CSO Sustainability Index Methodology


USAID works in close cooperation with local CSOs to develop the CSO Sustainability Index. In each country, a local implementing partner convenes a panel consisting of at least eight representatives of a diverse range of CSOs and related experts to assess the sector’s performance in each of seven dimensions. USAID has developed indicators for each dimension, and the panel discusses and scores each indicator of a dimension, averaging these together for a preliminary dimension score. Dimension scores are averaged together for a preliminary score for overall CSO sustainability. The implementing partner drafts a country report based on the expert panel’s discussion, as well as outside knowledge of the sector.

USAID convenes an Editorial Committee, made up of specialists on civil society in the region and the Index methodology from USAID, MSI, ICNL, the Aga Khan Foundation and at least one regional expert. The Editorial Committee reviews the narrative and scores to ensure that scores are adequately supported, and accurately reflect the stage of CSO sector development. The Editorial Committee further considers a country’s score in relation to the proposed scores in other countries, providing a regional perspective that ensures comparability of scores. In some cases, the Editorial Committee proposes adjustments to the proposed scores based on the information provided and trends affecting CSO sustainability in the region overall. The Editorial Committee also raises points for clarification and requests additional information to complete the report. The project editor edits the report and sends it, along with these score recommendations and requests, to the implementing partner for comment and revision.

If the implementing partner and local expert panel disagree with the Editorial Committee’s score recommendations, they have a chance to strengthen their narrative to better justify the proposed score. The Editorial Committee has final say over the score.


The CSO Sustainability Index measures the strength and overall viability of civil society sectors. The Index is not intended to gauge the sustainability of individual CSOs, but to fairly evaluate the overall level of development of the CSO sector as a whole. Seven different dimensions of the CSO sector are analyzed in the CSO Sustainability Index. A brief description of each dimension of sustainability follows:

Legal Environment

For a CSO sector to be sustainable, the legal and regulatory environment should support the needs of CSOs. It should facilitate new entrants, help prevent governmental interference, and give CSOs the necessary legal basis to engage in appropriate fundraising activities and legitimate income-producing ventures. Factors shaping the legal environment include the ease of registration; legal rights and conditions regulating CSOs; and the degree to which laws and regulations regarding taxation, procurement, and other issues benefit or deter CSOs' effectiveness and viability. The extent to which government officials, CSO representatives, and private lawyers have the legal knowledge and experience to work within and improve the legal and regulatory environment for CSOs is also examined.

Organizational Capacity

A sustainable CSO sector will contain a critical mass of CSOs that are transparently governed and publicly accountable, capably managed, and that exhibit essential organizational skills. The organizational capacity dimension of the Index addresses the sector’s ability to engage in constituency building and strategic planning, as well as internal management and staffing practices within CSOs. Finally, this dimension looks at the technical resources CSOs have available for their work.

Financial Viability

A critical mass of CSOs must be financially viable, and the economy must be robust enough to support CSO self-financing efforts and generate philanthropic donations from local sources. For many CSOs, financial viability may be equally dependent upon the availability of and their ability to compete for international donor support funds. Factors influencing the financial viability of the CSO sector include the state of the economy, the extent to which philanthropy and volunteerism are being nurtured in the local culture, as well as the extent to which government procurement and commercial revenue raising opportunities are being developed. The sophistication and prevalence of fundraising and strong financial management skills are also considered.


The political and advocacy environment must support the formation of coalitions and networks, and offer CSOs the means to communicate their messages through the media to the broader public, articulate their demands to government officials, and monitor government actions to ensure accountability. The advocacy dimension looks at CSOs' record in influencing public policy. The prevalence of advocacy in different sectors, at different levels of government, as well as with the private sector is analyzed. The extent to which coalitions of CSOs have been formed around issues is considered, as well as whether CSOs monitor party platforms and government performance.

Service Provision

Sectoral sustainability will require a critical mass of CSOs that can efficiently provide services that consistently meet the needs, priorities, and expectations of their constituents. The service provision dimension examines the range of goods and services CSOs provide and how responsive these services are to community needs and priorities. The extent to which CSOs recover costs and receive recognition and support from the government for these services is also considered.


A strong sectoral infrastructure is necessary that can provide CSOs with broad access to local CSO support services. Intermediary support organizations (ISOs) providing these services must be able to inform, train, and advise other CSOs; and provide access to CSO networks and coalitions that share information and pursue issues of common interest. The prevalence and effectiveness of CSO partnerships with local business, government, and the media are also examined.

