A new point seven

079/365v2 Heads or Tails? (Flickr/Mark Seton CC BY-NC 2.0)
Written by Terence Wood

079/365v2 Heads or Tails? (Flickr/Mark Seton CC BY-NC 2.0)Once, in happier times, 0.7% was the cornerstone of aid advocacy. It was the target that aid’s supporters extolled their politicians to meet. Zero point seven per cent of gross national income (GNI) given as official development assistance (ODA). Australia never got there, but it promised to come close, with a bipartisan commitment to giving 0.5% of GNI as ODA.

That was then though, and now, in the age of the aid cut, 0.5% is gone and 0.7% is a pipe dream. It shouldn’t be. As the United Kingdom has shown, aid is such a small slice of government spending that the point seven target could be met easily, even in a time of deficits. For the time being though, it’s out of the question. There’s no public enthusiasm. Other than the Greens, there’s no political enthusiasm. And, while there is excellent work being done by the Campaign for Australian Aid, for now it is defensive work, pushing against further aid cuts, rather than pushing for major increases.

As I sat at the ‘Creating a healthy domestic environment for aid’ workshop that the Development Policy Centre held earlier this year (the workshop report is here [pdf]) I mused about what would be required to change aid’s fortunes in Australia. My answer, of course, was “lots of things” (and as the workshop report shows, important work is already being done). But as my mind bounced back and forth between different bright ideas, one constraint kept coming back: money. Campaigning takes lots of it. Advocacy isn’t cheap either. Money. Private sector lobbyists have oodles of the stuff.

And so, in this aid-unfriendly age, I want to offer a new point seven target for Australian aid supporters. This being that Australian aid NGOs should give 0.7% of the revenue they receive from private donations to fund a collective effort to persuade the Australian public and their elected representatives that Australia should give more, and better, ODA.

How much money would meeting this target put in the hands of a collective campaign? The chart below provides the numbers. In case 0.7% (70 cents out of every $100) sounds unrealistic to you, I’ve also included some intermediate steps: 0.25%, 0.34% and 0.5% (these numbers are, respectively, the aid/GNI ratio last financial year, aid/GNI at its recent peak, and the old Australian target).

How much money NGOs could contribute to a collective campaign through various targets

A new point seven chart

To calculate these figures I used the combined 2014 revenue from private donations for all ACFID member NGOs plus the five largest non-members (I took the data from the ACFID Annual Report). (‘Private donations’ excludes revenue from DFAT and other government departments, but includes all public donations from within Australia. If I exclude goods in kind and include only revenue for international work 0.7% delivers $6.1 million rather than $7.4 million. Email me if you want full data, calculations and assumptions.)

To give these numbers some context, the Campaign for Australian Aid’s budget last financial year was about $1,000,000. Point seven would bring in over seven times that amount of money. Perhaps not enough to turn Jacqui Lambie into an aid supporter, but more than enough to give aid a loud campaigning voice with plenty left over to fund other work like educating politicians about development.

In advocating for my point seven target I am not suggesting NGOs are currently doing nothing. NGO funding for the Campaign for Australian Aid is about $150,000 annually and some NGOs provide other funding for campaigns. Also, in 2015 ACFID member NGOs contributed $1.4 million to the running of ACFID (ACFID is not a campaigning group, but as a peak body it provides valuable public goods to the Australian NGO community.) And some NGOs employ their own advocacy staff. What I’m suggesting would be on top of these contributions.

What I am suggesting would also come at the cost of NGO’s own valuable programmes in the field. This would be a painful trade off. I understand this.

And yet, by my estimates the Australian government aid budget is about four times the amount of money that Australian NGOs receive from the Australian community. Government aid — its volume, its quality — matters a lot if you care about development outcomes. And when you factor in other development issues that could be campaigned on (migration and climate change for a start) it is hard to escape the fact that the behaviour of the Australian government is crucial to almost everything NGOs value. Surely, then, it makes sense to sacrifice a bit more to have a louder collective voice in shaping government policy?

After all, I’m not asking for a lot. Just an extra 70 cents out of every 100 dollars. When we were campaigning for the old point seven target, we always said it wasn’t much sacrifice to make, and that it would do a world of good. I think that’s just as true with my new point seven target too.

Terence Wood is a Research Fellow at the Development Policy Centre. Terence’s research interests include aid policy, the politics of aid, and governance in developing countries. His PhD research focused on voter behaviour in the Solomon Islands elections. Prior to commencing PhD study Terence worked for the New Zealand government aid program.

Terence Wood

Terence Wood is a Research Fellow at the Development Policy Centre. He heads our program of research into Australian and New Zealand aid. Terence’s research interests include aid policy, the politics of aid, and governance in developing countries. He has recently finished his PhD, studying voter behaviour in the Solomon Islands elections. Prior to commencing PhD study Terence worked for the New Zealand government aid program.

7 Comments

  • Terence just on the numbers the accreditation criteria is quite strict as government grants depend on it, so it is harder to ‘cook the books’ on the level of expenditure on these activities. There are 2m Australian supporting NGOs most of which have internal campaigns on social justice and aid issues, so while a collective campaign would be good whether it would add a lot may be moot.

  • Good idea Terence! I look forward to reading your blogs not just on improving aid effectiveness but also aid advocacy effectiveness!

