Where to start when setting up an NGO

The essential question with which to begin any plans for your social activities (and action in general) is "Why am I doing this?".

What makes you want to go in this direction? Why exactly is this topic important to you? What bothers you, what upsets you, what do you want to change with your idea?
As you can see - in order to find the answer to the essential question "Why?", you need to ask yourself many more supporting questions.

I. How to come up with a good idea


How to get a good idea

To better understand what kind of answer you're looking for, watch Simon Sinek's short TedTalk. He is a writer and speaker whose idea of the "Golden Circle" has revolutionized the way companies create their mission statements.
The next step to accurately describe the problem you want to solve will be to diagnose it. You can do it in two basic ways:


Look for information about the challenge on the Internet or analog sources. You can search for information about the area in Google Scholar, take a peek at sites that collect statistical data, such as EuroStat or the Central Statistical Office.

If the problem is rather local, see how often it is written about in the local media, look for forums or groups of people affected by it, look for information on whether someone is already dealing with the topic.

Watch, read, search, analyze and draw conclusions. Perhaps this topic is not as problematic as you thought? Or perhaps it is much broader than that?


Answer the question of who faces a particular challenge. Is it a specific group of people? What are its characteristics? If you know who it concerns, you can start analyzing the situation yourself. Try to reach out to such people.

You can do this online (surveys on Facebook groups, comments, messages) or directly (by showing up at meeting places of given social groups, attending thematic events, talking to people who may be your potential beneficiaries).

Learn how important the problem is to them, what is most acute, what they want to change and what help they need.


This is the most important step to consciously build a vision and plan for your own organization, so it is worth giving it enough attention and time. If you are building an NGO together with your regular team, this is the stage you need to go through together. This way it will be much easier for you to understand each other, your audience and your plans for the future.

II. Formulating the organization's mission


If you have already diagnosed the problem to which your organization wants to respond with its activities, you can start building your organization's mission.

An organization's mission is a short manifesto that explains in simple words the meaning of its functioning. It defines the area in which the entity operates, describes its role, goals and values. It shows what distinguishes this organization from all others.


See how the world's biggest brands formulate their mission:


We want to give refreshment to the world. We want to inspire and make people smile with happiness. We want to distinguish ourselves by building lasting values.


Google's mission is to organize the world's information resources to make them universally accessible and useful to everyone.


We help our customers express their emotions and make their dreams come true through their appearance.


We maintain international peace and security. We protect human rights. We provide humanitarian assistance. We support sustainable development and climate action.


How to write such an elegant-sounding manifesto? There is no single recipe for this. We advise you to sit down with your team at a piece of paper and try to answer the following questions:
Why is your organization going to work?
What are the objectives of your activities?
What are you going to do?
To whom are you targeting your activities?
How are you changing the world / Poland / your environment?
What makes you unique?

The following parts of the toolbox can, of course, help you answer these questions. By writing down the answers to these questions and supplementing them with information that is very important to you and describes you well, you will create a fairly long and comprehensive description of what your organization will be. Then try to shorten this description, emphasizing the absolutely key sentences and words. Formulate one paragraph of text from this. When you are satisfied with it, do the same thing again, but leave so little content that it fits into max. 3 short sentences. This is very hard work, but it will be worth it. Your credo should guide all your future strategic decisions.

III. Formulating the organization's vision


Have you already determined what you are going to do and why? It's time to think about how successively achieving these changes will affect you and your organization. Vision is another way of describing how you see yourself in 5, 10, 25 years.

What state of the organization do you want to strive for? Who do you want to become? What kind of impact do you want to have in your subject area? This description should be both very ambitious, but also realistic.


See what the visions of well-known companies look like:


A bank that saves customers' time and cares about their comfort, whose scale and market share will ensure efficient, self-financing operations and sustainable financial results.


With a single click, we provide access to information from around the world.


Passion drives our action, making us the best apparel company in the world.


Amnesty International's vision is a world in which every human being is entitled to the rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other internationally recognized human rights standards.


How do you write a good vision statement? As with a mission statement, if you are starting your organization together with several people, you need to sit down to it together. These few sentences will motivate you and set the direction of your climb for the next few years, so it's worth making them understandable and attractive to all of you. In this case, we suggest starting with the well-known and well-liked brainstorming. On a large sheet of paper, whiteboard or flipchart, write down (draw?) what you want to become.

