By Yessenia Soto, Community Engagement Officer on Civil Society Resourcing, CIVICUS
The Change the Game Academy provides classroom training on local fundraising to CSOs.
It’s something that many in the development and civil society sector have been painfully aware of for several years now. But the reality is hitting home harder than ever.
Official Development Assistance (ODA) – government aid designed primarily to promote the economic development and welfare of developing countries – is steadily decreasing. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development recently announced that ODA fell almost 3% from 2017, with even larger reductions for developing countries. As foreign aid has long been a significant source of funding for southern CSOs, this news reminds us that civil society can’t rely on it in the long term, so, those who haven’t started diversifying their resource base, should do it now.
“There will be an end to foreign funding, at least as we now know it,” said Robert Wiggers, manager of programs and policy development at the Dutch Wilde Ganzen Foundation (WGF), during one of several panels about the financial sustainability of civil society held at the International Civil Society Week convened in Serbia from April 8-12. At ICSW, various organizations shared why and, most importantly, how CSOs can leverage more support, money and other resources in their own countries and communities to face financial pressures and gradually lessen dependence on ODA and other foreign aid.
“This is more than a funding alternative, highlighted Wiggers. “CSOs that mobilise their own resources locally get closer to their communities and the people they serve, gain independence from donors, have more control of their own development and feel even more empowered to hold their governments accountable.”
There is a wide consensus about the power of local resources to boost the financial sustainability, legitimacy, ownership and independence of CSOs. Even in a world with endless supplies of international assistance, weaning civil society off it should be the goal. But how can a small community organisation or one that has always relied on foreign aid start fundraising “at home” and on their own?
Agencies, associations, and foundations like the WGF are providing special training, mentoring sessions, online learning platforms, campaigning support and even dedicated grants to prepare CSOs for this journey. And the results are encouraging.
For example, the WGF partnered with the Smile Foundation from India, the Kenya Development Foundation and Brazil’s CESE, to create the Change the Game Academy, an innovative blended-learning program specially designed for civil society organisations that provides both online and classroom training on local fundraising, lobby and advocacy to hold governments and duty bearers accountable through civic participation.
The classroom training is delivered in a total of six months by local certified trainers. It includes individual coaching sessions to implement a fundraising plan and uses materials adapted to country contexts. The online platform contains 11 interactive modules of e-learning available in four languages, plus 40 toolkits and 88 inspiring success stories, all freely accessible and free of charge.
More than 800 small NGOs and community based organisations have been trained through the Change the Game Academy in fourteen low- and middle-income countries. They intend to implement this initiative in four more countries this year.
In the Balkans, there is a similar initiative called the Sustainability Academy, created by the SIGN Network, a group of indigenous grantmakers who support the sustainable development of local communities and civil society. This academy focuses mostly on CSOs at a grassroots level, which have an annual budget of less than 10,000 euros, on average.
Their training program covers strategic planning, financial sustainability, networking, local fundraising techniques and campaign development, and is delivered in three modules over six months. At the end of the third module, the organisations receive small technical grants to implement their fundraising campaigns for four to six months. When the campaign is over and they meet their goal, the SIGN Network provides 100% matching grants.
“We have had very successful examples where, through our training and accompaniment, small organisations managed to fundraise even half of their annual budget and developed relationships with many local donors,” said Biljana Dakic, director of the Trag Foundation, a SIGN network member. “And most of them consolidated their causes and work in their communities, which brings invaluable support.”
Since 2014, the Sustainability Academy has supported over 100 CSOs in Serbia, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Macedonia and Montenegro.
CISU - Civil Society in Development, an association of Danish CSOs with members engaged in development work in Asia, Africa and Latin America, is also providing knowledge, training tools and assistance for local resource mobilisation in these regions. Additionally, they offer a co-funding modality through which the local CSOs can access 4-year grants if they leverage a small percentage of the total grant, explained Souad Bourrid, advisor at CISU.
Together, these opportunities have been key to reducing the initial resistance and fear that keep some organisations from exploring and testing new resourcing avenues.
“Many organisations still think that the only way to get funds is applying for donor grants. So, when we approach them about leveraging local support, they are skeptic and don’t believe is possible. But those who receive the training and try it, see how many more doors open to them and end up very thankful for the push,” emphasized Bourrid.
Besides strengthening skills, many civil society networks and coalitions (including CIVICUS) around the world are also advocating the need to create or improve other crucial conditions for facilitating the mobilisation of domestic resources for civil society, including legal frameworks and incentives for local philanthropy, establishing alliances with the public and private sector, and promoting policies to support the financial sustainability of CSOs.