Build a Better World as a Humanitarian Organization

Learning Objectives

After completing this unit, you’ll be able to:

  • Explain what makes a humanitarian organization unique.
  • Describe the culture of a typical humanitarian organization.
  • Discuss the importance to a humanitarian organization of communications and data tracking.

We jump right in here to talk about Impact Management in the context of how it applies to humanitarian organizations. If you haven’t already completed the Impact Management Basics module, we recommend you do so first to learn fundamental principles and key vocabulary, like strategic evidence plans and theory of change.

Responding to Crises and Disaster

As a key stakeholder at a humanitarian international nongovernmental organization (INGO), sometimes also called a civil society organization, you’re doing some of the world’s greatest work. You’re driven to ease suffering during moments of crisis and incredible hardship, when events such as natural disasters and catastrophic conflict situations arise—and that’s not easy.

Let’s consider the real-world example of Mercy Corps, which responded to a 2020 port explosion in Beirut. Not only was the world in the midst of a pandemic, but the explosion took place in a country where 156 out of every 1,000 people were refugees or displaced. Mercy Corps’ success in this scenario hinged on the ability of its staff and partners on the ground to respond with flexibility and speed, and to arm themselves with precisely the skills and supplies that were needed.

You can imagine how an organization like Mercy Corps was able to benefit from organized data that allowed it to efficiently and immediately shift resources where they were needed. The same scenario can apply to any other humanitarian INGO, so consider some of the ways your own organization responds to the unexpected and reconsiders where to direct resources.

By taking a more thoughtful approach to data management, those decisions can be much easier to make. You might be surprised to learn that some of the world’s more well-known humanitarian INGOs—Oxfam, Plan International, and Catholic Relief Services, for example—put the power of Salesforce to work for more efficient mission delivery!

Family being rescued from a natural disaster by humanitarian organization team members

The Culture of Humanitarian Organizations

Humanitarian INGOs are tailored to address special crises on a regional or worldwide scale, and this is reflected in their unique services offered, resource requirements, and leadership. Although humanitarian INGOs benefit from Impact Management strategies in different ways, let’s first acknowledge some of their similarities in purpose, structure, and accountability.


Humanitarian INGOs pursue a mission that benefits humanity. That mission is codified in international humanitarian law and grounded in principles like humanity, neutrality, impartiality, and independence. The aim is to serve and protect the most vulnerable people on the planet. An ability to raise funds and use data in their missions facilitates achievement of their goals.


Revenue is not distributed to owners or management; rather, it’s reinvested back into the mission and activities.


Control generally lies with a governing board of trustees or directors, whose responsibility is to ensure that the organization fulfills its purpose. 


Donors, funders, volunteers, and program recipients benefit when an organization’s accountability and reputation are without question. Transparency and accountability help to ensure that resources will be there for the next crisis.

Need for Flexibility

Humanitarian INGOs working in development and peace-building work are grappling with incredibly complex missions. Imagine working day after day in the midst of chaos—resources stretched thin, team members having no choice but to wear multiple hats and think on their feet.

Because these organizations are working in crises and emergent situations, resources are lean and constantly changing. Leadership or chain of command can be difficult to establish, and shifting resources impact opportunities for growth.

What’s Important to Humanitarian Organizations

An Impulse to Help

Given these challenges, some might wonder why anyone would be driven to work within a humanitarian INGO. We understand that you do it for the intrinsic benefits—your belief in the importance of greater positive change in the world, your commitment to making an immediate impact, and your desire to help those in need.

“Humanitarians have a personal conviction whereby if you see and are aware of human beings in profound need of help, you have an impulse to help.”

—Jens Larke, Deputy Spokesperson of the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Assistance

Partnerships Are Key to Success

If you’re like most stakeholders at humanitarian INGOs, you frequently leverage relationships and partnerships with individuals outside your organization—volunteers and donors, for example—who are a key component in delivering on your mission. Increasingly, maintaining those relationships simply comes down to a need for more efficient communication and the ability to share targeted data. Tools that can monitor the use of limited assets are vital in demonstrating an organization’s efficiency, and that’s where Impact Management comes in.

A customer relationship management (CRM) platform like Salesforce guides humanitarian INGOs toward success by providing the communications and data tracking they’ll need for more efficient service delivery and Impact Management.

Next, we’ll explore how humanitarian INGO stakeholders can put Impact Management principles into action.


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