Having worked with several non-governmental organizations (NGOs), we identified common patterns and challenges. But when we started to map out our approach to share it with you we wondered: “aren’t all these articles offering magical recipes interesting in a way”? In many of them we recognize a great deal of truth, but at the same time every case is different. Taking into account the uniqueness of each organization, this is a kind of recipe that we recommend if you are dealing with NGOs and you are interested in its sustainability. Don’t forget to add love in whatever you do as a necessary ingredient ?

NGOs became prominent as social and political actors, with the collapse of the Soviet Union. Ever since, the number of NGOs has significantly increased. As NGOs scale up and grow, they increasingly find it necessary to develop their capacity to become sustainable. However, the sustainability of NGOs has become challenging, since the majority of them rely on a single or a few donors for funding and the trust in NGOs is generally decreasing (according to the World Economic Forum in 2015 global trust in NGOs was at a five-year low). The question, therefore, arises:  what do NGOs need to keep on their radar in order to achieve sustainability and manage their growth?

In our experience,  the first step we usually take is to run an Organizational Health Check. It is a tool to “diagnose” the current capacity of the organization, its strengths, and its weaknesses. Based on the findings, an appropriate plan can be created and implemented, which will assist the NGO to become the better version of itself. The areas we focus on, and the ones that every NGO would be advised looking into, are the following:

  1. The identity of the NGO. In other words the raison d’être,  the culture and key principles that drive creativity, teamwork, and inspiration in the organisation. Does every member understand the organisation’s identity in the same way? Or are they just words on a paper?
  2. The team. This includes the people themselves, the team structure, and the team dynamics. Can this team support the impact and the growth that the NGO aims to achieve?
  3. The NGOs operationsmeaning its day to day operations and the way it manages projects and future planning. How effective is the organization in running its day to day processes?
  4. The way the NGO manages money, including its budget and financial planning.
  5. The way the NGO is funded. What are the revenue streams of the organization and how easy is it to diversify them?
  6. The NGOs impact. How is the impact of the NGO measured and how is it communicated ?

In every attempt to grow, the first step is to capture the “as is” situation. And that is the first step of the recipe we recommend for a more sustainable organization. Based on this holistic approach, the next step would be to plan and prepare the organization to do what it wants and is able to achieve. Besides, “we may never have a perfect world, but it is not romantic or naive to work for a better one” (Steven Pinker).