      • Terence you seem to be implying that the Campaign for Australian aid is the only game in town (or that it shoulde be the biggest game in town). A quick glance at Oxfam latest annual report has around $4m going to public policy and outreach and global education both essentially campaigning/awareness type activities using different methods (and we could debate the efficacy of each: I tend to favour global education).

        I would think across the NGO sector it would be close to $50m going to advocacy/education type activities, so not peanuts and certainly more than the 0.7% you suggest. It is probably close to 5% of total expenditure which I think should be closer to 10%. Maybe you meant 7%.

        • Patrick,

          You wrote:
          “Terence you seem to be implying that the Campaign for Australian aid is the only game in town (or that it shoulde be the biggest game in town).”

          Can I point you to the passage in my blog post when I wrote:

          “In advocating for my point seven target I am not suggesting NGOs are currently doing nothing. NGO funding for the Campaign for Australian Aid is about $150,000 annually and some NGOs provide other funding for campaigns. Also, in 2015 ACFID member NGOs contributed $1.4 million to the running of ACFID (ACFID is not a campaigning group, but as a peak body it provides valuable public goods to the Australian NGO community.) And some NGOs employ their own advocacy staff. What I’m suggesting would be on top of these contributions.”

          So no, I am obviously not suggesting the Campaign for Australian aid is (or ought to be) the only game in town, or that NGOs do not contribute in other ways. Please don’t misrepresent my argument.

          What I am suggesting is that, given the good work that the Campaign currently does with its much smaller budget, through >$7M extra devoted to a collective campaigning effect (which needn’t be the Campaign although I can’t see why it shouldn’t be) NGOs would provide themselves with a loud collective campaigning voice, in addition to the other stuff they do.

          You wrote:
          “I would think across the NGO sector it would be close to $50m going to advocacy/education type activities, so not peanuts and certainly more than the 0.7% you suggest.”

          As I presume you know, for most NGOs it is very hard to disentangle the types of spending that they report under ‘community education & advocacy’. Some such spending fits genuinely into these categories but other spending is much closer to advertising. While other spending is government relations work and lobbying on their own behalf. All of this is fine with me. But it should not be confused with collective campaigning about aid.

          Moreover, as best I can tell from a quick look at ACFID members survey data, the median Australian aid NGO devotes 0.00% of its revenue to community education work. Some spend a lot more, so the mean is higher. But the typical NGO does not. Advocacy spend, which isn’t counted, would add to this figure. Nevertheless a median of 0 suggests to me there’s scope to do a lot more with a little more.

          Have a great weekend.

          • Sorry I did not wish to misrepresent your argument so apologies, but the question is whether collective campaigns the way to go and the extent of buy in. The short answer is yes up to a point. Now Action fo World Development of the early 1970s was funded to the tune of $20m in today’s dollars but then there was less individual agency work and it was global education rather than campaigns. I do think it is better to aggregate the individual efforts in this type of discussion. The median across 140 agencies does not tell us much but an aggregate of the top ten or 20 will tell us something useful. The accounting rules and the ACFID code and accreditation criteria and processes make it harder for agencies to cook the books. These figures are checked and there are consequences for fiddling the figures.

            • Hi Patrick,

              That’s a useful, thought-provoking comment. It is interesting to hear of historical precedents. This discussion is now also proving very useful for me in clarifying my own thinking. Thanks

              Here’s why I think a collective NGO campaign is important (worth at least 0.7% of NGOs’ private donation sourced revenue).

              As I’ve worked on the domestic drivers of aid policy, one point that has come up a lot (including from politicians) is that Australia has, since the waning of Make Poverty History, until very recently, been under-powered in two areas that are politically important for good aid: (1) something that is visible, and looks and feels like a large pro-aid public movement; (2) lots of direct lobbying of politicians. Both approaches are needed. And, given the good work now being done with much less, I think both would receive a very helpful shot in the arm with 7 million dollars.

              I also think aid advocacy is at its most effective when it is collective – from a sector, rather than individual NGOs.

              I think you’re right that development education and NGOs’ own individual lobbying are also very useful. But I don’t think think they’re a substitute for a vibrant campaign from the sector.

              Then, briefly, on the numbers:

              1. As I understand it (I’m open to correction) the reporting of advocacy spending isn’t covered by the ACFID Code of Conduct. So we don’t know what NGOs mean when they declare spending in this area. In Oxfam’s case, I’m sure it will be excellent work. But that’s because they’re an advocacy-oriented NGO. This means they’re an outlier in this area. I suspect most other NGOs devote a lot less to their own advocacy work.

              2. You are right though that the reporting of community education is covered by the Code of Conduct and that this constrains member NGOs from claiming anything too outrageous. However, my sense is that quite a lot of what is reported on still isn’t the sort of sustained development education work that both you and I would like to see. I’m open to correction on this though, so if you have some good examples, please do let me know.

              Also, I think I’m right in providing the median for all NGOs for whom data exists as a measure of sector effort in this area. However, I think you’re right in saying if we’re just interested in how much money is going into community education we should look at the big NGOs (where the bulk of the cash is). The median for the top 20 (community education spend/total international revenue in 2014) was 2.08%. I’d be happy to join you in a campaign to see this increased.

              For now though I think the most urgent need is for a concerted campaigning effort. I think you’re right that the collective action involved would be hard. This is why I’ve proposed a very modest target: 0.7%.

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