How to Start an NGO in South Africa

If you want know how to start an NGO in South Africa, you are in the right place. In this article, we give you the information you need to know to start one, as well as the pitfalls you can face and what to look out for. Let’s start with the basics of explaining what n NGO is and then the steps required to start one.

What is an NGO

An NGO, or non-governmental organization, is a type of non-profit organization that is independent of government involvement. NGOs typically operate on a local, national, or international level, and are typically focused on specific social or political issues. They are run by a board of directors or a small group of dedicated individuals, and are typically financed through donations, grants, and membership fees.

NGOs can take many forms and can have a wide range of activities, but they are often focused on one or more of the following areas:

  • Providing humanitarian aid or development assistance
  • Advocating for human rights or social justice
  • Promoting environmental protection or sustainability
  • Supporting education or cultural preservation
  • Providing technical or professional services

NGOs are considered to be important actors in civil society, as they can provide services and support that may not be provided by government or the private sector, and they can also act as watchdogs and advocates for the public interest.

It’s important to note that there is no single legal definition of an NGO and the term is often used to refer to a wide range of organizations, some of which may not be considered to be traditional NGOs, such as think tanks, advocacy groups, and charity foundations.

How to Start an NGO in South Africa

To start an NGO in South Africa, you will need to follow these steps:

  1. Develop a clear and detailed mission statement and business plan for your NGO: This will help you to define your organization’s goals, objectives, and strategies. Your mission statement should summarize what your NGO aims to achieve, and your business plan should provide a detailed outline of how you plan to achieve these goals, including information on fundraising, marketing, and operations.
  2. Choose a name for your NGO and ensure that it is not already in use by another organization: You will need to choose a unique name for your NGO that is not already in use by another organization. You should conduct a name search with the CIPC to ensure that the name you choose is available.
  3. Register your NGO with the Department of Social Development: Once you have your mission statement and business plan, you will need to register your NGO with the Department of Social Development by submitting the required documents, including your mission statement and business plan. The registration process may take several weeks to complete.
  4. Register for tax exemptions with the South African Revenue Service (SARS): NGOs are eligible for certain tax exemptions in South Africa. You will need to register for these exemptions with SARS and submit the required documentation.
  5. Register as a non-profit organization with the Companies and Intellectual Property Commission (CIPC): Your NGO must be registered as a non-profit organization with the CIPC. This will require submitting the necessary documentation, including your NGO’s constitution and the minutes of your first meeting.
  6. Comply with all legal and financial regulations: As an NGO, you will be subject to various legal and financial regulations, including obtaining any necessary licenses or permits. You should consult with a lawyer or accountant to ensure that you are in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.

It is important to note that the specific requirements and process of starting an NGO in South Africa may vary depending on the location and nature of your organization. It is advisable to consult with legal and financial experts to ensure that all necessary steps are taken and that your organization is in compliance with all relevant laws and regulations.

Reasons to start an NGO in South Africa

There are many reasons why someone might choose to start an NGO, including:

  1. Passion for a specific cause: Many people start NGOs because they are deeply committed to a specific cause or issue, such as fighting poverty, promoting human rights, or protecting the environment. Starting an NGO allows them to channel their passion and energy into making a meaningful impact on the issue they care about.
  2. A desire to make a difference: Many people start NGOs because they want to make a positive impact on the world and believe that they can do more by starting their own organization than by working within an existing one.
  3. A need for specific services or support: Some people start NGOs because they have identified a gap in the services or support available in their community, and they believe that they can fill that gap through their own organization.
  4. A desire for autonomy: Some people start NGOs because they want to be in control of their own organization and the direction it takes, rather than working for someone else or being subject to the constraints of government or corporate funding.
  5. A sense of social or civic responsibility: Many people start NGOs as a way to give back to their community or society and contribute to the common good.
  6. It can also be a way to create jobs and income opportunities for people in the communities the NGO serves.

Risks of an NGO

Starting and running an NGO can be a challenging and rewarding endeavor, but it also comes with certain risks. Some of the risks associated with NGOs include:

  1. Financial instability: NGOs rely on donations, grants, and membership fees to fund their activities. These sources of income can be unpredictable and may not be sufficient to cover the organization’s expenses. This can lead to financial instability and make it difficult for the NGO to plan for the future or undertake new projects.
  2. Dependence on external funding: Many NGOs are heavily dependent on external funding, whether from governments, foundations, or individuals. This dependence can make the organization vulnerable to changes in funding priorities or economic conditions.
  3. Limited staff capacity: Many NGOs have limited staff capacity, which can make it difficult to manage the organization’s activities and meet the needs of its stakeholders. This can lead to high turnover among staff members and make it difficult to build a stable and effective team.
  4. Legal and regulatory challenges: NGOs are subject to a range of legal and regulatory requirements, and failure to comply with these requirements can result in fines, penalties, or even legal action. NGOs also need to be compliant with the laws of the country they operate in.
  5. Reputation risks: NGOs are often in the public eye and their reputation is important to the success of their activities. Negative publicity, criticism or a lack of transparency can harm the reputation of the NGO and make it difficult to attract funding, support or volunteers.
  6. Political risks: NGOs can be affected by political changes, particularly if the NGO is working on sensitive issues or in countries with a history of political instability. In some cases, NGOs may face harassment, intimidation, or even violence from government or non-state actors.

It’s important for those who want to start or work in an NGO to be aware of these risks and to take steps to mitigate them. This can include developing a robust financial plan, building a strong and dedicated team, and being transparent and accountable to stakeholders. It is also important to have a solid understanding of the legal and regulatory environment in which the NGO operates.


Starting an NGO can be a challenging and rewarding endeavor, but it is important to be realistic about the resources, time, and commitment required to make the organization successful. It’s also important to have a clear understanding of the legal and financial responsibilities of running an NGO and to be prepared to comply with all relevant regulations.

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