5 reasons why NGOs need to stop chasing donor funding
and what to focus on instead
Written by Anna B. Sabhaney
Skills and knowledge of local problems and context are NGOs' greatest asset and are what will enable you to achieve the results that numerous stakeholders want.
Without a good understanding of an organisation’s unique position in the system and differentiating skills, NGOs will never achieve their full potential. These are 5 reasons why NGOs are better off investing time in their own skills, knowledge and products rather than focusing solely on obtaining donor funding or complying with donor requirements.
1. If you don’t invest in your skills you will loose them and become redundant – We live in a world that is not static but rather a continuously changing system. The intensity of problems, appropriateness of solutions, legal frameworks, people’s beliefs are all continuously evolving and there is nothing we can do about that no matter how hard we try to picture everything as fixed. This is not the century in which we can assume that something that worked in the past, is still the best solution or will work in the future. Continuing to make an impact and delivering value requires continuous learning and exploration of how the system surrounding our work is changing. We must not only develop a deeper understanding, but actively use this knowledge to adapt our work.
2. If you haven’t fully understood the change you want to achieve through your work, it doesn’t matter how much time and effort you spend doing business development or pitch meetings, you will not get the attention you hope for – If your goals and desired impact are not well defined, you can only expect to stumble on some random impact and effect on your audience. If instead, you have truly scoped out the desired change your organisation wants to achieve, taken into consideration your stakeholders' viewpoints and identified what opportunity in the system you will use to achieve your goals – your message will be clear and powerful. Communicating your work in the field, measuring impact and getting others to engage with and support your work becomes effortless and constitutes only a small part of the work you do, not a mammoth add-on effort.
3. Good communication is concise and brings clarity, not confusion – In many cases if we can’t explain a situation clearly and concisely, it is because we don’t understand it. The purpose of all communication should be to bring clarity to a complex issue, not add so much context and additional information that the key message and information gets lost. The same applies to liaisons with potential partners and implementers. Spending copious amounts of time drafting long reports or troubling over what information does or does not need to be included is just a diversion. If you focus your efforts on gaining the clarity upfront about what information you really need to provide and why, this will save you time and energy later.
4. Intelligent time allocation – Form and presentation are important but only in so far as they enable the dissipation and adoption of ideas. Remaining committed to limiting the amount of time, energy and resources spent on reporting is essential. That energy needs to be invested in testing, refining, iterating different interventions and solutions and using the feedback to improve the value you create. The more you collect and learn from feedback, the better your organisation will become at optimising the work you do to achieve the most powerful impact with the least effort.
5. Being picky with the partners you choose to work with – Not all potential donors, partnering organisations or customer groups will or should be interested in the work you do. The game is not about chasing after everyone with equal effort, but focusing your efforts on the key partners that are likely to do more good to your organisation and benefit you through the experience and learning opportunities they offer as well as the funding. Partners and collaborations can do more damage than good if their own goals and aspirations divert NGOs from their core interests and areas of expertise. Be wary of partners who push for too onerous reporting and project admin requirements, without due consideration for your resource capacity and availability as these will eat into your project delivery and skills development time. Mutual trust must be at the heart of any fruitful collaboration, and no amount of paperwork, records or monitoring reports can fabricate that. So define what your organisation needs from its partners and only invest time and effort in building partnerships that align with your needs.
All large change happens and starts at a local level, and NGOs are ideally placed to lead a key component of climate change, community development projects and social changes at that grassroots community level.
NGOs and the communities they represent are the end users that have first-hand experience of the problems being tackled. This makes them an essential piece of the puzzle, without which policies, public and private sector efforts will not be able to shape truly resilient interventions that stand the test of time and deliver the change they set out to achieve in the short and longer term.
The time has come for NGOs to take the lead and capitalise on their skills and knowledge and start acting as clients and spokespersons for downtrodden excluded communities worldwide.