or boards.
Hosting arrangements for an NGO coordination body vary significantly. The choice of a hosting model and hosting member is best determined by a clear set of criteria including:
· Legal presence in the country;
· Capacity and interest to support the NGO coordination body, (including providing back-up investment if needed);
· Presence in all regions of the country where the consortium plans to engage;
· Ability to support field staff with office space, security, and administrative support if necessary;
· The ability to receive funding from all major donors;
· Willingness to grant the consortium considerable autonomy;
· Willingness to sign off on operating procedures and staffing packages that may differ from those of the host;
For further information on hosting models see: Keith, A. (2014) Summary of NGO Coordination Secretariat Hosting Structures (revised), produced for the Lebanon Humanitarian INGO Forum).
The role of the host agency should largely be invisible externally. However, some agencies may be interested in the role of host specifically because it gives them visibility or profile and close engagement with the coordination body. Therefore it is important to agree in advance:
· The criteria for selection of the host agency;
· The exact hosting arrangement;
· The profile to be given to the host agency;
· Administration and logistics support;
· The processes for approval of finances and project outputs to donors;
· All potential costs.
The agreement should be in a written document signed by the host and by the NGO coordination body steering committee.
Agreement on decision-making processes is critical for the effective functioning of an NGO coordination body.
These processes should be outlined in the governing documents of the body. In addition, NGO coordination bodies can call upon useful tools to help process complex or difficult issues. To access a resource providing guidance on decision making processes, please click here.