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How Looking Inward Makes the Difference — Global Issues

The longstanding methods of fundraising by African NGOs are shaped by unique challenges, often rooted in economic, political, and cultural factors as well as vestiges of colonialism.
  • Opinion by Angela Umoru David, Tafadzwa Munyaka (new york / washington dc)
  • Inter Press Service

The World Association of Non-governmental Organizations (WANGO) lists 4912 of such entities operating in the Continent, which is safe to say is only a fraction of the true number since many may not be registered on that platform. These non-state actors often rely on the goodwill of volunteers, individual donors, local grant-making bodies, international philanthropy and humanitarian aid to fund and facilitate their operations.

As lofty as their mission or magnanimous as their benefactors might be, the sheer number begs the question of how sustainable their funding methods truly are.

As practitioners in the African development space, we have observed over the years that the longstanding methods of fundraising by African NGOs are shaped by unique challenges, often rooted in economic, political, and cultural factors as well as vestiges of colonialism. These factors breed an over-reliance on funding from outside the continent, mainly from Western donor countries and international development organisations.

Overview of the Current Funding Landscape

Philanthropy and humanitarian aid from the Global North constitute a large chunk of the funding that African NGOs depend on each year. More often than not, such funding comes with ‘strings attached’ like specifying the issues that the local organisations should focus on, the proportion of the funding that should go to areas of concern and rigorous reporting demands.

It is quite common for funding to be unceremoniously withdrawn when an organisation is termed non-compliant to donor requirements.

“The global flow of aid resources hinders the effectiveness and sustainability of local NGOs, as well as their ability to scale and build capacity”, writes Carlos Mureithi, Kenyan journalist. In addition, funding is usually routed through larger international non-profits while local ones only serve as ‘implementing partners’.

With such intermediaries in the picture, local NGOs are forced to work within the confines of their funding partner’s stipulations. While there have been recent calls for localisation and shifting agency to Africa-based organisations, the reverberations are yet to be felt across the NGO landscape in Africa.

Similarly, smaller nonprofit organisations are completely cut off from international funding because they lack the social credibility and popularity. This creates a cycle where only the most ‘visible’ local non-profits continually receive funding. The ‘invisible’ nonprofits are inadvertently dependent on local grant-making bodies (which are often implementing partners of international funders), individual donors in the communities they serve, self-funding and crowdfunding platforms.

A classic scenario is a case in the South-Eastern part of Zimbabwe. A particular district had been grappling with pervasive issues of child marriages, an alarming rate of teen pregnancies, and school dropouts. In 2019, this plight of vulnerable youths caught the attention of a UN agency who reached out to offer a helping hand.

However, there were differences of opinion on what the agency was willing to support and what the District termed to be the true need. Historically, the District had been marked by severe economic challenges stemming from periods of political instability and other socio-economic issues.

These challenges had created poverty and youth restiveness that left communities to grapple with the effects presenting themselves as students dropping out, child marriages and teen pregnancies exacerbated by inadequacies in healthcare and poor education systems. To the District leadership, tackling these effects was most urgent but the international donor agency wanted to fund birth registrations instead, which according to District records, were already at a 95% coverage and success rate.

While birth registration is crucial, the highlighted issues called for a more comprehensive and holistic approach. Therefore, local needs, while pressing, may be overshadowed by the specific preferences and guidelines set by external funders.

Of a truth, the historical dependence on external funding has been both a blessing and a curse. While it provides necessary resources, it sometimes restricts the flexibility of communities to address their challenges autonomously and radically.

Why the Existing Fundraising Model is not Sustainable

1 – Agenda-setting: The landscape of international funding for community development is often a double-edged sword. While financial support from international donors can be a lifeline for communities facing various drawbacks, the attached conditions for such funding sometimes lead to clashes of values.

This poses a significant problem to the existing model of fundraising, as communities may find themselves at a crossroads between meeting immediate needs through the funding provided and adhering to their core values and principles. The model also perpetuates an imbalance of power between international donors and local communities.

