What makes a new NGO succeed?

1. Highly targeted mission. If you have the skill set to identify a very specific goal, you are likely to have the expertise to do your work well. And when I say very specific, I mean it. Something along the lines of “supply used lab equipment to labs around the world that request it” or “provide vaccines and health care providers to one small village.” In addition, a very specific goal gives you a solid fundraising angle. Community development for one small village is too general.

2. A cool name. I only wish I was kidding. But groups with cool names like Nothing but Nets (which has as a bonus an obvious sports tie-in) or a rhyming name like Unite for Sight – which sound catchy and immediately explain the organization’s goal – are far more likely to find support. It’s easier to raise funds, hire good staff, get grants, and find high-profile supporters when everyone can easily remember who you are and what you do.

3. And, of course, the song I always sing – a funding model which does not involve getting government or foundation grants. To repeat, it is very hard to get government funding. USAID and the other government donors usually identify a problem and then give grants or contracts to solve that problem. Big grants. Generally over $500,000. They don’t have the time to manage the kind of $30K grant you probably need for start-up. And foundations like to work with partners who have a long track record; they are rarely interested in funding the new guys. So, if you want to succeed, have a fundraising plan. (Here’s a hint – a cool name and a highly specific goal will help.)

Edited to add: I forgot the thing which actually started this post in my head. I have a new job – I am the global health blogger for Change.org. I am very excited about this. Change.org is full of amazing people with big social entrepreneurship ideas. We’re seeing huge numbers of people on the site every month. But I suspect that an awful lot of our success is due to the fact that the name Change.org is easy to understand and sticks in your head with the tenacity of a Britney Spears song.

(Writing for Change.org does mean that I will be posting here less often. I only have so many words in me, and I’m putting all my health content over there. I do plan to continue posting here at least twice a week, though, so please don’t drop my RSS feed just yet.)

(photo credit: Cambodia4kids)
Chosen because they have a pretty good name and a specific goal of providing school uniforms to Cambodian kids.