Public Image

For the sector to be sustainable, government, the business sector, and communities should have a positive public image of CSOs, including a broad understanding and appreciation of the role that CSOs play in society. Public awareness and credibility directly affect CSOs' ability to recruit members and volunteers, and encourage indigenous donors. The public image dimension looks at the extent and nature of the media's coverage of CSOs, the awareness and willingness of government officials to engage CSOs, as well as the public's knowledge and perception of the sector as a whole. CSOs’ public relations and self-regulation efforts are also considered.


The following steps should be followed to assemble the Expert Panel that will meet in person to discuss the status of civil society over the reporting year, determine scores, and prepare a country report for the CSO Sustainability Index.

  1. Carefully select a group of not less than 8 representatives of civil society organizations to serve as panel experts.

    Implementers are free to select panel members based on the following guidelines. The panel may include representatives from the USAID Mission, but they will not have the ability to cast their vote in terms of scores. They are welcome to provide some words of introduction to open the event, as it is funded by USAID, and they are welcome to observe and participate in the discussion. The panel members should include representatives of a diverse range of civil society organizations including the following types:

    • local CSO support centers, resource centers or intermediary civil society support organizations (ISOs);
    • local CSOs, community-based organizations (CBOs), and faith-based organizations (FBOs) involved in a range of service delivery and/or advocacy activities;
    • academia with expertise related to civil society and CSO sustainability;
    • CSO partners from government, business, or media;
    • think tanks working in the area of civil society development;
    • member associations such as cooperatives, lawyers’ associations and natural resources users groups;
    • international donors who support civil society and CSOs; and other local partners.

    It is recommended that at least 70 percent of the Expert Panel be nationals. CSOs represented on the panel can be those whose work is heavily focused on either advocacy or social service delivery. To the extent possible, panelists should represent both rural and urban parts of the country. To the extent possible, panelists should be representative of women’s groups, minority populations, and marginalized groups, as well as sub sectors such as women's rights, community-based development, civic education, microfinance, environment, human rights, and youth. The panel should to the extent possible include an equal representation of men and women.

    In some instances, it may be appropriate to select a larger group in order to reflect the diversity and breadth of the civil society sector in the country. Please keep in mind, however, that a significantly larger group may make building consensus within the panel more difficult. Alternatively, if regional differences within a country are significant, implementers may want to consider holding regional panels.

  2. Ensure that panel members understand the objectives of the exercise.

    The objective of the panel is to develop a consensus-based rating for each of the seven dimensions of civil society sustainability covered by the Index and to articulate a justification or explanation for each rating consistent with the methodology described below. The overall goal of the Index is to track and compare progress in the sector over time, increasing the ability of local entities to undertake self-assessment and analysis. It also aims to develop an increased understanding of the civil society sector among donors, governments, and CSOs for the purposes of better support and programming.

    It is recommended to distribute the instructions and rating description documents to the members of the Expert Panel a minimum of three days before convening the panel so that they may develop their initial scores for each indicator before meeting with the other panel members. If possible, it may be useful to hold a brief orientation session for the panelists prior to the panel discussion. Some partners chose to hold a formal training session with panel members, reviewing the methodology document and instructions, other partners provide more of a general discussion about the objectives of the exercise and process to the panelists.

    We are very interested in using the preparation of this year’s Index to track lessons learned for use in improving the monitoring process in upcoming years. We would appreciate implementers recording and submitting any observations they might have that will increase the usefulness of this important tool to MSI and US Agency for International Development (USAID).

  3. Convene a meeting of the CSO Expert Panel.
  4. At the Expert Panel meeting, please remind panelists that each indicator and dimension of the CSOSI should be scored according to evidence-based, country-relevant examples of recent or historical conditions, policies, and events.

    The rating process should take place alongside or directly following a review of the rating process and categories provided in “Ratings: A Closer Look.” For each indicator of each dimension, allow each panel member to share his or her initial score and justification with the rest of the group. At the end of the discussion of each indicator, allow panel members to adjust their scores, if desired. Then, eliminate the highest score and the lowest score, and average the remaining scores together to come up with one score for each indicator. Once a final score has been reached for each indicator within a given dimension, calculate the average or arithmetic mean of these scores for a preliminary score for the dimension. Be sure to take careful notes during the discussion of each indicator, detailing the justifications for all scores, as this should serve as the basis of the written report. Please keep all scores on record, making sure that personal attribution cannot be made to individual panel members. Implementers may use a table, similar to the one provided below, to track panel member scores without personal attribution. Ultimately, every rating awarded should be supported by evidence in the country report (see #8 below), and should reflect consensus among group members.

