Welcome to part two of FundsforNGOs guide to establishing an NGO. People all around the world dream of setting up organisation’s that can change lives and make a positive impact on their communities. Thousands of NGOs are started every year with the best intentions and hopes creating lasting change, but most will fail within the first two years.
We’ve produced this guide to support budding social entrepreneurs to understand the NGO environment, what they need to do and the challenges they will face. Our decades of experience working with development organisation’s around the world, from multilateral giants like the United Nations to grassroots organisations in the poorest countries in the world, have been invested in this guide to provide you with the the best advice and tools you will need to make your new NGO a success.
If you haven’t read part one of our guide already, make sure you don’t miss out on the important first three steps by reading it here.
4. Legal Gymnastics
Most charitable organisations need to be established in such a way that they are able to receive donated funds, whether it is from government, individuals or foreign sources. This normally requires that the new organisation formally registers with its country’s government. Every country is different and will have different requirements for organisation’s wishing to register as an NGO.
In developed countries there are often umbrella organisation’s that manage charities and similar organisation’s, such as the Charities Commission in the United Kingdom. The first thing you should do is check if there is a government body that is able to support your NGO to become registered. Even if there is not a dedicated organisation, there may be departments within other government bodies that deal with tax, social services or healthcare that may be able to provide suitable support and advice.
If you cannot access official government support to register your NGO, which can often be the case in developing countries, you should seek out representatives of other registered NGOs in your community and region. These organisation’s will have already completed the registration process and will be able to offer advice and guidance about exactly what you will need to do. Try to speak to the founders of the organisation in particular as they will likely have direct experience and knowledge of the process themselves.
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Registering your new organisation as an NGO can be difficult, especially in countries with less developed registration schemes. It may well be time consuming and confusing which makes for a frustrating experience but don’t get disheartened. Persistence is the most important quality at this stage, you need to be able to overcome setbacks and continue to focus on your goal if you want to achieve your ambitions.
As part of the legal registration process, most countries will demand an Articles of Incorporation document which will detail the organisation’s legal structure. These documents normally require certain sets of information to be included, although the exact details may vary. The list below is an example of the kind of information that is often requested in an Article of Incorporation for a new NGO.
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- Name of NGO
- Purpose of NGO
- Location of NGO
- Names and addresses of all NGO Board Members
- Details on legal liability
- Capital and stock details of the NGO
- What time period the NGO expects to exist (can be unlimited)
- Formal statement confirming that the NGO is a non-profit making organisation
Even if on of these documents is not required you may still wish to consider creating one as it will help you to understand your new NGO that much better.
5. Guiding Principles
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Your organisation’s new Articles of Incorporation serve to inform external bodies and individuals about the legal foundation and principles of your NGO. Guiding Principles, or in some quarters Bylaws, provide a framework for your NGOs that guide the organisation’s work, principles, structure and decision making. This document is crucial and can help guide your new NGO through even the most trecherous conditions. In fact, even some of the oldest NGOs in the world continue to use their original guiding principles as a guide for how the organisation should work both over the short and long term.
You should ensure that your original vision for your NGO is captured in this document as it may well survive longer than your own life. Even after you have gone, the guiding principles of your NGO will live on and continue to guide its progress for decades to come. Your guiding principles will also aid you in resolving disputes or conflicts about which direction your organisation should head in and should be available to both staff and service users alike to consult. Make sure everyone involved in setting up your new NGO has an opportunity to feed in and later comment on your proposed set of principles to arrive at the strongest and most accurate set of principles that you can.
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The main guiding principles that most organisations include are below:
- Mission and Vision
- Registered Office
- Definition of beneficiaries
- Board size, responsibility and structure
- Officer duties and responsibilities
Your NGOs guiding principles can serve as a guide for future generations but do not be overly concerned about setting your NGOs goals in stone. These principles are often adapted as organisations evolve and progress to allow them to do more of different things, to grow and expand or even to limit the scope of their work. As NGOs grow and become more complicated so do their guiding principles but at this stage you should just focus on the vital pieces of puzzle that will guide your organisation towards its vision.
If you have followed the earlier steps in this guide then you will have already collected and decided on the majority of the information required to produce your set of guiding principles. If you are still unsure, take a look at other similar organisation’s guiding principles which you can normally find on their respective websites.
6. Establish your presence
Now that most of the legal affairs have been completed it is time to put down a marker for your new NGO. It is time to get out there and let people know that you exist and what you plan to do. This is not the time to start launching services and supporting beneficiaries but rather the time to announce that you are here and what you hope to achieve.
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Host your new NGOs first official board meeting where you can approve your organisation’s Guiding Principles, acknowledge the organisation’s formal registration as an NGO an start to lay out a timetable of action for getting your new NGO truly up and running. This first meeting provides an opportunity to establish officers such as a Chief Executive, Chairman, Secretary and Treasurer as well as establishing committees to manage different areas of the business such as fundraising and human resources.
Your first board meeting is also the best place to decide on preliminary projects and to appoint people to start to tie up any loose ends and unfinished tasks that need to be completed. Above all, it is an opportunity to get organised and formalise exactly who will do what and by when. Be sure to take minutes of your meeting and disseminate them amongst everyone in attendance. This will help to remind everyone of the discussions that took place as well as acting as a framework for completing tasks.
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One of the best ways of making yourself known and accessible not just locally but from anywhere in the world is to create a simple website. Websites are increasingly cheap and easier than ever before to design and host. By launching a simple website you can quickly and easily spread the word locally, attract volunteers and donors and provide information to potential beneficiaries who you hope to support.
You can combine your digital outreach through a website with online networking in the form of social media. Whether it is Facebook, Twitter or a local language equivalent, you will find a massive audience online who are interested in your work. You should work to identify online groups, websites and associations where you can exchange ideas with similar organisation’s and professionals, develop your network and learn from the experiences of others that can guide your organisation through its formative years.
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Continue to network in person in your local and regional communities. Try to meet people who work in similar circles, not just NGOs but local government, funding organisations, social services, religious organisations and any others that relate closely to your organisation’s work. You should work towards establishing a network of people who you can get to for support and information on different areas of your NGO’s business to give yourself the best chance of success.
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