Tips on building a sustainable
Non-Governmental Organisation (NGO)

Over the last 15 years, I have been working in the NGO sector and I have interfaced with the challenges many NGOs go through in terms of raising the next dollar. Firstly, this is brought about by the dwindling resources at both global and national level, but also the crowded market of the NGO sector.

This calls for innovations and increased collaboration in order to demonstrate value for money.

Joyce N. Tamale (FCCA)

Managing Director

The experience that am happy to share is for the last 10 years where I have been deeply involved with Uganda Health Marketing Group (UHMG). UHMG is an indigenous social marketing organisation, with NGO status established in October 2006. The foundation of UHMG was built with a mindset of creating a local sustainable social marketing organisation which uses marketing principles for social benefit. The founder members envisaged a community where all would access quality health care services and products.

When I conducted my MBA thesis in 2006, I realised that the down fall of most NGOs is brought by poor governance practices. Therefore, when I joined UHMG I was cognisance of the issue of governance and the role it plays in making a sustainable organisation. Thus, UHMG over time has created and maintained a clear governance structure and good practices. This has enabled management to focus on its core role and the Board of Directors to focus on its strategic advisory responsibility.

While designing a sustainable organisation, it’s important to think social entrepreneurship model. This is exactly what UHMG designed for its 2nd strategic plan. The social entrepreneur model allows to think like business yet it’s for social good. This way the systems and the ways of work become cost effective.

According to scholar Peter A. Soyka in his publication titled “Creating a Sustainable Organization: Approaches for Enhancing Corporate Value Through Sustainability”, he stated that organizations that prioritize environmental, health, and safety (EHS) issues are well placed to attract better customers, better talent, and today’s growing number of socially responsible investors.

For sustainability to take off, we must critically observe the following;

1. Set up very good systems:

The finance, procurement, Human Resource, supply Chain, Monitoring and Evaluation must be professionally designed to outlive people. This is what makes an NGO stand out and be a partner of choice.

2. Focus on people:

The corporate world that is the private for profit, has mastered the game of engaging their human capital. The single most important resource is people. When you invest in people, they will give you results and commitment. Therefore, all NGOs must look into this factor as it creates synergies that will give a ripple effect.

3. Innovative financing:

Non-traditional ways of sustaining programme implementation. This is critical, besides the traditional fundraising of writing proposals. There is need to think innovatively on how partnerships or collaborations can be built to raise funding. For example, UHMG works with companies that manufacture pharmaceutical products to warehouse and distribute them, this way some funding is raised; training in a niche which the NGO is offering to society and a fee is charged; looking for public private partnerships with governments; running social marketing and consultancy projects may in the long run create sustainable markets.

4. Stakeholder management:

As you set up your value proposition, its critical to map your key stakeholders and make a plan on how to engage them systematically. This way trust is built and increases chances of funding and partnerships.

5. Deliver your programmes or projects diligently:

To increase trust, there is no compromise that can go with delivery of the intended social services. If you want to excel and get repeat projects, focus on delivering as per the agreed upon terms. This increases the competitiveness of an NGO.

6. Collaborate and Learn:

Its critical to work with others and pick lessons from their experiences. NGOs need to exchange ideas and learn from each other. This increases trust and possibly provides an opportunity for more funding.

As I shared in the recently concluded DFCU bank forum dubbed ‘NGO Future’; NGOs need to be seen to provide a benefit to society and also re-invent themselves to think like business ventures. Using a Total Market Approach (TMA) has been very critical largely because no single sector can claim 100% delivery of the national indicators but rather concerted efforts from all public, social marketing and the private sector.

Yes, we can transform NGOs into sustainable social ventures.