An Introduction to
NGO Credibility and Legitimacy

Hari Srinivas
Concept Note Series E-055. May 2015.

NGOs play an increasingly active role in today’s political and social arenas. Civil society organizations are sprouting up all over the world. According to the 2002 UNDP Human Development Report, nearly one-fifth of the world’s 37,000 NGOs were formed in the 90’s. Sometimes, local and international NGOs act irresponsibly and undermine the credibility of civil society in general. Organizations must be as accountable as the governments they criticize. This poses a great challenge to the NGO movement and to global democracy more generally.
- Global Policy Forum


redibility is the quality of being believable or trustworthy. It refers to whether or not a person or a statement is believed or trusted. Sometimes leaders or experts are not considered by the public to be credible because they have a personal interest in the outcome of a situation or a conflict which would likely influence their views and/or statements about that situation or conflict.

For example, a salesperson's "believability" is established through empathy, willingness to listen to specific needs, and continual enthusiasm toward his or her work and the customer’s business. It is the quality of being plausible, believable, dependable, or worthy of confidence. An improvement of credibility is considered to be the same as confidence building or providing quality to the user. Thus, a "credible" communicator is perceived as both expert and trustworthy.

Credibility is one of the most critical factors that affects an NGO. Being credible is simply the perception of being trustworthy and believable. Why do people buy brand name goods and services? One of the key reasons is that the brand represents a level of quality that they know and trust.

So how can an NGO build credibility? A key factor is being consistent, with reference to the work being done, the message being disseminated, or the concepts being advocated. Sharing knowledge is a useful way to build credibility. This helps in building the intellectual base of the NGO, and its ability to articulate the views of the people it is speaking for. And oboviously, telling the truth is always the best way. Good testimonials can also be a powerful way to generate trust.

A number of strategies can be seen being used by NGOs to build their credibility:

  • Use of academics and experts to evaluate NGO projects and activities
  • Associating with national or regional associations, alliances, or forums
  • Obtaining UN accreditation
  • Finding credible spokespeople
  • Speaking and publishing regularly
  • Seeking awards and prizes as recognition for work done
  • Partnering with key community, governmental and industry entities
  • Writing case studies that tell compelling stories from people and communities they serve
  • Geting some good press stories
  • Understanding an NGO's strengths and larger connections, communicate the strengths and connections consistently
  • Keeping a significant presence online - both web and email
  • Generating a good image through newsletters, bulletins, press releases etc.
Ultimately, building good credibility builds trust and confidence - which not only strengthens staff morale, but enables an NGO to garner resources to be more effective in its programmes and projects.

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