Starting an NGO

Updated: Mar 7, 2020

If you’re thinking of starting an NGO, then it’s good to ask yourself the following questions:

What is my reason for starting the NGO? If you see an NGO as a way to make a profit for yourself, DON’T DO IT! It is fraud to use grants and funding intended to assist others, to enrich yourself.

Are you passionate about the issue you want to address? NGO work is sometimes lonely and hard work, and usually involves sacrifices. Change is sometimes slow to come, so you need to be prepared to be in it for a while. If you’re likely to get bored, or tired, DON’T DO IT! If there’s an NGO in your area, consider volunteering there to get some experience of NGO life.

Have you done your homework? You might have all the right reasons for starting an NGO, and be passionate about the social issue you’re hoping to target – but that still may not be enough. It helps to spend some time on the ground, finding out more about the issue you are hoping to address. It is helpful to speak to all the stakeholders: the potential beneficiaries, people you might want to join you to run your NGO and community members. You need to test your ideas, and it’s essential to get community buy-in.

Are you doing unnecessary work? Although NGOs doing similar things may not always want to work together, it makes sense to try and join another NGO that is already working to address the issue you want to address. Personal pride and refusal to accept leadership from another can sometimes be an obstacle that stops organisations from effective collaboration. You are all working towards the same goal, which is to address a particular social issue, so try your best to work together.

Good people? If you are hoping to start the NGO with others, consider the following: (1) are they honest and trustworthy?; (2) are they diligent – can they, and do they want to, work hard?; (3) are their motives right – if they think that they will benefit themselves by getting rich – run! You do not want this kind of person around; (4) are they passionate about the cause?; (4) have you seen that they are capable and trustworthy in the way they approach other things?; (5) do they bring good skills and/or knowledge to the table?

Who will support you? Do you have a group of passionate people around you (or even one or two friends) whom you trust, and can go to for sound advice? Will they check your motives and ask you hard questions? Will they tell you when you need to take a break and look after yourself? As mentioned before, NGO work is often hard work, so it is good to have people around you who will support you.

How will you fund your NGO? This is a big question. More and more, people are making the mistake of thinking that NGOs are get-rich-quick schemes. Fraud amongst NGOs is a thing, and there are a huge number of NGOs in South Africa all competing for funding. This has caused donors to apply strict funding criteria. This means that you cannot rely on funding from an external party. It is becoming more common for NGOs to find ways to support themselves, so that they are more sustainable. For example, they might charge their beneficiaries a small, reduced cost for the services they provide; they may sell items for an income (crafts, produce from their vegetable garden, donated secondhand items etc.) or they may render certain services to the market, for an income.

How are your administrative skills? If you register a non-profit organisation with the Department of Social Development, or a Non-profit Company, with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission, you will need to submit certain information on an annual basis. You will also need to keep records of money coming into, and leaving, your NGO.

This article was first published here.

Here is a useful diagram to guide your thinking on this.


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