Elnathan John: How to run a Nigerian NGO

by Elnathan John

Do one of two things: One, give your NGO a broad name that can cover two or more areas. The more the merrier.

Everything in Nigeria is a hustle. Government, politics, religion- all a hustle. And the Nigerian god helps those who help themselves. The key to survival is understanding the rules of the hustle so that by strategically positioning yourself, God can meet you at the point of your need and bless your hustle.

You hear that millions of dollars have been set aside by foreign governments and donors for development in Nigeria. Don’t smile. They don’t love you. For them too, it is a hustle. Don’t wait to hear on radio or TV how this money is being spent. This will be unwise. You need to strategically position yourself to benefit from this foreign aid.

Start an NGO. Get a lawyer to register one at the Corporate Affairs Commission. From experience I will advise that you do your research before registering one. Research major donors- the European Union, DFID, the UN, USAID. Find out what they have agreed to fund for the next few years. Avoid the things that have received much funding in the past few years.

Donors can be like children- they can get bored with one thing and without warning, move to another. Plus, there is that evil thing threatening to truncate Europe’s hustle called a recession. Although God is faithful and will protect your hustle from truncation, you need to take proactive steps to avoid being left with a redundant NGO due to lack of funding.

Do one of two things: One, give your NGO a broad name that can cover two or more areas. The more the merrier. So instead of registering HIV/AIDS Alliance, register Health Watch Alliance. Instead of registering Alliance against Torture, register Alliance for the Protection of Human Rights. Or two, register multiple NGOs. With this one you can never go wrong. You can change the dance as soon as the donors change the tune.

Now when building the foundations of your NGO, you must be careful the kind of people you invite. You don’t want the type who will suddenly become wild when the aid dollars start coming in. Make the Board of Trustees your relatives and the parents of your close friends who are too busy, too old or too rich to care about how you run your NGO.

Invest in media equipment. Cameras, video recorders, projectors. To begin, organise cheap programs so that you can have pictures and videos to go with your proposals and letters of introduction. People need to see that you have been working hard, donating things and doing campaigns in your chosen field. Make sure you get lots pictures of poor, sick looking children you have helped. Or homeless people you have given blankets to.

Make friends with guys who work in donor agencies. Networking in the NGO world is important. Many times crucial information about funding and projects slip out at social gatherings. This is how you know who is funding what and when.

Take your time to work on proposals. A good proposal is everything. Seventy percent of the job of an NGO is paper work- proposals and budgets and retirements and press releases. If you are not sure how to package an NGO proposal, learn. If you can’t do it, don’t be stingy. Pay someone to do it. Pay for a beautiful website with lots of photos showing things you are committed to. Foreign donors get tickled by nice functional websites. Make sure you visit the website of your donor and follow the guidelines strictly.

Usually a career in one of the big donor agencies or international donor NGOs will prepare you for all of the above. If you have the patience, look for a job with one of the UN agencies, DFID or USAID. Study their processes. In a few years you will be ready to become a big local consultant or start your own NGO.

Running an NGO can be tricky. You rely on the hustle of foreign and local donors. You can suddenly run dry. You do not get a pension. So you must save for the day when donor rains cease to fall or you are too old to get another job. You must learn how to weave in extra items into the budget and inflate project costs. Anyone who calls this stealing, God will swiftly truncate their hustle.

When you spend donor money, you need to show that you really deserve the money. So if money is left over, you need to find a way to spend that money otherwise, next time you will get much less than you asked for.

Because NGO people are jealous, it is important that as God blesses your NGO hustle, you do not to draw attention to yourself. You don’t want fellow NGO people reporting you to EFCC. Wear casual shirts (or kampala shirts) on jeans unless you are attending donor meetings or meetings with government counterparts. No need to advertise all the money you are making from saving your fellow countrymen.

Never miss dinners and meeting organized by embassies and donors. These guys are a huge source of funds. It doesn’t matter if you do not get a personal invitation- once there is civil society in the program, polish your shoes, take your glossy complimentary cards and get going.

If you are into human rights and all, try to get arrested. Foreign donors get excited when they meet human rights activists who have actually been locked up or who have gory tales to tell. Take advantage of popular protests to boost your activist CV and the reputation of your NGO.

Do television, radio and newspaper interviews. Pay to get interviewed if you have to. Do press releases. You must not only do work but be seen to do work. The more visible you are, the more NGO points you get. The more NGO points you get, the more funding you are likely to have.

If you follow my advice, before long, you will be flying from one all-expense-paid foreign conference and seminar to another, getting fat on per diems. May you continue to receive funding and may God through your NGO, bless your hustle.



Comments (5)

  1. The true is many think making noise is how to prove you are working! I have meet many NGO staff and what you see is a disconnection between them and the community they claim to represent. However, I have met great people who truly have the passion of the community they work for at heart! It not by shouting or making noise, travelling for all expense paid trip they can't personally afford, or feeling like a super star because they met with high profile people in the country but it how much connection you see between them and the community they represent! There are committed people and I have met some of this people! Especially young Nigerian who have shown passion to what they do and have done it strategically! I met a young man name Olumide Makanjuola. He talked about is work and how he has been able to ensure direct impact on the community and I was very impressed! One thing I will never forget from his statement" You can't judge good work by noise making but impact of the work on the community" everything in this country has been turned to business making and we must make money for all. Having said all of this, we still have quality NGO with so much passion. I have met many but one of them is Makanjuola and am always happy with is work. I nominated the young man for The Future Awards (even though he didn't win) after our long conversation from London to Frankurt and I still follow is great work!

  2. A Nigerian NGO,LOL this isn't like your regular NGO, its a personal profit making business. God help us all, like he said its all about the hustle in this part of the world

  3. Please for the love of all things noble and Nigerian, can this article be deleted immediately? I know all the author is trying his best to be funny, but is anyone really thinking about our already battered reputation as a country? Imagine if a foreigner that is concerned with coming to the country to do truly beneficial things as a non-profit conducts a google search and this is the first search result that comes up. If the author is really concerned about stimulating positive change in the country and not just content with glorying in the shameful aspects of Nigeria (cause I believe I've seen similarly distasteful pieces from the same name), he should do his proper research and give us an article on how to get around the prevailing obstacles in Nigeria and run things the right way. There is a place for sarcasm and satire, and as far as I'm concerned this person has failed in conveying such (if that was actually his intent) in this article.

  4. This is soo true in the Nigerian context, NGO is now about the hustle to feed fat from the perdiems and donations of the donor bodies rather than actually living up to the aims and objectives of what the NGO is set up to do in society, that is, making life better in the chosen area of its focus.

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