  5. Once scores for each dimension are determined, as a final step, review the description of that dimension in “Ratings: A Closer Look.” Discuss with the group whether the score for a country matches that rating description.

    For example, a score of 2.3 in Organizational Capacity would mean that the civil society sector is in the “Sustainability Enhanced” phase. Please read the “Sustainability Enhanced” section for Organizational Capacity in “Ratings: A Closer Look” to ensure that this accurately describes the civil society environment. If not, discuss as a group to determine a more accurate score that fits the description for that dimension.

  6. Discuss each of the seven dimensions of the Index and score them in a similar manner. Once all seven dimensions have been scored, average the final dimension scores together to get the final country Index score. Be sure to include a synopsis of this discussion in the draft country report.
  7. Please remind the group at this stage that reports will be reviewed by an Editorial Committee (EC) in Washington, D.C.

    The DC Editorial committee will ensure that all scores are adequately supported and may request adjustments in scores and/or additional justification to support scores.

  8. Prepare a draft country report.

    The report should cover the calendar year. The draft report should include an overview statement and a brief discussion of the current state of sustainability of the civil society sector with regard to each dimension. The section on each dimension should include a discussion of both accomplishments and strengths in that dimension, as well as obstacles to sustainability and weaknesses.

    In the overview statement, please include an estimated number of registered and active CSOs, as well as an overview of the primary fields and geographic areas in which CSOs operate.

    Please limit the submissions to USAID to a maximum of five pages in English. Please keep in mind that we rely on implementers to ensure that reports are an appropriate length and are well written, as we do not have the capacity to do extensive editing.

    Please include a list of the experts and their organizational affiliation who served on the panel with the report. This will be for our reference only and will not be made public.

    While the individual country reports for the CSO Sustainability Index must be brief, implementers may write longer reports for their own use to more fully describe the substance of the panel meetings. In addition, we will introduce a public launch event or electronic distribution (e.g., listserves or websites) to promote the release of the report in implementers’ countries.

    Deliver the draft country reports with rankings via email to MSI. Please copy USAID.

    The project editor will be in contact with you following receipt of the report to discuss any outstanding questions and clarifications regarding the scoring and the report’s content.

  9. In Washington, an Editorial Committee (EC) will review the scores and draft country reports, and will discuss any issues or concerns with the implementer.

    The EC consists of representatives from USAID, MSI, ICNL, and at least one regional expert well versed in the issues and dynamics affecting civil society in the region. Further description of the EC is included in the following section, “The Role of the Editorial Committee.” If the EC determines that the panel’s scores are not adequately supported by the country report, particularly in comparison to the scores and reports of other countries in the region, the EC may request that the score be adjusted, thereby ensuring cross-country comparability. The implementer will be responsible for responding to all outstanding comments from the EC, as communicated by the project editor, until the report is approved and accepted by USAID. A USAID representative chairs the EC.

IV. The Role of the Editorial Committee

As a final step in the CSO Sustainability Index process, all country reports are reviewed and discussed by an Editorial Committee composed of regional and sector experts in Washington, DC. This committee is chaired by a USAID Civil Society Advisor and includes rotating members from USAID (past members have included experts from the USAID Bureau for Democracy, Conflict and Humanitarian Assistance’s Office for Democracy and Governance (DCHA/DG), USAID/Office of Development Partners and Private and Voluntary Cooperation (ODP/PVC), and from USAID Democracy and Governance foreign service officers). The committee also includes a representative from the Aga Khan Foundation and civil society experts representing MSI and ICNL.

The Editorial Committee has three main roles. It reviews all reports and scores to ensure that narratives are adequate and compelling from the standpoint of supporting the proposed score. A compelling narrative demonstrates that a score results from evidence of systematic and widespread cases and is not based on one or two individual cases. For example, a country environment characterized by a large number of CSOs with strong financial management systems that raise funds locally from diverse sources is a compelling justification for an elevated Financial Viability score. A country in which one or two large CSOs have the ability to raise funds from diverse sources is not. The Editorial Committee also checks that scores for each dimension meet the criteria described in “Ratings: A Closer Look,” to ensure that scores and narratives accurately reflect the actual stage of CSO sector development. Finally, and most importantly, the Editorial Committee considers a country’s score in relation to the proposed scores in other countries, providing a regional perspective that ensures comparability of scores.

All final scores are discussed with drafting CSOs. USAID/Washington has the final say on all scores. CSOs are encouraged to remind their panels from the outset that the Editorial Committee may ask for further clarification of scores and may modify scores, where appropriate. However, by adding the step for each panel to compare their scores with “Ratings: A Closer Look” (which is essentially what the Editorial Committee does), it is hoped that there will be fewer differences between proposed scores and final scores. Ensuring that the narrative section for each dimension includes an adequate explanation for a score will also limit the need for the Editorial Committee to ask for further clarification.


