36 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Founding an NGO

Luis founded one of the most influential NGOs in Chile, Iguales. He shares his learnings.

by Luis Larrain, January 19, 2021
iguales flags

Luis is one of our tbd* Purpose Fellowship Alumni 2020 and founder and former president of Iguales. Iguales was founded in 2011 to fight for full inclusion of LGBT people in Chilean society. During his time in the Purpose Fellowship – as well as finding a job he loves – he used the opportunity to summarise his learnings from founding Iguales and presented it in a workshop for the rest of the cohort. Are you thinking of starting an NGO? Then read on. There are thousands of non-profits out there, some of which are hugely successful. Others of which struggle and many of which will dwindle. Can you achieve more by collaborating? Is your founding team diverse enough? What is your political strategy? Depending on the kind of organization you are starting, these are the sort of questions you should be asking. From funding to stakeholder engagement, use this as a checklist with your founding team to save yourself a lot of heartache in the long run.

During its more than 9 years of existence, Iguales has advocated for the Anti-Dicrimination Act (2012), Civil Union Act (2015) and Gender Identity Act (2018) and is currently advocating in Congress for bills on marriage equality, adoption and strengthening the Anti-Discrimination Act, amog other topics. It also provides free legal counselling to people discriminated against because of their sexual orientation or gender identity, litigates such cases in Court, helps corporations to have diversity and inclusion standards, trains all kinds of organizations on LGBT issues, develops public education campaigns in order to raise awareness. It has over 250K followers on social media and in 2013 it was among the 50 organizations included in the Santiago Chamber of Commerce's 'Innovation Made In Chile' publication.

Before starting

  1. Is there any other organization in your country/region with the same objectives? If there is, can you join them? It will probably be much more efficient and effective. If there isn’t, go for it.
  2. If there is a concrete reason why you can’t join them, do you have a strong comparative advantage that will make you achieve things that other organizations have not been able to achieve? Will you have access to funding that other organizations won’t? If the answer is yes for both questions, go for it. If the answer is no, reconsider it until you find the way to answer yes.
  3. Are you doing it on your own? Reconsider it. Civil society is full of personalistic folks that want to satisfy their ego. Have you reached out to other enthusiasts and prominent figures that share your views? Are they diverse in gender, age, class, ethnicity, sexual orientation and any other category that is irrelevant in your country/region?
  4. Is your objective broad enough? Go for it. If it can be achieved in the short term, create a campaign, not an organization.

When to start it / when to raise awareness

  1. Is your field of interest particularly visible in a certain year / month / week / day?
  2. Are there any national or international days related to your field?
  3. If you demand public funds, do you know when the budget of your country/region is approved and what is the process before it does?
  4. Have there been any demonstrations related to your field lately?
  5. Did any politician include something related to your field in their election platform? Was it recent? Offer yourself as a partner in order to make it happen. Was it a couple years ago? Remind them that they haven’t kept their promise and that you will be watching.
  6. Is an election coming? Can you advocate to include your field in some of the candidate’s platforms?


  1. Are your name and logo easily memorable?
  2. Do your name and logo reflect a concept that is easily understandable by your target audience?
  3. Do you know what your target audience(s) is(are) and what message you want to deliver to each of them?
  4. Are your spokespeople well prepared and articulate? Make sure they are. Do they need training? Some communication agencies might do it pro bono. When they are interviewed, do they just answer what is asked or do they take the opportunity to say what you want to say?
  5. Are there other people (academics, influencers, celebrities, people directly affected) talking about your organization and objectives? It’s always better than self-praise.
  6. Can you assure you will be able to respond quickly (1 hour) to any news on your field both in social and traditional media? If you’re not able, you will never be a leading voice.
  7. Is your language friendly, inviting, inclusive and positive? If it’s divisive and alienating you will connect to your base but you won’t bring about change in your society.
  8. Do you express your views on matters you don’t master? Please don’t. The more topics you talk about, the less reputation you’ll have in your field.
  9. Do you propose solutions or only complain? Are those proposals of good quality so that decision makers will see you as a contributor rather than a burden?
  10. Do you keep track of how many media appearances you have and how many people you impact with your work?
  11. Do you manage your differences internally in order to appear as a united organization?
  12. Do you go for people’s hearts rather than their minds in your public education campaigns? Evidence shows that people’s barriers are more based on affection that on logic.

Political landscape

  1. Are you reaching out only to already convinced politicians? What about not convinced but convincible ones? They are the ones who will allow you to achieve a majority.
  2. Are you able to both praise and criticize politicians from any political party or are you captured by a certain political party or coalition?
  3. Do you understand the political landscape in your country/region? Can you identify when a politician can take advantage of partnering with you?
  4. Are you aware of public opinion around your goals? Are you aware of the situation in neighboring countries? They might help you convince decision makers.
  5. Have you asked cabinet ministers, members of Congress, leaders of political parties, even the head of government for an audience? You have nothing to lose and you need as many people as possible to be aware of your objectives.
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Stakeholder engagement

  1. Have you reached out to academics / faculties / universities for technical support and partnerships? They probably have more credibility than you.
  2. Do you belong to networks of more non-profits both nationally and internationally that support each other in visibility, advocacy, funding, etc.?
  3. Do you see big corporations as enemies or as potential allies?
  4. Are the three branches of government aware of your demands?
  5. Have you considered partnerships or at least meetings with the media in order to explain your demands and give them advice on proper wording?
  6. Do you have any way to summon celebrities, artists, opinion leaders and other public figures related to your field, ask for their opinion and ask them to publicly support you?
  7. Have you considered partnering with pro bono law firm initiatives of strategic litigation in order to raise awareness and put pressure on both judges and legislators?

Funding and transparency

  1. Have you considered different funding sources, such as membership, grant making, fundraisers and service provision? Have you figured out which of them are likely to work at the stage you are now and which could grow in the future?
  2. Is your annual report published on your website? If not, you are losing a lot of opportunities. If yes, does it include how much you received, where the money came from, how much you spent and on what; your main achievements and demands for the future; your impact, including media appearances, campaigns and authorities you met with?