Setting Up An Administrative System for a CSO: 5 Things to Consider

Setting Up An Administrative System for a CSO: 5 Things to Consider

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Having worked in the non-governmental and civil society sector for more than twenty years, one observation I can confidently state is that good administration system is a key part of running your organisation effectively and smoothly. Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) are organised institutions that not only deliver services but also manage staff personnel, oversee the administration and maintain cash funds.

As recipients of grants from various sources and development partners, they are required to uphold the principles of accountability and transparency. One of the strong indicators of these principles is keeping up-to-date records and having policies and manuals in place, based on which the day-to-day operations of the organisation are to be carried out.

Donors prefer to work with grant recipients that have systems in place prior to providing funding support to them. However, many CSOs fail to keep up-to-date records and operational procedures either due to lack of awareness or because they do not have the skills to develop and maintain them.

The administration is the management of an organisation’s affairs and systems in such a way that the organisation performs effectively and efficiently.  Good office administration is one of the key elements associated with a high level of workplace productivity, staff retention and growth of an organisation. It is very difficult to run an organisation without a good administration system.  It is, therefore, the duty of management of an organisation to ensure that systems, rules and regulations are in place and applied in an organisation to enable it to deliver on its mandate in an effective and efficient way.

One of the dimensions for measuring the sustainability of civil society organisations is organisational capacity.  The 2016 CSO Sustainability Index for Sub-Saharan Africa holds that in nine countries in sub-Saharan Africa, organisational capacity deteriorated, often because of funding shortfalls and the nearly ubiquitous challenge of retaining qualified staff.  About half of the reports for 2016 (Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Guinea, Kenya, Malawi, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, South Sudan, Tanzania, Uganda, and Zambia) mention staffing deficits as a key impediment to organisational growth. This is brought about by low pay, an inability to hire employees on anything other than a project-by-project basis, and an overreliance on junior staff and volunteers. These challenges could stem from the lack of or poorly set up administrative systems.

In light of the above, there is a need for CSOs to consider the following five things in setting up robust and effective administrative systems. An administration system consists of different aspects and tools, such as i) clear organisational structure; ii) policies and procedures that guide and manage your administration systems; iii) good record-keeping of important documents and day-to-day records; iv)systems and tools to ensure good communication in your office; v) A positive and welcoming office environment.

Clear Organisational Structure 
CSOs should have clearly defined structures which clarify the lines of authority and how work is shared within the organisation. It should show the different departments, the number of staff and facilitate the delegation of responsibilities. A clearly defined organisational structure makes employees feel part of the organisation, shows outsiders how the organisation is structured and its main areas of work. A good organisational structure should help the organisation reach its objectives.

Policies and Procedures 
Every organisation needs written policies and procedures to ensure that employees know how to perform their jobs correctly.  A policy is a statement of guidelines or rules on a given topic. A procedure describes the steps used to perform a given task or project. Examples include human resource policy, procedures manual, information and technology policy, travel policy, just to name a few.

Good Record-Keeping 
A solid administrative system needs an efficient filing system either electronic or manual.  If an organisation’s documents are easy to find and are all systematically kept in one place, it will be much easier for staff to trace the documents and information they need. In addition, when the time comes to report to the governing body, funders, auditors or members, the information needed to compile the reports will be much more readily accessible.

Systems and Tools for Good Communication 
Communication is central to a good administration system. Good communication among and between employees and managers greatly increases productivity. Rather than wasting time on clearing up confusions caused by a breakdown in communication, workers can spend time on their duties.  Additionally, good communication allows employees to fully understand what their assignments are.  This results in confidence in their work and getting the desired results more quickly and efficiently. Employees are also less likely to make mistakes when communication is promoted in the workplace. Employees can experience an increase in morale, productivity and commitment if they are able to communicate up and down the communication chain in an organisation.

Welcoming and Conducive Office Environment 
Receiving your clients and visitors well is an extremely important part of running your office effectively. The atmosphere that you create in your office is therefore very important and is often the first step in building relationships with the people who use your service or come to visit your organisation and to create a positive image of your organisation. A conducive working environment is more than just ensuring a comfortable physical space; it is also about creating the ‘hardware’ which aims to strengthen office ties not just among employees, but between managers and employees.

In conclusion, whether a CSO has a small office or a big office, it is very important that the systems in the office are well run. Good administration systems will allow your organisation to function more effectively. There must be clear reporting lines, policies and procedures must be in place. The organisation must also document its activities properly, have these records well organised and stored and be able to access information easily. It is also critical for the organisation to develop and sustain a conducive working environment for its employees and cordial relationship with its stakeholders especially for all who visit its office premise.

It is important to consider a good administration system as one of the key foundations for high-level workplace productivity and efficiency. It is very demanding to run an organisation without effective administrative systems. Bear in mind that it is the gateway to the success of any organisation.

Disclaimer: This blog post is provided for information purposes only. Opinions expressed herein are not in any way intended to inflame passions. The views expressed in this message are solely those of the authors in their private capacities, except where the authors specifically state them to be the views of a named organisation. WACSI and its partners are not liable for any claims which may arise as a result of the contents of this post and do not accept responsibility for the security of information contained herein.

Implement and maintain basic administration systems of a CBO-Level 4 – Learner Manual – learning materials were generated by the Development Practice project, hosted by the Sustainability Institute and in partnership with Community Connections, AIDS Consortium, and Keystone. This project generated a set of competency standards with development practitioners in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban, between 2005 and 2009.


NOTE: Opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.







  1. Victoria Hansen-Sackey

    Says September 21, 2022 at 9:58 pm

    The article is very useful

  2. Victoria Hansen-Sackey

    Says September 21, 2022 at 9:59 pm

    Very useful article

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Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.