Use the following steps to guide you through the individual rating process. This same process will be repeated during the CSO Expert Panel meeting, where panel members will discuss their initial scores, evidence for these scores, and determine by consensus the final scores for each of the indicators and dimensions.

Step 1: Please rate each of the seven dimensions and each of the indicators within each dimension on the following scale from 1 to 7, with a score of 1 indicating a very advanced civil society sector with a high level of sustainability, and a score of 7 indicating a fragile, unsustainable sector with a low level of development. Fractional scores to one decimal place are encouraged.

Sustainability Enhanced Sustainability Evolving Sustainability Impeded
1 2 3 4 5 6 7

Step 2: When rating each indicator, please remember to consider each one carefully and make note of any specific, country-relevant examples of recent or historical conditions, policies, or events that you used as a basis for determining this score.

Step 3: When you have rated all of the indicators within one of the seven dimensions, calculate the average of these scores to arrive at an overall score for that dimension. Record this overall score in the space provided.

Step 4: Once the overall score for a dimension has been determined, as a final step, review the description of that dimension in “Ratings: A Closer Look” to ensure that this accurately describes the environment. For example, a score of 2.3 in Organizational Capacity would mean that the civil society sector is in the “Sustainability Enhanced” phase. If after reviewing “Ratings: A Closer Look” you determine that the score does not accurately depict the description, work together to determine a more accurate score that better fits the description for that dimension.

Step 5: Once you have scores for each dimension, average these seven scores together to arrive at an overall country rating and document all scores and discussion


The CSO Sustainability Index uses a seven-point scale to facilitate comparisons to the Freedom House indices, with 1 representing the highest and 7 the lowest level of sustainability. The following broad guidelines can be used in determining scores for individual indicators and dimensions:

  1. The civil society sector’s sustainability is enhanced significantly by practices/policies in this area. While the reforms or developments that are needed may not yet be achieved, the local CSO community recognizes the need for them and has a plan and the ability to pursue them itself.
  2. The civil society sector’s sustainability is enhanced by practices/policies in this area. The local CSO community demonstrates a commitment to pursuing reforms and developing its professionalism in this area.
  3. The civil society sector’s sustainability is somewhat enhanced by practices/policies in this area, or its commitment to developing the aspect in question is significant.
  4. The civil society sector’s sustainability is minimally affected by practices/policies in this area. Progress may be hampered by a stagnant economy, a passive government, a disinterested media, or a community of good-willed but inexperienced activists.
  5. The civil society sector’s sustainability is somewhat impeded by practices/policies in this area. Progress may be hampered by a contracting economy, an authoritarian leader and centralized government, a controlled or reactionary media, or a low level of capacity, will, or interest on the part of the CSO community.
  6. The civil society sector’s sustainability is impeded by practices/policies in this area. A hostile environment and low capacity and public support may prevent the growth of the CSO sector.
  7. The civil society sector’s sustainability is significantly impeded by practices/policies in this area, generally as a result of an authoritarian government that aggressively opposes the development of independent CSOs.

For more specific information about the meaning of ratings for individual dimensions, please refer to “Ratings: A Closer Look” below.


The following section is the worksheet that members of the Expert Panel use to keep track of the scores they propose for each indicator of each dimension. Each panel member should rate each of the seven dimensions and each of the indicators within each dimension on a scale from 1 to 7, with a score of 1 indicating a very advanced civil society sector with a high level of sustainability, and a score of 7 indicating a fragile, unsustainable sector with a low level of development. Fractional scores to one decimal place are encouraged.


  1. REGISTRATION. Is there a favorable law on CSO registration? In practice, are CSOs easily able to register and operate?
  2. OPERATION. Is the internal management, scope of permissible activities, financial reporting, and/or dissolution of CSOs well detailed in current legislation? Does clear legal terminology preclude unwanted state control over CSOs? Is the law implemented in accordance with its terms? Are CSOs protected from the possibility of the State dissolving a CSO for political/arbitrary reasons?
  3. ADMINISTRATIVE IMPEDIMENTS AND STATE HARASSMENT. Are CSOs and their representatives allowed to operate freely within the law? Are they free from harassment by the central government, local governments, and tax police? Can they freely address matters of public debate and express criticism?
  4. LOCAL LEGAL CAPACITY. Are there local lawyers who are trained in and familiar with CSO law? Is legal advice available to CSOs in the capital city and in secondary cities?
  5. TAXATION. Do CSOs receive any sort of tax exemption or deduction on income from grants, endowments, fees, or economic activity? Do individual or corporate donors receive tax deductions?
  6. EARNED INCOME. Does legislation exist that allows CSOs to earn income from the provision of goods and services? Are CSOs allowed legally to compete for government contracts/procurements at the local and central levels?


