Once again with the top NGOs list?

A year ago, something called the Global Journal published a list of the top 100 best NGOs. It was a terrible idea, as I described at the time in a post titled: “Lies, damned lies, and ranking lists: The Top 100 Best NGOs” (sometimes I have the subtlety of an after-school special). My objection was not so much to their methodology (because they had no methodology to speak of) but rather to the fact that they made the list at all. I don’t believe there’s a legitimate or sensible way to rank NGOs, and I don’t believe that attempts to do so are a net positive for the social sector.

I do believe the rankings are a net positive for the organizations that can tout their rankings and for the publication that ranks them — at the expense of the broader marketplaces for social funding and ideas.

I ended my piece last year with advice for this year’s list: don’t do it. The only response I got to my criticism was a confused and rambling comment from GJ’s editor. I guess ultimately they ignored my advice, because they just released the 2013 list. Sort of. The list itself is only accessible if you purchase the magazine. From the website, there’s little evidence that the methodology has improved. Given the lack of transparency last time and the fact that the whole thing is behind a paywall now, I’m not hopeful that anything is different.

From twitter conversations, it seems that the winners have been notified. They are starting to publicize their rankings. As I said last year, I don’t blame them one bit. I’m happy to see that the NGO topping the charts has questioned the rankings and discussed alternatives on its blog, though the organization’s main site still brags about the result.

In all aspects of life, simple ranked lists are alluring. They allow us to outsource our own judgment. But there are better ways to highlight good work and educate the general public on which organizations are worth supporting.