In recent issues of Alliance, the problem of how civil society organizations can expand their resource base, and ideally achieve financial sustainability, has been a recurrent theme. Resource Alliance has been working in this field for almost 25 years, running workshops, offering bespoke training programmes, providing information and support in most parts of the world, and, with a network of partners, training NGO personnel in resourcing issues.
In that time, the needs have changed and they have grown. What have we learned from our experience and how are we adapting to these new needs?
Resource Alliance started life as the International Fundraising Workshop, an annual gathering in the Netherlands of fundraisers from various parts of the world. The international programme of workshops was launched 12 years ago as a result of the interest stimulated by the Netherlands workshop, with a group of international NGOs providing seed funding.
In the early days, the workshops were about stimulating interest in fundraising in the South based on techniques developed in the North, and there are many examples of the successful adaptation of such fundraising methods in various parts of the world by both international and national non-profits. But there are also locally grown methods, and today the majority of presenters at the workshops are local and sessions are based on local case studies and experiences, some of which draw on indigenous traditions of community self-help and philanthropy.
Understanding resource mobilization
Our programme of education isn’t all about technique though. Technique on its own doesn’t mobilize resources. Understanding that resource mobilization has to be planned and sustained if it is to succeed is a key insight for many people. Even more important is the understanding that fundraising has to start from the mission of the organization, and from a programme plan and strategy. Many people start by looking for sources of money rather than working out what they want to do and how much they need to do it.
In research we recently carried out in East Africa with support from the Ford Foundation, we found NGOs changing programme direction year by year, depending on what they had managed to get funding for. Such grant dependency can undermine an organization’s ability to sustain focus and build expertise in a chosen programme area. While foreign grant funding will remain a vital source of support to civil society in many parts of the world, we believe grantmakers should be more active in helping grant recipients to secure local funding and reduce their overall reliance on grants. Some are doing this.
Local resources may be scarce, but most organizations can begin to generate at least part of their annual budget through membership, appeals to individuals, events, corporate partnerships, and/or earning income in some way. We believe there is much under-exploited potential.
A controversial issue
For some, this is still a controversial issue. Some southern NGOs are suspicious of the whole agenda of ‘local resource mobilization’ and its perceived links to declining aid from the rich North. Moreover, many find they are increasingly competing for local funding with international NGOs which have far greater resources and expertise at their disposal. Resource Alliance is sometimes accused of exacerbating these tensions by providing training to the staff of international NGOs. It is certainly true that international NGOs are often in a more powerful position when bidding for resources. At the same time, their investment in local resource mobilization can create opportunities for a wider pool of actors and provide models and examples that others can copy. The majority of delegates to our events come from national NGOs and our aim is to help a wide range of organizations, not just the fundraising elite. We use our events to foster debates between national and international NGOs around these issues.
A related issue here is that of fees. Because we have to cover our costs, most of our events involve some level of fee. We make no apologies for this. The only way that training can be provided to civil society organizations on a sustainable basis in the long run is through creating a market where organizations pay. Obviously the costs have to be affordable, and working with locally based trainers and partners in the organization of events helps in this respect. We also aim to make training as accessible as possible by trying to secure bursary funding from donors to support participation by organizations which otherwise could not pay.
Lack of local infrastructure
Clearly workshops and seminars which last for two to three days do not in themselves build resource mobilization skills. The absence of infrastructure to support people as they try to apply what they learn once back in the workplace is a challenge. In Europe or North America, there are many high-quality courses fundraisers can attend, an abundance of books, journals and websites, consultants, and professional bodies to represent the interests of the sector. In the developing world very little of this exists, though in places it is starting to grow. Resource Alliance, therefore, now sees its mission as helping local organizations and institutions to develop local infrastructure to support resource mobilization. This builds on the impact achieved through the workshops and what we have learned through our engagement with local civil society actors.
Some delegates who attend Resource Alliance workshops have begun to organize with their peers locally to try to address some of the wider systemic issues which NGOs face in seeking to mobilize resources locally – issues like legal and tax obstacles, lack of credibility and transparency, and professional development. In Ethiopia, the Christian Relief and Development Association, the principal NGO umbrella body, has sent a number of people to Resource Alliance events over the years. They have used information gathered at the events to inform their work with government on a new NGO law. They have also recently appointed someone to be a focal point for issues around local resource mobilization as interest in the topic grows within the local NGO community.
In Kenya, the Kenya Association of Fundraising Professionals was launched earlier this year. Campaigning for tax incentives to encourage individual and corporate philanthropy is one of the areas they intend to prioritize. Resource Alliance has provided encouragement and advice to the group throughout the two-year process of forming the Association.
Three new initiatives
NGO of the Year Awards
In the last year, we have launched three new initiatives. In the Asia Pacific, we have just made the first NGO of the Year Award to the Garden of Hope Foundation from Taiwan. The awards are sponsored by Citigroup and aim both to celebrate examples of excellence in the non-profit sector and to create role models for others. Those entering the awards are required to demonstrate not only that they have strong programmes but also that they are well managed and have a planned approach to resource acquisition. As part of the award promotion, workshops were conducted in eight countries involving around 550 participants in total. The best of the entries will be published as case studies in a brochure which will be distributed free.
Certificated foundation courses
The second initiative is the creation of certificated foundation courses in resource mobilization management. We are working with Tata Institute of Social Science in Bombay, Jamia Millia University in Delhi, the Kenya Institute of Management, and various individuals and local organizations in India and Kenya on these courses. They are based on practical learning outcomes against which students will be assessed. They are also based on local realities and case studies and will be taught by local trainers. The curriculum includes ‘soft’ skills like managing relationships and problem-solving as well as technical skills. The first courses will start in 2005 and we plan to take the courses to other countries over the next few years. The programme is linked with the ACCESS project being led by David Bonbright. A major aim here is to raise the overall quality and impact of training.
Eventually we plan, with our partners, to use the competency framework for the foundation course to ‘certify’ various short courses, giving students the option of building a portfolio of credits over time. This will provide a flexible route for those unable to commit to a formal course. We will be creating bursaries and student loans for those wishing to take formal courses. Donor institutions can help by making sure grant recipients have funds they can use to purchase training.
Strengthening local capacity
Third, we are starting to look at how we can strengthen local training and consulting capacity by working with local trainers on specific pieces of work and supporting their professional development. As interest in local resource mobilization grows, so does the number of ‘consultants’ offering services. Many of them have little or no experience. We will be working with Sightsavers International and some of their partners in five countries over the next 18 months on a pilot programme involving locally based trainers. Through this project, we aim to start setting a benchmark standard for local consulting practice.
Simon Collings is CEO of Resource Alliance. He can be contacted at email@example.com