  1. CONSTITUENCY BUILDING. Do CSOs clearly identify and actively seek to build local constituencies for their initiatives? Are they successful in these endeavors?
  2. STRATEGIC PLANNING. Do CSOs have clearly defined missions to which they adhere? Do CSOs have clearly defined strategic plans and incorporate strategic planning techniques in their decision-making processes?
  3. INTERNAL MANAGEMENT STRUCTURE. Is there a clearly defined management structure within CSOs, including a recognized division of responsibilities between the Board of Directors and staff members? Does the Board actively engage in the governance of the CSO? Do the Boards of Directors operate in an open and transparent manner, allowing contributors and supporters to verify appropriate use of funds?
  4. CSO STAFFING. Are CSOs able to maintain permanent, paid staff? Do CSOs have adequate human resources practices for staff, including contracts, job descriptions, payroll and personnel policies? Are potential volunteers sufficiently recruited and engaged? Do CSOs utilize professional services such as accountants, IT managers or lawyers?
  5. TECHNICAL ADVANCEMENT. Do CSOs' resources generally allow for modernized basic office equipment (relatively new computers and software, cell phones, functional fax machines/scanners, Internet access, etc.)?


  1. LOCAL SUPPORT: Do CSOs raise a significant percentage of their funding from local sources? Are CSOs able to draw upon a core of volunteer and non-monetary support from their communities and constituencies? Are there local sources of philanthropy?
  2. DIVERSIFICATION: Do CSOs typically have multiple/diverse sources of funding? Do most CSOs have enough resources to remain viable for the short-term future?
  3. FINANCIAL MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS: Are there sound financial management systems in place? Do CSOs typically operate in a transparent manner, including independent financial audits and the publication of annual reports with financial statements?
  4. FUNDRAISING: Have many CSOs cultivated a loyal core of financial supporters? Do CSOs engage in any sort of membership outreach and philanthropy development programs?
  5. EARNED INCOME: Do revenues from services, products, or rent from assets supplement the income of CSOs? Do government and/or local business contract with CSOs for services? Do membership-based organizations collect dues?


  1. COOPERATION WITH LOCAL AND FEDERAL GOVERNMENT. Are there direct lines of communication between CSOs and policy makers? Do CSOs and government representatives work on any projects together?
  2. POLICY ADVOCACY INITIATIVES. Have CSOs formed issue-based coalitions and conducted broad-based advocacy campaigns? Have these campaigns been effective at the local level and/or national level at increasing awareness or support for various causes? (Please provide examples, if relevant.)
  3. LOBBYING EFFORTS. Are there mechanisms and relationships for CSOs to participate in the various levels of government decision-making processes? Are CSOs comfortable with the concept of lobbying? Have there been any lobbying successes at the local or national level that led to the enactment or amendment of legislation? (Please provide examples, if relevant.)
  4. LOCAL ADVOCACY FOR LEGAL REFORM. Is there awareness in the wider CSO community of how a favorable legal and regulatory framework can enhance CSO effectiveness and sustainability? Is there a local CSO advocacy effort to promote legal reforms that will benefit CSOs, local philanthropy, etc.?



  1. RANGE OF GOODS AND SERVICES. Do CSOs provide services in a variety of fields, including basic social services (such as health, education, relief, housing, water, or energy) and other areas (such as economic development, environmental protection, or governance and empowerment)? Overall, is the sector’s “product line” diversified?
  2. COMMUNITY RESPONSIVENESS. Do the goods and services that CSOs provide reflect the needs and priorities of their constituents and communities?
  3. CONSTITUENCIES AND CLIENTELE. Are those goods and services that go beyond basic social needs provided to a constituency broader than CSOs’ own memberships? Are some products, such as publications, workshops or expert analysis, marketed to other CSOs, academia, churches, or government?
  4. COST RECOVERY. When CSOs provide goods and services, do they recover any of their costs by charging fees, etc.? Do they have knowledge of the market demand -- and the ability of distinct constituencies to pay -- for those products?
  5. GOVERNMENT RECOGNITION AND SUPPORT. Does the government, at the national and/or local level, recognize the value that CSOs can add in the provision and monitoring of basic social services? Do they provide grants or contracts to CSOs to enable them to provide such services?


