To construct the list of 898 development NGOs we have screened over 1500 charities (hereafter NGOs) from the membership lists of BOND, Scotland’s International Development Alliance; South West and South Wales International Development Network; The South Yorkshire International Development Network, the Foundation for Social Improvement and Small Charities Coalition; from grantees of DFID and Comic Relief; from Hub Cymru Africa; from organisations declaring their interests in ODA and famine relief on the Charity Commission website; from a previous research project into conservation NGOs, and from our own ‘snowballing’ of contacts and networks.

Any list like this is only as good as the criteria for being included or excluded. We have excluded the following sorts of organisations:

  • Those whose primary purposes are not international development – for example Leonard Cheshire and the RNLI;
  • That are not charities;
  • That primarily give grants to UK-based organisations – or example Comic Relief;
  • That spend on average less than £10k in between 2011 and 2015. This is not because we think small organisations are unimportant, just that we did not have the resources to take them all on;
  • Organisations from Northern Ireland – because we could find no umbrella organisation to draw them from;
  • That are primarily religious NGOs. For the purpose of this research we have defined ‘primarily religious NGOs’ as organisations that spend much time and money on a set of activities (missionary work, church or mosque building) not undertaken by secular organisations. We have included many organisations with a religious underpinning, such as Christian Aid, Tearfund and Islamic Relief, which are organisations whose activity resembles that of secular organisations.

A word of caution is required about the last exclusion. Despite acknowledgment of the significance of religion within development and appreciation for the lessons that can be learnt from religious organisations, the sheer mass of religious NGOs have prevented us from including this group. As with the small NGOs, we believe these religious organisations comprise a potentially large group that is beyond our means to accurately list, deserving of a study in their own right.

As a result of these exclusions we are fairly certain that we are surveying only a small minority of the sector in terms of the number of organisations included, but we are covering most of its expenditure. We can be sure of this because the Charity Commission of England and Wales categorises charities according to their activities. In the category ‘Overseas Aid/Famine Relief’ 11,079 charities were listed in 2015. We have less than 10% of them. However this group was only spending £2.2bn, just under half of which was accounted for by the largest 37 organisations, many of whom we considered but discounted because they were only donor groups (like Comic Relief) or were not mainly development organisations (like Leonard Cheshire). This group of excluded organisations mainly consists of smaller charities – over 9600 were in the smallest categories.

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