Yesterday I had the privilege to speak to the Social Entrepreneurship & Venture Philanthropy students at the Hong Kong University of Technology and Science. I was asked to share my experience working with various charities.
NGOs, just like any company, go through various Life Cycle stages.
The start-up stage is fun, and everyone onboard is driven by the mission. Charismatic founders with terrific storytelling skills often succeed in attracting both volunteers and investors to join the cause. They have a compelling answer to the question “what problem are you solving and why?”.
In the exciting growth stage, charities often hire permanent employees and enter a phase where fundraising becomes crucial. Founders have to balance mission versus money. To stay a viable business funding has to be diversified, and people with the right expertise included.
Until the charity is institutionalized, the board has to be actively involved and be able to hold the founder/CEO accountable for performance. Answering difficult questions such as quality vs. quantity (increase salary vs. new programs), and making hard decisions such as who to help. You can’t help everyone.
Most investors want to see tangible results, so measuring progress and impact is important. Participation or number of libraries built is easier to measure than reading habits. There are no hard and fast rules on what to do, so you need to find a model or create your own that suits your particular context.
Like any business, charities need to continuously adapt to changing situations and evaluate and recommit to their strategy to enjoy long-term success.
The most successful founders I met have done what they said they would do. And if there have been changes along the way they have clearly communicated and gotten all the stakeholders on board.