18 June 2015

Rudimentary guide to building a new NGO

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Point #1 on my bucket list is to set up my own NGO. It’s always been a dream of mine and I am positive I will do it someday… but I have a lot of work to do before getting there. There are so many steps and considerations that you have to keep in mind. But do not fear! I have done part of the work for all o you ambitious, visionary, entrepreneurial types out there.
1.      Find your passion

You like reading, travelling, coffee and yoga. But what are you PASSIONATE about? What makes you quiver with excitement? What makes your heart throb? What will you defend with your life when it comes up at dinner with your conservative one-track-mind uncles? Not sure yet? You have already failed.
You can’t base an organisation on something you like. You won’t be willing to spend sleepless nights and work your heart out – because that’s what will be necessary – for something you just ‘like’.
Have I not broken your spirit yet? Watch this video and Professor Larry Smith will blatantly tell you why you will fail.
2.     Work for an NGO before creating one

So you think you’re so cool that you can build your own NGO without even knowing how one works? Did you ever see a Prime Minister run a country when they had never even been in politics before? Well let me tell you, if such a PM has ever existed, then I am pretty happy I didn’t live in their country when they were in power. 
As Verge Magazine puts it, "as the director of an NGO, you'll need to know how to balance a budget, how to manage volunteers and how to write funding proposals, all the while remaining accountable to your board and your donors." You will probably agree with me when I say that I would much prefer learning about all of this and make my rookie mistakes when I am not the one accountable for it all.
3.     Find an idea

You have a passion and you have experience, so you’re on the right track. I hate to break this to you though, but do you know how many NGOs are out there? And more precisely, do you know how many NGOs out there are all working for exactly the same cause? I don’t know and frankly I don’t want to either because I feel like it would be enough to discourage any entrepreneur. So how do you break through the masses and win the Nobel Peace Prize? Well, you have to have one helluva good, original idea.
For example, this is the step where I am stuck at the moment. I know I am extremely passionate about climate change and sustainable development... but I am not quite sure what to do about it. It’s great to have a passion, but your passion has to have a vehicle. And personally, I don’t feel like rallying, marching and screaming clever slogans will be enough to be considered a good and original idea.
4.     Find a way to measure results

No matter what you do, no matter how great your idea and your cause are, you need to find a way of measuring your success. If you can’t weigh your impact, there is absolutely no way that you will be able to see whether your hard work is leading to anything.
If you want to found an NGO, it is probably because you want to bring about change in a certain field. You must be careful not to measure your success based on how busy you are, how many networking sessions you go to or how many workshops you facilitate. You want to find a way to measure the change itself and to keep your organisation’s raison d’être in mind.
5.     Find your pals

You may have come this far with a small group of people driven by the same passion. If not, then you better go find them quickly. You’re intelligent, I am sure you can see why you can’t do this alone. There will be SO MUCH stuff you have to think about, and you would be pretty pretentious to think you are an expert at all of it (graphic designing, creating a website, managing finances, developing policies, finding volunteers, finding beneficiaries, etc., etc., etc.).
That being said, you can’t just pick any old friend that’s just looking to get out of their job in a café. It is crucial for you to find trustworthy partners that are equally passionate about your cause. You will have so much on your plate that you can’t afford to deal with, a partner who questions all of your decisions (although you have to be able to take constructive criticism) or worry about a partner who is not doing a good job whereas they are meant to be helping you.
6.     Plant a money tree

I’m kidding, they don’t exist.
If a NFP is what you decide to go for, you’re probably expecting for money to be a little tight. I mean NFP does stand for NOT-for-PROFIT, so it’s not like you’ll have much financial leeway to work with. And when miracle! you do come into money, there will probably be discouraging amounts of paperwork to deal and there might be some strings attached as well.
Matador Network raises an interesting argument when it comes to funding: ‘The quality of the work a NGO does and the amount of its funding are often inversely related. That is to say, the NGOs with less money do better work per hour and dollar spent. The crucial point is to minimise your NGO’s need for money.’
I can already hear you saying ‘yeah but I need SOME money to live’. Fair point my friend, and here are three easy ways to fill your coffers:
1.       Add a PayPal donation button on your organisation’s website.
2.       Launch a crowd funding campaign. Big shout out to my team at GoodOnYou who is preparing to launch there’s!
3.       Team up with a larger NFP or charity that can receive tax deductable donations on your behalf. They can then use that money to give your organisation a hand.
7.     Build a network

Vicky Ferguson, director of Glad’s House in Mombasa, Kenya explains to The Guardian that ‘when you are starting out, you may be afraid to approach the ‘big boys’ but collaboration is crucial’.  
As we said in #5 you just can’t be extremely knowledgeable in everything. Through your organisation, you will be tackling complex issues that will need expert solutions. NGO/NFP does not only mean volunteerism and fundraising. You are going to need a professional backbone if you want any credibility, and this will come by seeking advice from the big players that are already established in the space you are entering. Don’t see them as competitors but rather as mentors that you can look up to for guidance.

As you grow, you’ll be relieved to have a solid network of professional acquaintances that you can turn to for counselling.  Remember, bigger organisations have started where you are. You can look at what they have done to see what has worked and what has failed and ultimately learn from their mistakes.

Although Alexandra didn’t know much about conference production before first coming across this opportunity with Akolade, she has quickly become assionate about her job. Gaining in-depth knowledge in a variety of new fields without going through exam stress? Who could ask for more? If ever you speak to Alexandra and wonder what that funny accent is, it is from Quebec, French-speaking Canada. Do not hesitate to ask Alexandra about her former life on the 47th parallel; she will be thrilled to talk to you about snow storms, skiing and -35⁰c!

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