Running a Sustainable 21st century NGO

Photo credit: Pixabay

For the past few months, I have been trying to develop a write-up that surrounds a comparative analysis of running a generic NGO and running an NGO that has a real sustainable impact on humans. I have finally made up my mind to put thoughts to paper on this discourse. This is a study whose findings filled me with awe on how a little dose of sustainability can lead to an invaluable amount of business success.

The story started off when I was approached by a friend who asked a question that touched me deep down which led to me thinking; this is how a person who wants to change the world normally thinks.

Hey Eric, do you have some books that you would like to donate? I really want to run a school campaign where I’ll give these books to schools that are deficient in academic books. More like a mini NGO where I will on a monthly basis give books out to students. What say you?

That was the mind-boggling question that he asked me and the real inspiration behind this article.

That is the kind of message that you get when someone is very passionate about changing the world This was a very nice and unusual gesture from a young man who at that time was unemployed and was really interested in closing the knowledge gap in our secondary education, as he believes that the lack of quality books was one of the reasons why our students have been performing below par, in comparison to their contemporaries. He had good intentions but at that point I noticed a trend in the way NGOs are being operated and from my little research it was evident that even though most NGOs claims to be alleviating poverty through their various projects, their business structure strongly conflicts poverty alleviation and as such, have not been able to meet their objectives in the long run. In this article, I will show you how NGOs can be restructured so that it can provide a real and perpetual impact in the lives of those whom it is meant to serve.

How about we go back to where it all started.

What is an NGO?

There are several definitions of what an NGO stands for, but I have decided to narrow it down to definitions from two of the most recognised organisation in human history. World Health Organization and The United Nations.

The World Health Organization defines NGOs as “private organisations that pursue activities to relieve suffering, promote the interests of the poor, protect the environment, provide basic social services, or undertake community development.”

In comparison, The United Nations defines NGOs as “a not-for-profit, voluntary citizens’ group, which is organised on a local, national or international level to address issues in support of the public good.”

There is no general reason for the formation of an NGO as we have seen, but the truth is that most of them are being created to meet a particular need. A similar characteristic that NGOs possess is that they tend to serve a particular purpose at a particular time. An NGO cannot solve all life problems, that is why we have the likes of WHO, UNICEF, OXFAM, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, just to mention a few.

NGO Structure Redefined

I don’t have issues with the existence of NGOs or the quality of their jobs. The centre of my argument falls within their operational structure which most times doesn’t conform to sustainability standards. Mere looking at the business structure of most NGOs that we have in existence, you won’t go without noticing a missing piece that summarises how unsustainable they are in both approach and structure. All this I will show you as we go on.

Questions We Should Ask Ourselves.

Now to form an opinion around what separates a sustainable NGO from an unsustainable one, consider providing answers to the following questions:

· How much should an NGO spend on administrative cost?

· Do NGOs need Chief Executives?

· How many executives are just right to run an NGO and not perceived to be excessive?

· What makes an NGO sustainable?

These set of questions might sound or look trivial to some of you, but they are very important questions that everyone that throws money around on NGOs should ask themselves. If not for anything, at least you would want to know how monies given to these NGOs are being spent.

Richard Branson in his book Screw Business As Usual expressed how he has been able to create successful small and medium scale businesses by focusing on acts that have long term values. In this book, he also stated emphatically how he is very concerned about the percentage of donated funds that goes into administrative expenses and this, among other things, forms the bedrock upon which to donate to a particular non-profit organisation is granted or not.

Photo Credit: Pixabay

Looking at the administrative cost of running an NGO, I have met some people during the cause of writing this article who told me that they simply can’t donate to any NGO, whose administrative expenses exceeds 10–15%, surprised?.

Don’t be. I bet you after reading this article you will ask far more questions.

A closer look at this galvanic trend is a corroborative research from a renowned and leading market research and consulting U.K based organisation that provides market research for charities and non-profits — npfsynergy.

Below are the results of a research conducted sometime in 2013.

‘The consultancy’s survey of 1,002 people, aged 16 and over, shows that 75 per cent perceive a charity’s chief executive to be an administration cost, four per cent consider a chief executive to be a fundraising cost and three per cent say it is spending on the cause’

‘Respondents estimate that charities spend 25 per cent of their income on fundraising but think that 22 per cent would be an appropriate amount.’

‘The top 50 fundraising charities spend an average of 17.8 per cent of their fundraising income on fundraising, the study finds. They also spend an average of 7.6 per cent of their total income on ‘support costs’ and ‘governance’

I know these revelations will raise a new form of thinking as to how you view NGOs. Of course, that was the reason for this article. I want it to serve as an eye opener as to how your money is being spent and this does not apply to donating to NGOs alone, but to your daily life.

How NGOs can be sustainable in Practice & Strategy

This article was not written to smite any NGO or Non-profit, but to serve as an eye opener to both the donor/giver and the NGO. Most NGOs don’t expect the public to be aware of trends like this and most times try to conceal financial information.

One of the core objectives of an NGO is to improve lives. An NGO is meant to either return people to their status quo (in a time of disaster) or to improve people’s lives in a case where it is perceived that a certain group of people lacks what it takes to be socially equal. Therefore for an NGO to be sustainable, they have to create activities that not only meets short-term needs but that stretches to accommodate human development which results to the recipient being self-reliant. This can come in the form of offering training, internships, giving grants to small and medium scale businesses, offering pro bono consulting services to failing businesses, mentorship, etc. The list is endless. In summary, any activity that leaves a mark of an unending impact is what is considered sustainable in this context.

In addition, periodic financial reporting to the public is paramount to running a sustainable NGO — if people can give, they have the right to know how their money is being spent — wheelsofhoperising and SustyVibes have been doing a great job in this aspect. Just as one tracks their shipments or delivery from Amazon, donors should be able to track their donation at intervals. Make your financial records visible (This can be on your website through a quarterly based newsletter or can even be published in the dailies for wider coverage). A decision can be reached whether to donate to your NGO or not by the availability of these records — that’s if they are consistent and fraud free though.

Bringing it all together

Non-profits and NGOs should strive to create systems that encourage human development i.e your business structure should encourage a long-term independent impact where the recipients can stand on their own and not depend on your NGO to provide them with constant aids. It is not too late to reevaluate your NGO, the reason that your NGO has not been gaining the traction it deserves might be that it lacks a modicum of sustainability in it. While it is not too late to turn the table around, further delay can lead to an eventual death of your NGO as the public is beginning to get more informed on how NGOs are being run globally.

Thank you for reading. If you enjoyed reading this article, kindly recommend it so as to reach a wider population.