Dear everyone who’s ever thought of starting an NGO

Don’t do it. You’re not going to think of a solution no one else has, your approach is not as innovative as you think it is, and raising money is going to be impossible. You will have no economy of scale, your overhead will be disproportionately high, and adding one more tiny NGO to the overburdened international system may well make things worse instead of better.

Now that you’ve ignored me, here’s the rest of my advice:

1) Make your bones. Go work for an existing NGO that addresses the same problem, or one like it. Learn from the existing knowledge in the system so you don’t waste time re-inventing the wheel. If you’re not qualified to work for an existing organization, you’re probably not qualified to run your own.

2) Identify a new funding source. If you’re just going to compete for the same donor RFPs and RFAs that everyone else does, you’re not bringing anything new to the world. If you didn’t get that grant to reduce child mortality in Liberia, another organization would. The children of Liberia benefit equally either way. If you can bring new money in, then you’re having a genuine additional impact.

3) Hire experienced people to work with you. There is a certain charm to a bunch of inexperienced people trying to change the world together, but a group that combines new ideas and actual experience can produce genuine innovation.

4) Your finances are probably the most important part of your NGO. Your donors will want to see your financials before they give. Your projects will require a steady stream of reliable funding to succeed. You can’t do good if you can’t pay your bills.

(photo credit Mosieur J.)