It has been almost a decade since I first started working in the development sector, specifically, for a non-profit organisation. Eight years ago, while I was studying in the eighth grade, my friends and I started a teen-based non-profit creative platform called Reflective Teens.
Throughout the adventurous journey, we experimented with different things, made numerous mistakes, and paid the price for even more – it was a complete breaking-and-rebuilding process. We worked day and night and round the clock to build Reflective Teens. I had to learn everything about growing, managing and leading an organisation through firsthand experience which made the journey slow-paced. We always envisioned an organisation that will last at least ten thousand years in the least! Of course, to ensure its endurance, we ought to put our culture and ethos on top of everything, even if it required major sacrifices.
Many years down the line, when we look back on those days, we found that mindset imperative. Let me share what it takes to build and lead a nonprofit for almost a decade.
Overwhelming uncertainties can make it very difficult to build an organisation. In this regard, a mentor can be of help to navigate and find a way out of the maze. From my experience, we had to do everything for ourselves and ended up making lots of mistakes. We could have achieved many things earlier if we had someone to guide us. To fast track such endeavours, a mentor is a must.
Thanks to different social accelerator programs run by BRAC, EMK Center, UNDP, and similar organisations, finding a mentor has become easier nowadays. Moreover, regular events related to social entrepreneurship could be another gateway. However, we should be very cautious and selective in finding the 'right mentor'. We should choose someone who has a similar background and shares the same vision.
The legal and registration process of an entity is vague. The lack of information is a major hindrance. It is more difficult for social organisations or enterprises. Bureaucratic complexity has made the process slow and expensive. A non-profit can be registered within a week in the USA, on the other hand in India, it takes no more than a month. Given an ample amount of speed money, it would take at least three-four months to register a body here. Is it not bizzare how an organisation aimed at spreading social good had to engage in morally questionable acts before it began? How does a non-profit organisation have to pay ten times the regular fees even before it starts? Unfortunately, I do not have an answer.
Similarly, ensuring the balance of power in the management of a non-profit is a must. Unfortunately, most of the leaders fear giving up power. It is quite alarming to see leaders wanting to be at the centre of everything. The decentralisation of power provides everyone with space to bring innovation into their actions and enhance efficiency. Moreover, a leader will not be able to design a successful plan without an empowered community. Considering future-readiness, a leader should decentralise power. To illustrate this, think of how a ship can navigate tumultuous water if the captain spent most of his time in the engine room rather than on the flying bridge. It cannot.
Last but not least, most non-profits often lack a strong financial base. Almost all the non-profits are run on a donation or grant-based model. Although it is a good way to start, as the organisation matures, leaders should think of establishing its own financial source. As soon as the organisation reduces its dependency on donors and sponsors, it will be less bound by the rules of the donors and inn more freely.
Everybody is bombarded with advice in this digital era thanks to social media. I am just doing my part to share a few unconventional thoughts and real life experiences, considering the current context. I truly believe that this will not only help the nonprofit leaders but will also challenge the status quo!
The author is an undergraduate student and Development Economics enthusiast. He is currently serving as the founder and CEO at Reflective Teens.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions and views of The Business Standard.