  1. INTERMEDIARY SUPPORT ORGANIZATIONS (ISOS) AND CSO RESOURCE CENTERS. Are there ISOs, CSO resource centers, or other means for CSOs to access relevant information, technology, training, and technical assistance throughout the country? Do ISOs and CSO resource centers meet the needs of local CSOs? Do ISOs and resource centers earn some of their operating revenue from earned income (such as fees for service) and other locally generated sources? (Please describe the kinds of services provided by these organizations in your country report.)
  2. LOCAL GRANT MAKING ORGANIZATIONS. Do local community foundations and/or ISOs provide grants, from either locally raised funds or by re-granting international donor funds, to address locally identified needs and projects?
  3. CSO COALITIONS. Do CSOs share information with each other? Is there a network in place that facilitates such information sharing? Is there an organization or committee through which the sector promotes its interests?
  4. TRAINING. Are there capable local CSO management trainers? Is basic CSO management training available in the capital city and in secondary cities? Is more advanced specialized training available in areas such as strategic management, accounting, financial management, fundraising, volunteer management, and board development? Do trainings meet the needs of local CSOs? Are training materials available in local languages?
  5. INTERSECTORAL PARTNERSHIPS. Are there examples of CSOs working in partnership, either formally or informally, with local business, government, and the media to achieve common objectives? Is there awareness among the various sectors of the possibilities for and advantages of such partnerships?


  1. MEDIA COVERAGE. Do CSOs enjoy positive media coverage at the local and national levels? Is a distinction made between public service announcements and corporate advertising? Do the media provide positive analysis of the role CSOs play in civil society?
  2. PUBLIC PERCEPTION OF CSOS. Does the general public have a positive perception of CSOs? Does the public understand the concept of a CSO? Is the public supportive of CSO activity overall?
  3. GOVERNMENT/BUSINESS PERCEPTION OF CSOS. Do the business sector and local and central government officials have a positive perception of CSOs? Do they rely on CSOs as a community resource, or as a source of expertise and credible information?
  4. PUBLIC RELATIONS. Do CSOs publicize their activities or promote their public image? Have CSOs developed relationships with journalists to encourage positive coverage?
  5. SELF-REGULATION. Have CSOs adopted a code of ethics or tried to demonstrate transparency in their operations? Do leading CSOs publish annual reports?


The following section goes into greater depth about the characteristics in each of the seven dimensions of the sector's development. These characteristics and stages are drawn from empirical observations of the sector's development in the region, rather than a causal theory of development. Given the decentralized nature of civil society sectors, many contradictory developments may be taking place simultaneously. Therefore the characteristics of the seven dimensions are not considered as seven distinct steps of development. Instead, these characteristics are clustered into three basic stages: Sustainability Enhanced, Sustainability Evolving, and Sustainability Impeded. The Sustainability Enhanced stage, the highest level of sustainability and development, corresponds to a score between 1 and 3 points; the Sustainability Evolving stage corresponds to a score between 3.1 and 5 points; and the lowest level of development, the Sustainability Impeded stage, corresponds to a score of 5.1 to 7 points on the scale.


Sustainability Enhanced (1-3): The legislative and regulatory framework makes special provisions for the needs of CSOs or gives not-for-profit organizations special advantages such as: significant tax deductions for business or individual contributions, significant tax exemptions for CSOs, open competition among CSOs to provide government-funded services, etc. Legal reform efforts at this point are primarily a local CSO advocacy effort to reform or fine-tune taxation laws, procurement processes, etc. Local and comparative expertise on the CSO legal framework exists, and legal services and materials are available.

Sustainability Evolving (3.1-5): CSOs have little trouble registering and do not suffer from state harassment. They are permitted to engage in a broad range of activities, although taxation provisions, procurement procedures, etc. may inhibit CSO operations and development. Programs seek to reform or clarify existing CSO legislation, to allow CSOs to engage in revenue raising and commercial activities, to allow national or local governments to privatize the provision of selected government services, to address basic tax and fiscal issues for CSOs, etc. The local CSO community understands the need to coalesce and advocate for legal reforms benefiting the CSO sector as a whole. A core of local lawyers begins to specialize in CSO law by providing legal services to local CSOs, advising the CSO community on needed legal reforms, crafting draft legislation, etc.

Sustainability Impeded (5.1-7): The legal environment severely restricts the ability of CSOs to register and/or operate, either through the absence of legal provisions, the confusing or restrictive nature of legal provisions (and/or their implementation), or government hostility towards and harassment of CSOs.


