How influential are NGOs?

Posted on: August 8, 2008

In July, the intelligence company SIGWatch surveyed European public affairs and CSR professionals on how NGOs are influencing policymaking in Europe.


In its soon-to-be published report, SIGWatch found that NGOs are considered more influential than business in Euro policy-making but have about the same influence as national parliaments, EU agencies and industry associations. NGOs, however, yield in influence to other stakeholders such as national governments, Members of the European Parliament (MEPs) and the media.


It is in their interaction with the media that NGOs demonstrate their strength. The survey respondents, mainly from large manufacturing and financial services businesses, consultancies and industry associations, admire NGOs for their ability to win media coverage although they reckon that there is latent sympathy in the media for them. The NGOs are also rated highly for political lobbying skills and willingness to take a long-term approach to campaigns. They just don’t go away!


When asked why business should take NGOs more seriously, the top four reasons were:


        If we don’t, NGOs will limit our business opportunities (60%)

        NGOs are an important resource of knowledge and expertise (52%)

        Politicians expect it (38%)

        Customers expect it (32%)


As noted earlier, there is a fundamental and not surprising distrust in the NGO-business relationship which are expressed as:


        NGOs distrust the motives of business (over 70%)

        Business thinks NGOs tend to mislead the public (55%)

        Business distrusts NGOs (35%)

        NGOs think business is inherently bad for society / Business fears NGOs (both 25%)


And the obstacles to closer NGO-business relations are:


        Business and NGOs are too different in style and philosophy (47%)

        NGOs are idealists, businesses are realists (46%)

        NGO staff are anti-business (37%)

        NGOs don’t understand that business needs to make a profit (27%)


The most effective NGOs are familiar names – WWF, Greenpeace, Medecins San Fontières and Amnesty International. In future, Climate Action Network and Transparency International are expected to join them.


Although there might appear to be a large gulf between business and NGOs, many leading NGOs are rated highly for their “approachability” and desire to enter into dialogue. Larger NGOs are generally more approachable than smaller ones, possibly because they have the staff and experience to deal with business. This level of approachability is probably one of the best indicators that there is an increasing accommodation between business and NGOs. The survey also illustrates the range of stakeholders who influence European policy. It’s not just a battle between business and NGOs.


For copies of the report, contact


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Tom Watson

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