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How to Start an NGO in 5 Steps

If you care about a certain cause in the humanitarian, development or other charitable sectors and wish to help others, a good way to do that is to set up a non-governmental organization (NGO). An NGO is any organization, usually a non-profit, that operates independently of a government and is organized on a local, national, regional or international level. NGOs are usually formed and driven by people who share common interests in causes and issues. Once formed, NGOs tend to provide several services to their communities such as humanitarian assistance, advocating and monitoring policies, environmental protection or healthcare. The majority of NGOs also serve as platforms for expertise and analysis of certain issues as well as monitoring mechanisms that help implement standards and policies effectively.

However, starting an NGO is not simple. Besides enthusiasm and interesting project ideas, starting an NGO can be a challenging and exhausting process. It usually requires knowledge, skills, support and resources. The steps that you need to follow to establish an NGO vary from country to country. If you decide to start an NGO, you will certainly have to follow the rules and legislation of the country you want to establish your organization in; however, the process of establishing an NGO is similar in many countries. Therefore, this article aims to assist you in a step by step process on how to start your own NGO. You will need to explore the details by familiarizing yourself with the local requirements.

  1. Evaluate and Research the Environment

Before you start your own NGO, consider joining one. It may help you to understand how NGOs work and you will be able to learn a lot for your own endeavours. If you have already firmly decided that you want to start an NGO then most probably you already know your cause, what is that you want to do and where you want to do it. However, prior to starting to work on your vision and mission, you need to evaluate and research the environment you want to start your NGO in. This step is important because you need to get familiar with other organizations that operate within the environment that you want to set up your NGO in. This step is taken to avoid duplication of work and see the ways you can acquire public support and avoid the competition.

A good way to start is to research NGOs with a similar or the same cause that operate within the environment that you want to work in. One of the best ways to do that is to visit those NGOs and discuss issues that you are concerned with. There is a great chance you will benefit from this in the future. Besides learning from more experienced organizations, there is a chance you might meet your future project partners. This will also contribute to new ideas for future projects since people working in NGOs tend to share a common vision and dedication to a certain cause or issue.

  1. Determine the Mission and Vision of Your NGO

After evaluating and researching the environment that you want your NGO to operate in, you should have a reasonable understanding of how you want to proceed- what you want to do, how to do it and who to support. However, this all has to be put on paper in forms of mission and vision of your NGO.

Determining mission and vision requires concise and clear written statement of the organization’s cause. The mission and vision must reflect the values of your NGO and the purpose of its existence. To be able to write down the mission and vision of your NGO, you have to keep in mind the target group and the importance of reaching that group. The mission and vision should reflect how you plan to support causes and assist groups and individuals through activities, trainings and programs. Both mission and vision statements must be broad enough to reflect the values of your NGO and its existence. The statements should contain the long-term goals of the organization.

The mission of your NGO should serve as an information guidebook for the potential beneficiaries, partners and donors. In short, the mission should contain elements that explain why your NGO exists, whom and how it serves. It should be short, simple and easy to comprehend. On the other hand, the vision of your NGO should explain the ultimate goal that the organization wants to achieve as well as capture its beliefs and values.

  1. Meet the Legal Requirements

For an NGO to be able to start working and raise funds it has be registered and become a legal entity. Becoming a legal entity means that the NGO has to be officially registered with its country’s government. As already mentioned in the beginning, the legal rules and requirements differ from country to country; however, these regulations usually follow a similar pattern in every country.

When registering an NGO, the first thing you have to do is to check which government body is responsible for registration of NGOs. For example, it could be a Ministry of Justice or a department within the government that deals with social services or taxes. Each of these bodies will require a certain amount of documentation that you will have to file alongside the application to register an NGO. This usually refers to the official statute of the organization (containing name of NGO, it’s mission and person, location, names of the board members etc.), a founding act and decisions that establish the bodies of the NGO such as the assembly. The required documents for registering an NGO are usually listed on the official websites of the government agencies in charge.

The process of legally registering an NGO can sometimes be tiring and exhausting. However, you have to keep in mind that administrative government offices sometimes work slowly and, therefore, you have to remain persistent in your wish to start an NGO.

  1. Fundraise

Once you set up and legally register your NGO, you can begin to fundraise and collect funds in order to be able to sustain the organization, meet its needs and achieve goals. Money you fundraise will be spent on the NGO’s activities and programs, administration and staff. Those who should be and are most often involved in fundraising activities are the board members and the executive directors.

Fundraising can be in the form of grant writing, seeking of private donors (for example private companies or individuals who wish to contribute to the cause) and public donors (government agencies), crowdfunding campaigns and lobbying. However, to come up with the best fundraising strategy for your NGO it is important to identify its needs and calculate how much money has to be spent to meet the goals. This is usually done through strategic planning once a year.

During this process it is crucial to build trust with a potential donor. Every donor appreciates good communication, accountability and professionalism. Your goal should be to ensure that your NGO will receive funds from these donors in the coming years.

  1. Implement Projects

Starting an NGO is a long and, sometimes, exhausting process. However, once you pass over the legal procedures and fundraise for your NGO you can start implementing your projects and activities. The best thing to do is to start and put all your effort in two or three small projects.

When implementing projects, the first step to take is to create a clear organizational chart defining each role in the project. During this process, you will be able to determine how many staff you need and who will be responsible for project management, monitoring, promotion, networking and finances. Also, you should plan a budget and how much money needs to be spent on the project activities.

While implementing different project activities (for example campaigns, seminars and conferences) you have to dedicate time to networking and meeting other actors that work within the sector similar as your NGO’s and establish relationships that might lead to future partnerships.

In overall, engaging in NGO sector can be tiring; however, the satisfaction of being able to help or to assist an individual, community or a group in need is irreplaceable. If you are truly enthusiastic about a cause or a certain issue you want to help resolve you will be able to get through all of these steps.

About Ada Hasanagic

Ada Hasanagić is a human rights professional currently working as a researcher at the Delegation of the International Committee of the Red Cross in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina. Previously, Ada graduated with honors from the Sarajevo School of Science and Technology and the University of Buckingham in the fields of Political Science and International Relations. Also, she earned a master’s degree in Democracy and Human Rights from the University of Sarajevo and University of Bologna.

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