Sustainability Enhanced (1-3): Several transparently governed and capably managed CSOs exist across a variety of sectors. A majority of organizations have clearly defined mission statements, and many CSOs utilize strategic planning techniques. Boards of directors exist, and there is a clear distinction between the responsibilities of board members and staff. CSOs have permanent well-trained staff, and volunteers are widely utilized. Most CSOs have relatively modern equipment that allows them to do their work efficiently. Leading CSOs have successfully developed strong local constituencies.

Sustainability Evolving (3.1-5): Individual CSOs demonstrate enhanced capacity to govern themselves and organize their work. Some individual CSOs maintain full-time staff members and boast an orderly division of labor between board members and staff. CSOs have access to basic office equipment, including computers and fax machines. While these efforts may not have reached fruition yet, leading CSOs understand the need and are making an effort to develop local constituencies.

Sustainability Impeded (5.1-7): CSOs are essentially "one-man shows," completely dependent upon the personality of one or two major figures. They often split apart due to personality clashes. CSOs lack a clearly defined sense of mission. At this stage, CSOs reflect little or no understanding of strategic planning or program formulation. Organizations rarely have a board of directors, by-laws, staff, or more than a handful of active members. CSOs have no understanding of the value or need of developing local constituencies for their work.


Sustainability Enhanced (1-3): A critical mass of CSOs have sound financial management systems in place, including independent audits and the publication of annual reports with financial statements, to win potential donors' confidence. CSOs raise a significant percentage of their funding from local sources, including government, corporate and individual philanthropy, and earned income. Most CSOs have multiple sources of funding, which allow them to remain viable in the short term. A growing economy makes growth in domestic giving possible.

Sustainability Evolving (3.1-5): CSOs pioneer different approaches to financial independence and viability. While still largely dependent on foreign donors, individual CSOs experiment with raising revenues through providing services, winning contracts and grants from municipalities and ministries to provide services, or attempting to attract dues-paying members or domestic donors. However, a depressed local economy may hamper efforts to raise funds from local sources. Training programs address financial management issues and CSOs begin to understand the importance of transparency and accountability from a fundraising perspective, although they may be unable to fully implement transparency measures.

Sustainability Impeded (5.1-7): New CSOs survive from grant to grant and/or depend financially on one foreign sponsor. While many CSOs are created in the hopes of receiving funding, most are largely inactive after attempts to win foreign donor funding fail. Local sources of funding are virtually nonexistent, in part due to a depressed local economy. CSOs have no financial management systems and do not understand the need for financial transparency or accountability.


Sustainability Enhanced (1-3): The CSO sector demonstrates the ability and capacity to respond to changing needs, issues and interests of the community and country. As CSOs secure their institutional and political base, they begin to 1) form coalitions to pursue issues of common interest, including CSO legislation; 2) monitor and lobby political parties; and 3) monitor and lobby legislatures and executive bodies. CSOs demonstrate the ability to mobilize citizens and other organizations to respond to changing needs, issues, and interests. CSOs at this stage of development will review their strategies, and possess an ability to adapt and respond to challenges by sector. A prime motivator for cooperation is self-interest: CSOs may form alliances around shared issues confronting them as nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations.

Sustainability Evolving (3.1-5): Narrowly defined advocacy organizations emerge and become politically active in response to specific issues. Organizations at the evolving level of development may often present their concerns to inappropriate levels of government (local instead of national and vice versa). Weakness of the legislative branch might be revealed or incorrectly assumed, as activists choose to meet with executive branch officials instead ("where the power truly lies"). Beginnings of alternative policy analysis are found at universities and think tanks. Information sharing and networking within the CSO sector to inform and advocate its needs within the government begins to develop.

Sustainability Impeded (5.1-7): Broad umbrella movements, composed of activists concerned with a variety of sectors, and united in their opposition to the Government fall apart or disappear. Some countries at this stage have not even experienced any initial burst of activism. Economic concerns are predominant for most citizens. Passivity, cynicism, or fear exist within the general public. CSO activists are afraid to engage in dialogue with the government, feel inadequate to offer their views and/or do not believe the government will listen to their recommendations. CSOs do not understand the role that they can play in public policy or do not understand the concept of public policy.


Sustainability Enhanced (1-3): Many CSOs provide a wide range of goods and services, which reflect community and/or local donor priorities. Many CSOs deliver products beyond basic social services in such sectors as economic development, environmental protection or democratic governance. CSOs in several sectors have developed a sufficiently strong knowledge of the market demand for their services, the ability of government to contract for the delivery of such services or other sources of funding including private donations, grants and fees, where allowed by law. A number of CSOs find it possible to cross-subsidize those goods and services for which full cost recovery is not viable with income earned from more lucrative goods and services, or with funds raised from other sources. Government bodies, primarily at the local level, recognize the abilities of CSOs and provide grants or contracts to enable them to provide various services.

