How to transform your NGO in these tough times

Sustaining an NGO requires mindset change, where leaders think business wise. You are not sustainable if you have to first beg in order to

Sustaining an NGO requires mindset change, where leaders think business wise. You are not sustainable if you have to first beg in order to serve your beneficiaries. NGO sustainability is the ability to continue its core activities even without local or international donor funding.

Many NGOs now look at sustainability in the context of being free from international donor funding. That is half the picture. Do you have sustainable revenue streams to deliver your mandate and satisfy your beneficiaries’ without recourse to donors?

Can your NGO pass the sustainability test? Do you have the six building blocks of NGO success? Are you dependent or independent of aid?

Our keynote is on the topic: The six pillars of NGO sustainability. You will gain practical insights and experiences to put your NGO in the right direction.

Our speaker, Mustapha B. Mugisa, is one of those rare people who can say an entrepreneur, author and speaker and mean it. He is the founder of Summit Business Magazine and CEO Summit Consulting Ltd. His book “Your Three Keys To a Worry Free Life”, has empowered many executives to create discretionary time and change their view about success. He delivers over 50 keynotes annually at key conferences on topics in governance, strategy and cyber security.


Can your NGO pass the sustainability test? Do you have the six building blocks of NGO success? Are you dependent or independent of aid?


Mustapha is the president, Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, Uganda Chapter, Secretary of the Institute of Corporate Governance of Uganda and Technical Advisor and Board Member of the Uganda Red Cross Society (URCS).

There are six pillars of NGO Sustainability. If you master them and implement them, you will improve your organizational success.

Ladies and gentlemen, let’s join hands and welcome Mustapha Mugisa…

What do you think is the number one reason why many NGOs in Uganda are struggling to survive?

The number one reason is not something you think.

Many of you here know about the Eritrean-Ethiopian war. It took place from May 1998 to June 2000 between Ethiopia and Eritrea, forming one of the toughest conflicts in the Horn of Africa. Eritrea claimed that 19,000 Eritrean soldiers were killed during the conflict. Reports put total causalities from both sides at 70,000 people. May more people where left disabled, especially without arms and limbs.

And that is how one NGO, to empower the disabled people, saw a gap and started in 2001. Thanks to the hard work of the Executive Director, a tall, strong man with a Besigye like body build, it attracted many donors and at its peak had over US $80m being managed delivering several projects in the country.

And for each project, it would recruit new staff. The organization became so big and overwhelmed. New problems started to emerge. When a particular project ended, all staff would be absorbed in the organization. And by June 2004, the organization was spending more in staff salaries than helping the victims of war.  And that was not the only problem. Each donor came with their own expectations, terms and conditions.  A lot of money was spent on meeting the donor requirements. This caused complaints of poor service delivery and mission drift. Several investigations into funds use were initiated by some of the donors, which revealed a lot of mismanagement.  The founding ED had to leave.

In 2005, the new caretaker management engaged a team, which I was part of to undertake a comprehensive institutional review. It recommended six pillars. The first was fixing the strategy and clear implementation plan.

The NGO decided to stay true to their original vision: helping the direct victims of war to live decent lives focusing on giving limbs, special education and support to the victims. More importantly, they established training schools for the disabled to empower them financially to be self-sustaining. Any NGO not providing support to the identified areas of focus was never accepted.

When it comes to your NGO, do you look for donors or donors look for you?

If you do not have a clear strategy, you will end up in other people’s strategy. And it won’t take you far.


The NGO world is experiencing unprecedented changes and challenges:

  • Donor aid is facing pressures and questions. Some governments see donor financing as a threat to their staying on power as it is seen as a tool for advocacy against governments in power. And globally, donor aid is being consolidated. Donors have more problems to address back home.
  • There are policy changes in the registration of NGOs. The new conditions could be difficult to meet for many
  • Increase focus on social entrepreneurship yet many NGOs staff are not yet with the requisite business mind. Do you retrain or terminate? Do you have the budget?
  • We are moving from social responsibility to shared values in NGOs. The new approaches of social partnerships and shared values call for innovation and business acumen. What is the best NGO model that has a business side and a social impact side? What kind of leaders do we need? When will the business as usual stop?
  • NGOs traditionally have governance issues, and this has affected their image. How do you change this and for future success?
  • The Internet and mobile are changing the landscape in how funds mobilization is done. How do you leverage from technology to optimize on this?

As NGOs, you must change or die.

The six pillars gives you strategies to overcome these challenges.

One Comment

  • school education

    Greetings! Very helpful advice in this particular article! It is the little changes which will make the biggest changes. Many thanks for sharing!

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