This topic is one that I have intended writing for the longest time. Perhaps I had not found the right time or words to express my thoughts, but stumbling upon Raquel Kasham Daniel’s infographics spurred my ink to write.
In this age and time when the idea for impact, purpose and passion is widely propagated, it is only normal to find more people coming out in their numbers to give back to the society. Take a stroll on your social media feeds and you will find more groups, foundations, social enterprises and initiatives engaged in one form of community development or the other.
Most individuals, especially young people, are in a haste to set up their own non-profit just to be part of the status quo. Statistics shows that there are over 1.6 million non-profit organizations in the United States. This is a snippet to what is obtainable here in Nigeria.
Everybody wants to make a difference, everybody wants to make impact and trust me, it is a good thing. However many are being derived by blind passion and fail to weigh the odds before embarking on this journey of selfless service. They dive in headlong only to get halfway and become frustrated.
A friend of mine once called me to share her dreams of starting her own non-profit organization. A beautiful idea she had there but when we sat to discuss the intricate details, it became obvious that my friend had no plan to back her idea. She just wanted to start a non-profit organization because she felt like it.
When you have an idea to change the world, there things you must consider before implementation. Like staring a business, it is important that you do your homework before going into the field. You may have beautiful hopes and dreams, but hope is not a strategy.
Don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely nothing wrong with starting a non-profit. In fact, I think humanitarians are brave and noble. I also share same passions to help humanity and impact the world. However, I am an ardent believer in a pragmatic approach to value proposition and execution.
Here are some questions you must ask to align your ‘Who, Why, Where, When and How’ before starting that non-profit organization.
1. Why Are You Doing This?
This is the first place to start when considering setting up a non-profit. This is where the hammer meets the nail. You must answer the “Why” that lies therein. If you feel led to do something, there must be a reason that propels you to action.
What are your intentions for starting a non-profit?
Are you doing this to meet a need in the society?
Are you doing this because you want to give back to your community?
Are you passionate about this cause?
Do you seek to find a more fulfilled career path?
Are you doing it because you want a spot in the hall of fame?
Do some soul-searching before you dive in. If you do not know the reason why you want to explore this path, you may want to pull the brakes on this one. It is not enough to say, “I want to do this”, you must understand why you want to do it. You must do some soul-searching before you jump on those horses.
Are you doing this with the right intentions?
Will your motives sustain you in the long run?
Understanding your motives will help you streamline your thoughts and establish your mission.
2. Do You Have A Clear Mission?
You must have a clearly stated mission. Simply saying “I want to help humanity” is vague. You must clearly identify the problem you intend to solve. Your mission statement should explain the purpose of your organization, the services you provide and the geographical area you are interested in.
What is your value proposition?
What does your non-profit really have to offer?
This is what determines your method of execution and organizational strategy.
3. How Do You Intend to Achieve This?
Now, you know what you want to do, how do you intend to achieve it? This is where you become more practical and realistic. We understand you want to help people but how exactly do you want to ‘help’? Answering this question will help you decide on which organizational structure to adopt. It will also guide your selection of team members.
Depending on the services you have to offer, you may have to adopt new model or approach. Adopt an approach that best suits your idea and that will help you make the most impact. You could model your non-profit as a social enterprise with products and subsidiaries you intend to earn from in the long run. Before choosing a structure, ensure that you consult older social entrepreneurs and mentors for advice and directives.
Have you thought of the people that will work with you to achieve your aim? You can’t do it alone. Organizational operations becomes more efficient when you work with a team. Draft a defined strategy for recruiting team members.
Develop a plan for project documentation, bookkeeping and budgets. Just like businesses, non-profits need an operational market strategy. A good marketing strategy is a means of documenting and displaying your results to attract potential investors. You could use a mix of both traditional and virtual marketing.
4. How Knowledgeable Are You of This Field?
Before launching your non-profit, you must first go into the field and observe. Get a clear understanding of the terrain you plan on entering. Conduct a survey to access the needs of the community. You must be knowledgeable in your field of interest. It could be women empowerment, human development, rural community development, disaster relief, human rights advocacy, and health and education charity.
