The NGO of the future: The Six Pillars of NGO Sustainability

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Sustaining an NGO requires mindset change, where leaders think businesswise. You are not sustainable if you must first beg to serve your beneficiaries. NGO sustainability is the ability to continue the core activities even without local or international donor funding.

Many NGOs now look at sustainability in the context of being free from international donor funding. That is half the picture. Do you have sustainable revenue streams to deliver your mandate and satisfy your beneficiaries without recourse to donors local or international?

Can your NGO pass the sustainability test? Do you have the six building blocks of NGO success? Are you dependent or independent of donor aid?

Our keynote is on the topic: The six pillars of NGO sustainability. You will gain practical insights and experiences to put your NGO in the right direction.

What do you think is the number one reason why many NGOs in Uganda are struggling to survive?

The number one reason is not something you think. Many of you here know about the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. It took place from May 1998 to June 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, forming one of the toughest conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea claimed that 19,000 Eritrean soldiers were killed during the conflict. Reports put total causalities from both sides at 70,000 people. May more people where left disabled, especially without arms and limbs.

And that is how one NGO, to empower the disabled people, saw a gap and started in 2001. Thanks to the hard work of the Executive Director, a tall, strong man with a Besigye like body build, it attracted many donors and at its peak had over US $80m being managed delivering several projects in the country.

And for each project, it would recruit new staff. The organization became so big and overwhelmed. New problems started to emerge. When a project ended, all staff would be absorbed in the organization. And by June 2004, the organization was spending more in staff salaries than helping the victims of war.  And that was not the only problem. Each donor came with their own expectations, terms and conditions.  A lot of money was spent on meeting the donor requirements. This caused complaints of poor service delivery and mission drift. Several investigations into funds use were initiated by some of the donors, which revealed a lot of mismanagement.  The founding ED had to leave.

In 2005, the new caretaker management engaged a team, which I was part of, to undertake a comprehensive institutional review. It recommended six pillars. The first was fixing the strategy and clear implementation plan.

The NGO decided to stay true to their original vision: helping the direct victims of war to live decent lives focusing on giving limbs, special education and support to the victims. More importantly, they established training schools for the disabled to empower them financially to be self-sustaining. Any NGO not providing support to the identified areas of focus was never accepted.

When it comes to your NGO, do you look for donors or donors look for you?

If you do not have a clear strategy, you will end up in another organization’s strategy. And it won’t take you far.

The NGO world is experiencing unprecedented changes and challenges:

Donor aid is facing pressures and questions. Some governments see donor financing as a threat to their staying on power as it is seen as a tool for advocacy against governments in power. And globally, donor aid is being consolidated. Donors have more problems to address back home.

Increase focus on social entrepreneurship yet many NGOs staff are not yet with the requisite business mind. Do you retrain or terminate? Do you have the budget?

We are moving from social responsibility to shared values in NGOs. The new approaches of social partnerships and shared values call for innovation and business acumen. What is the best NGO model that has a business side and a social impact side? What kind of leaders do we need? When will the business as usual stop?

NGOs traditionally have governance issues, and this has affected their image. How do you change this and for future success?

The Internet and mobile are changing the landscape in how funds mobilization is done. How do you leverage from technology to optimize on this?

As NGOs, you must change or die. Below is a presentation I made to a group of NGO executives on the six pillars of NGO sustainability. Click here to download presentation and discuss as a team.


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