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This article presents the findings of a study of selected religious and secular non-governmental organisations (NGOs) working on HIV/AIDS in Nigeria. The study sought to identify whether, and in what circumstances, so-called faith-based organisations (FBOs) have distinctive characteristics with respect to their goals, values, organisational characteristics, and activities, compared to secular NGOs. It found that the FBOs studied are perceived by their staff, beneficiaries, and local observers as possessing some distinctive features and comparative advantages relative to secular NGOs. It argues, however, that a standardised donor preference for FBOs is inappropriate and may be counter-productive, since NGOs cannot be simply categorised as ‘religious’ or ‘secular’, there is still insufficient evidence to assess the outcomes and impact of their HIV/AIDS-related activities, and their effectiveness is influenced not only by their characteristics and strategies but also by the context in which they operate.

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