Draft your demographic profile that includes the age, gender, state, income and educational level of your target population. You must find out who your target population is and what they really need. Be specific when identifying your target market. You have to be sure that there is a market for your service. Don’t work based on assumptions. You can conduct a survey of a sample group and gather data about the community. This will help you structure your non-profit to better meet their needs.
5. How Will You Fund Your Projects/Programs?
Funding and financing remains one of the greatest challenges of running a non-profit. Sadly, this is where most aspiring humanitarians miss it all. Sure, starting a non-profit organization can be an inspiring way to give back to the society.
You must have heard of the likes of Remarkable Mary Akpan, a young Akwa Ibomite who is doing exceptional work in terms of humanitarian services and community development. The social entrepreneur is a final year student of Political Science and Public Administration at the University of Uyo yet she stops at nothing to contribute to the welfare of the less privileged.
Some of her projects include; the creation of boreholes at Edonwick village in Iko community, Eastern Obolo Local Government Area of Akwa Ibom State, free medical outreach at the Internally Displaced Persons (IDP) Camp, donation of educational materials to schools and many others.
It is easy to look up to such individuals and aspire to achieve same feat without conducting a thorough research to ascertain their brand strategy. In an interview with Kemdailies, Mary admitted to utilizing external means of income to fund her projects. According to her, she receives support from sponsors, individuals and organizations who formed a partnership with her foundation having observed her track record of recurrent success in human development. Mary also earns substantially as a public speaker which she uses to augment the proceeds from fundraising.
Starting a non-profit organization without a financing and growth strategy is like building castles in the air. Philanthropy is quite inspiring but they cost a lot of money. Chances are that you will become frustrated if you run a charity organization without a substantial means of income. A friend once said to me,
“Nancy, succeed in your career first before giving back to the society”
Yemisi Ajeojo, a social entrepreneur shared similar views in her post on ‘Starting an NGO’. There are certain things you must consider before starting a nonprofit. Don’t be in a haste to pick a nice brand name/tagline and print t-shirts. Pause for a second and consider the cost implication of starting that organization.
How can you sustain your projects over time?
What funding options and opportunities are available to you?
What are your plans to access these options?
If you desire to invest in intensive community development, you should consider taking up a full time job or side hustle to sustain cash flow. Don’t quit your day job. Stick around a little longer and channel a percentage of your salary to building your non-profit. Create a source for passive income, and then you can channel the ROI into your nonprofit.
If your only shot are donors and investors, you must produce measurable results to gain their trust. It is very difficult to convince people to donate to such cause so as not to fall victim to swindlers. You would have to provide a proven record of consistent results in humanitarian services. You may be passionate about humanitarian services but you also need money to run your projects. Wear your thinking cap, put on your entrepreneurial spirit and get to work.
6. Are There Other Organizations You Can Collaborate or Partner With?
There are many nonprofit organizations out there. Surely, there is one already strolling your line of impact. Take a minute to survey your community.
Are there organizations doing something similar to yours?
If yes, have you considered working together with them for easy execution of projects?
Going through the pains of setting up your own non-profit may not be absolutely necessary. The field is already saturated and you may find yourself competing for scarce resources to measure up other nonprofits. Take a minute to consider if you have the time, capacity, skills, human resources and financial stability to set up your own nonprofit. How much social good do you think you can achieve when the odds against you?
Choose collaboration over competition. If you can collaborate with an already existing organization to effectively execute your project, why not? They could be your fiscal sponsors. Even the Bible says one shall chase a thousand and two shall send ten thousand to flight. You could offer your innovative ideas while they bring their years of experience and army of investors to the table.
Remember, it will be difficult to attract sponsors and donors in the beginning phase. Investors want results, they want proof their investment will yield results. The older nonprofit has already established this. All you have to do is work with them and leverage on their goodwill. You could even learn a thing or two from their organizational model.
Starting a nonprofit organization is a noble cause as it is one of the few channel for driving social change. However, it takes more than just the desire to do good to set up a nonprofit.
Passion is not enough to start and sustain a nonprofit. You must understand the process of running a nonprofit organization before committing to it. Being armed with the right information and resources will better equip you to impact your community through your non-profit organization.
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