Case study: Developing community philanthropy in Vietnam – part-way there

Dana R. H. Doan

LIN Center for Community Development (LIN) was set up in Ho Chi Minh City in 2009 to ensure that local people were actively involved in addressing local problems. As such, one of its objectives was to focus on building local donor support for its work. Though this aim remains central, there is a long way to go to achieve it.

When most Vietnamese think about giving, they think about short-term relief efforts that address what are referred to as ‘legitimate causes’ (poverty, disability, disaster). LIN was not seen in these terms. Another challenge was a lack of trust in intermediary organizations due to corruption issues in Vietnam.

Moreover, LIN had no track record and introduced new terms and approaches, such as skilled volunteering and community foundations. We anticipated difficulties attracting cash contributions. Nevertheless, we were successful in securing in-kind support. Individuals and companies contributed services, products, staff time and even equipment, all of which were needed to implement LIN’s annual action plan and helped to reduce our expenditure.

As LIN gained experience and built a reputation in the community, prospective donors began to respond more favourably to annual appeals. Still we only raised local funds for our small grants programme or individual workshops, not for the operation of LIN itself. Our operating costs and other programmes were still largely dependent on the support of international donors.

Community members waiting to learn which projects will receive a grant from Narrow the Gap Community Fund during the community event held on 24 September 2016.

Community members waiting to learn which projects will receive a grant from Narrow the Gap Community Fund during the community event held on 24 September 2016.

The LIN team regularly explores strategies to increase local support and work with international donors to ensure that their grants help to attract, rather than replace, local support. Some donors offered matching grants, others contributed funds to build staff capacity or to invest in programmes to build donor awareness and understanding. Meanwhile, LIN refused to apply for funds from foreign donors who were unwilling to contribute to this objective.

LIN recently requested feedback from past donors via an online survey and one-to-one interviews. While overall donor satisfaction with LIN and the LIN team was high, we were disappointed that donors ranked LIN’s capacity building support to non-profit organizations significantly higher than our programmes to develop community philanthropy.

We also noticed that our Vietnamese donors generally rate LIN lower than our foreign donors (though the difference was rarely statistically significant). Clearly, LIN still has more work ahead to increase local support for locally-led development initiatives.

Dana Doan is strategic adviser, LIN Center for Community Development. Email

This article is a case study from Danny Sriskandarajah‘s article on resourcing community philanthropy.

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