Sustainability Evolving (3.1-5): The contribution of CSOs to covering the gap in social services is recognized by government, although this is only rarely accompanied by funding in the form of grants or contracts. CSOs recognize the need to charge fees for services and other products—such as publications and workshops—but even where legally allowed, such fees seldom cover their costs. While CSO-provided goods and services respond to community needs, needs are generally identified by foreign donors, or by CSOs in an unsystematic manner. The constituency for CSO expertise, reports and documents begins to expand beyond their own members and the poor to include other CSOs, academia, churches, and government.

Sustainability Impeded (5.1-7): A limited number of CSOs are capable of providing basic social services— such as health, education, relief, or housing—although at a low level of sophistication. Those that do provide such services receive few if any government subsidies or contracts. CSOs that produce publications, technical services or research do so only for their own members or donors. There are rarely attempts to charge fees for goods and services.


Sustainability Enhanced (1-3): CSO intermediary support organizations (ISOs) and/or CSO resource centers are active in all areas of the country and provide advanced training, informational services, legal support and advice, and philanthropic development activities. Efforts are underway to establish and endow community foundations, indigenous grant-making institutions, and/or organizations to coordinate local fundraising. A professional cadre of local experts, consultants, and trainers in nonprofit management exists. CSOs recognize the value of training, although the lack of financial resources may remain a constraint to accessing locally provided training. Topics of available training cover: legal and tax issues for CSOs, accounting and bookkeeping, communication skills, volunteer management, media and public relations skills, sponsorship, and fundraising. CSOs work together and share information through networks and coalitions. CSOs are beginning to develop intersectoral partnerships with business, government, and the media to achieve common objectives.

Sustainability Evolving (3.1-5): ISOs and resource centers are active in major population centers, and provide services such as distributing grants, publishing newsletters, maintaining a membership database, running a library of CSO literature, and providing basic training and consulting services. Other umbrella organizations and networks are beginning to be formed to facilitate networking and coordinate activities of groups of CSOs. Local trainers have the capacity to provide basic organizational training. Donors' forum are formed to coordinate the financial support of international donors, and to develop local corporate philanthropic activities. The value of intersectoral partnerships has not yet been realized.

Sustainability Impeded (5.1-7): There are few, if any, active ISOs or resource centers, networks and umbrella organizations. Those that do operate work primarily in the capital city and provide limited services such as access to computer equipment, faxes, e-mail, and meeting space. Local training and CSO development capacity is extremely limited and undeveloped. Primarily programs of international donors provide training and technical assistance. There is no coordinated effort to develop philanthropic traditions, improve fundraising, or establish community foundations. CSO efforts to work together are limited by a perception of competition for foreign donor support and mistrust of other organizations.


Sustainability Enhanced (1-3): This stage is characterized by growing public knowledge of and trust in CSOs, and increased rates of volunteerism. CSOs coalesce to mount campaigns to increase public trust. Widespread examples of good working relationships between CSOs and national and local governments exist, and can result in public-private initiatives or CSO advisory committees for city councils and ministries. Media covers the work of CSOs, and CSOs approach media and public relations in a professional manner. Increased accountability, transparency, and self-regulation exist within the CSO sector, including existence of a generally accepted code of ethics or a code of conduct.

Sustainability Evolving (3.1-5): The media does not tend to cover CSOs because it considers them weak and ineffective, or irrelevant. Individual CSOs realize the need to educate the public, to become more transparent, and to seek out opportunities for media coverage, but do not have the skills to do so. As a result, the general population has little understanding of the role of CSOs in society. Individual local governments demonstrate strong working relationships with their local CSOs, as evidenced by their participation in advisory committees, consultations, public-private initiatives, and the funding of an occasional grant, but this is not yet widespread.

Sustainability Impeded (5.1-7): The public and/or government are uninformed or suspicious of CSOs as institutions. Most of the population does not understand the concept of "nongovernmental," "nonprofit,” or “civil society,” including government officials, business leaders and journalists. Media coverage may be hostile, due to suspicion of a free but uninformed media, or due to the hostility of an authoritarian government-controlled media. Charges of treason may be issued against CSOs. Due to a hostile atmosphere caused by an authoritarian government, if individuals or businesses donate to CSOs at all, they do so anonymously.