You can actually set up the next big NGO, and maybe win a Nobel prize for your wonderful contribution to the society. Isn’t that amazing? But wait! Before rehearsing your Nobel prize acceptance speech, have you given enough thought to the sine qua non of setting up and sustaining an NGO? No? It’s not too late. Let’s start with the basics.

A Non-Governmental Organization (NGO), according to www.ngo.org, “is any non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level.” In Nigeria, they play important roles, often filling gaps which the government is unable to while complementing existing government activities. These organizations, small or large, work in the health, civil society and other sectors of society. Individuals and groups often set up NGOs with altruistic motives, with the intention of impacting positive societal change.

Having worked for an NGO for several years, I know that most people assume that starting and sustaining one is a laid-back affair. On the contrary, it is in fact as critical as starting up a for-profit business. It really does not matter if it is on a small-scale basis, or whether you have vast amounts of cash, there are key guides to consider. Here’s what you need to know.

Legal requirements

A lot of times, enthusiastic newbies fail to consider the legal requirements of embarking on such a venture. Someone wakes up, scribbles an interesting name for a proposed NGO, then proceeds to print branded T-shirts. That’s not bad for effort, but you need a more structured process. For proper legal status, your NGO must be registered with the relevant body; the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC). Take ownership of the process, and as much as possible, avoid using a proxy. That way, you will be in possession of all necessary documents and minimize the chances of a disaster.

Now, you’ll need to establish the following:

  • The legal obligations it will be subject to.
  • Your goals and objectives.
  • The problems you intend to solve.

Equally important, you’ll need a lawyer during this process. Having a lawyer at your side will keep you updated on the rights and obligations of the registered NGO you’ll soon be running.

Acquiring and sustaining funds

When setting up an NGO, you must be very clear on the source and availability of funds. You can’t begin with the, ‘Well, I just started’ or ‘Let’s see how it goes’ attitude.

Having said that, let’s see if you can answer these questions:

  • Do I have funds for the activities I’d like my NGO to embark on?
  • Are there government or other organizations’ grants I can apply for?
  • Can the NGO sustain itself on a long-term basis?
  • Do I have an efficient structure?
  • What are my planned activities, and who will be responsible for each activity?

Run your NGO like you would run a business.

Look, I get it. The society seriously needs solutions and you’re revved up for the challenge. Your idea is the best, most unique and different one and you’re in line to becoming the next Mother Theresa. Listen though, other NGOs are profit-oriented and well, only focus on making profit. If you want your NGO to be around for a long time, you’ll need to integrate these profit-making elements to your operations:

  • Have a defined strategy for hiring, operations and other organizational processes.
  • Have a strong financial system.
  • Have a target audience? A robust marketing strategy will cater to them.
  • Have a marketing budget.
  • Decide on what strategy to apply. Person-to-person? Social media? Flyers and posters? Or a mix of different strategies?
  • How about record-keeping? Do you have a plan?
  • How often would you produce reports? Bi-monthly, quarterly or annually?

The above requirements are essential, especially if your NGO’s activities are grant-funded (which means you’ll have to submit regular reports to your handlers).  The sad reality is not everyone gets grants at the start, but proper record-keeping would prove very helpful should you decide to apply for funds in the future.

#MotherlandMoguls should know that NGOs are businesses too. Your profit is in the satisfaction of helping people in profound ways.

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