Recipe to Start a Non-Profit (NGO)

Part of my job now (gosh, I really love that!) is to research, research, and…oh yeah, research some more! And every now and again I come across a gem of an article, something that may not be too factual or entirely helpful, but is a heck of a read. Well this one is both entertaining and illuminating, so I figured I’d share it.

In plight to carry out Nourishing Roots and lay foundation for future NGO, Bloom for Life, I’m prone to seek inspiration and factual information to make it all happen. And here I found a great recipe (relevant to my kitchen creations!) According to Stephen Balkman, CEO of Family Online Safety Institute, this is the recipe for starting a NGO:



As this is my first contribution to LinkedIn Influencers, I thought I’d go back to basics and answer a question I get asked from time to time. How do you set up a non-profit organization?

Having been a part of several NGO (non-governmental organization) start-ups, I am keenly aware of the extraordinary efforts it can take to turn a great idea into a real, functioning and funded organization: not unlike a for-profit start-up, minus the heady VC money that gets thrown around at young people straight out of college.

So what if you have decided to go the NGO route and follow your passion to make a difference in the world. Where do you start? Well, I thought I’d describe it in the form of a recipe. As with all recipes, you’ll need to learn when to deviate from the instructions and improvise.

It’s likely I’ve left out a key ingredient or forgotten to allow for a critical step. The temperature will likely be hotter than expected and the time to serving it all up will probably expand as you get deeper into the making, but here’s a rough guide:



1 vision

1 or 2 visionaries

Half dozen steering group members/Trustees

1 set of objectives

Several targets

Pinch of optimism

Large dose of persistence and tenacity

Half cup of initial funding

Gallons of coffee

Mix together on a large white board

Stir in passion, commitment, action items and deadlines

Allow to rise

Add sprinkling of legal and accountancy advice

Top with logo, website & marketing materials

Serve up to public, donors, influencers & the media. Don’t forget social media.


Return to top and repeat

It is possible, though not advisable, to set up a 501 (c) 3, charitable organization in a matter of weeks. It is more likely that you will take months, and in some cases, a couple of years, to get to a place where you can launch your organization into a very crowded world. There are an estimated 1.5 million NGOs in the US alone.

You’ll need to be super clear about the simple questions: Why this organization? Why now? What will we do? How will we do it? For whom are we doing this for? Where are we doing it? How much will it cost? When can we start? Will we really make a difference?

We know that 8 out of 10 for profit start-ups fail in the first 3 years. That’s a staggering failure rate. There are no comparable figures for NGOs that I’ve been able to find, but my guess is that many remain in a kind of unfunded limbo for years at a time, waiting for a flood of donations or the one big grant that will kick things into gear.

So be careful and do your homework. Are you duplicating an effort already performed by another group? Would your efforts (and funding) be better employed supporting an existing organization rather than create the needed (and costly) infrastructure of your own nonprofit? Do you have the patience, fortitude and sheer bloody-mindedness to start something from scratch, particularly in this economic climate?

If you’ve answered “no” to the first two questions and “yes” to the last in the paragraph above, take a good long look in the mirror and, if you have a spouse or a partner, look into their eyes as well and try the questions again. If you’ve passed this final test, then you’d better roll up your sleeves and get cooking!



I enjoyed this recipe. Hope you guys did, too! The stove is hot, the ingredients are ready, now it’s just time to get crackin’!

Amanda Froelich