While doing so, answer the following questions:

How do you envision your organization in 10 years?
What kind of team will carry out your mission?
What will your impact on your subject area look like?
How many people will benefit from your activities?
How will the world/Poland/your neighborhood change because of your organization?

When you create a great map of thoughts and dreams, you will face a more difficult task: all these beautiful images should be closed in max. 3 sentences. Highlight which aspects are most important to you. Combine what is possible with each other. Draw and revise ideas to arrive at a few simple sentences that will reflect your dream future.

IV. Tips for getting started


What to keep in mind when starting an NGO

This is the advice we have gathered from young people creating their own NGOs. We believe them!

Keep learning

As the leader(s) of your organization or the founding person, you have a lot of responsibility for the dynamics of its development. The ambition of your NGO will be the same as yours, so you need to remember to take time for your development. Read articles, books, interviews, talk to inspiring people, go to workshops, sector events. Sky is the limit.

Observe your surroundings

A good analysis of your surroundings is fundamental and a simple path to success. As the person in charge of your organization, you need to know about what surrounds it - who is engaged in similar activities, who is an attractive partner to work with, what grantor can support your ideas, but also who will compete with you. Watch for changes in this area and keep your hand on the pulse.

Look for opportunities

By observing the environment, you can actively seek opportunities. Talk to people who are interested in the same area, join coalitions, submit proposals that are in line with your organization's mission to open calls for proposals, enter into partnerships with more experienced entities, engage in projects and initiatives of wide scale. Just remember when to say "no" - not all invitations directed to your organization will be beneficial or useful to it. Serve your mission and vision.

Test different ideas

You are at the beginning of your journey. Therefore, nothing prevents you from searching for your style. You have a unique moment to test your audience - offer them the same value in different formulas, through different channels, in a different language, by different people. Find out what works best, what is most attractive, what you and your team like best. And then stick to it.

Be ready for change

You are just starting out, so a lot of things can change. In practice, you will find out which assumptions of your organization were eminently expedient, and which need to be revised. If you see that an idea has proven ineffective or could be made much better with a few changes, don't insist on the first version. Thoughtful, conscious changes can significantly increase the value of your organization and improve the work of the entire team.

Take care of the team

Remember that people are your greatest asset. So take care of the atmosphere in the team, integrate and talk about what you do. Appreciate the work of your colleagues, especially if they work on a volunteer basis. Also, the role of evaluation in a team of employees cannot be overestimated - always summarize your activities with a frank conversation, share with each other how you feel and what you expect to be even better.

Think of the organization as an enterprise

Your entity is not too different from business entities. It too prepares the products it offers to its beneficiaries, guided by its values and the desire to grow, takes care of its team, and needs resources to operate properly. Thinking of an NGO like a business allows you to go beyond the limitations associated with the third sector and operate more effectively, dynamically.

You can be sure of failure

With every activity mistakes happen, this is normal and healthy. Surely some thing will not be completed on time, some partner will give up in cooperation, some employee will not perform in the work assigned to him or her. The role of a leader or leader is to minimize losses. So accept failures, learn from them and don't let them negate the work already done. Don't be afraid of them, because every mistake is a lesson, and the sooner you get over them, the better.

Keep in mind the scale you want to achieve

Keep in mind the organization's vision, where you want it to go. In order to achieve it as soon as possible, you must primarily take those actions that will bring you closer to it, and in big leaps. Be ambitious and don't be afraid to take risks. Don't waste resources on projects that will not lead you to your goal.

Just act

Not all activities require massive financial resources. Many projects can be implemented at a really low cost. Look for support among trusted people and institutions close to you, consider what resources can be replaced with available alternatives, and just act. Even if the first approach is not as ideal as you imagined, it will be proof of your effectiveness. Citing the success of the first edition can win you larger partners for each subsequent iteration of the action.

V. Useful materials and tools


BigCommerce - How to write a powerful mission statementCascade - How to write a Good Vision Statement


I. How to come up with a good idea
Social Diagnosis
II. Formulation of the organization's mission
What is the mission of an organization
How to create an organization's mission statement
III. Formulating the organization's vision
What is the organization's vision
How to create a vision for the organization
IV. Tips for getting started
V. Useful materials and tools

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