The power dynamics can hinder genuine, bi-lateral collaboration and may result in decisions that prioritise the donor’s interests over the community’s needs. The Big Brother syndrome is real. Furthermore, like in the story above, international donors may have specific agendas driven by global concerns, political leanings or their organisational mandates. These may not always align with the grassroots objectives of communities. For example, a donor might prioritise teaching people their rights, while the community seeks expansion of its immunisation program.

2 – Poverty: The fundraising status quo does little to transform systems, creates an over-dependence on foreign aid and perpetuates a cycle of poverty. On the flipside, small NGOs who are not on the radar of foreign donors rely on individual giving or are self-funded and this means that the resources only trickle in.

This limits the impact of projects and forces the staff to live on the barest minimum. In Nigeria, an ongoing jab at development workers is that the NGO staff’s standard of living is so below par that they should also be beneficiaries of their own projects (especially in livelihood and economic empowerment projects).

This is due to the high poverty and unemployment rates in most African cities. Even though the Continent has a long and rich history of local organising, most community members simply cannot afford to spare the little they have for altruistic purposes.

In the same vein, the high poverty levels breeds discontent towards the government and does not inspire many Africans to support the initiatives of local NGOs. It is a widespread notion that the citizens are already doing too much by spearheading the provision of basic amenities like electricity, pipe-borne water and roads. Therefore, the questions are, “Why should we keep doing so much? Why are NGOs forced to do the work that the government should be doing?” This high poverty rate and disillusionment often stops people from donating to NGOs around them.

How Can We Improve Fundraising in Africa?

Nonprofit fundraising in Africa has been marred by economic disparities, external dependencies, and changing political landscapes. In the pursuit of sustainable development, we propose a shift that makes us look inwards at diaspora investments, local organising, and planned giving (including endowments) to provide African NGOs with the tools to navigate the historical challenges while securing long-term financial stability.

1 – Planned giving: Also known as legacy or deferred giving, it is a unique and strategic approach to fundraising that focuses on securing long-term financial support for NGOs. It comprises several key components including bequests, charitable gift annuities, life insurance, or retirement plans.

Unlike traditional donations, planned giving involves arrangements made during a donor’s lifetime that will take effect at a future date. This form of philanthropy allows individuals to leave a lasting legacy, ensuring that their contributions continue to support a cause dear to their hearts even beyond their lifetime.

The well-heeled in our African communities can be encouraged to seriously consider planned giving as not only a strategic avenue for them as donors to create a lasting impact on the causes they care about but to leave a meaningful legacy that reflects their values and commitment to positive change.

We recognize that planned giving decisions are highly personal and influenced by individual circumstances. Nonetheless, in the dynamic landscape of African fundraising, securing sustainable funding is a perpetual challenge.

Planned giving, with its focus on long-term philanthropy, presents an impactful solution for these nonprofits if they began creating educative campaigns to draw attention to this form of philanthropy. We believe that this piece also creates an opportunity for the well-to-do to explore this possibility.

In the same vein, another beacon of financial stability and long-term sustainability for NGOs in Africa are endowments. An endowment in the context of nonprofit fundraising refers to a dedicated fund established by an organisation, typically through donations or other financial contributions, with the intention of maintaining and growing the principal amount over time.

In the context of the African Union Agenda 2063: The Africa We Want and achieving the mantra ‘African solutions to African problems’, endowments offer a strategic avenue for securing a reliable source of income, fostering autonomy and resilience. Endowments, just like planned giving initiatives, offer opportunities for sustained funding, allowing organisations to plan for the future and achieve lasting impact.

The continent boasts of a large array of individuals who have the capacity to provide endowments to causes that align with their interests. In an age of social status and obscene wealth being flaunted on social media, we ask, “How might this wealth be harnessed for long-term benefits in addressing community challenges?”

The continent also boasts of a large diaspora community that can be invited to partner with local organisations through endowments in service of pressing social and community needs.

2 – Diaspora investment: The United Nations reports that in 2022 diaspora remittances reached $100 billion, surpassing funds received through Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) and Official Development Assistance (ODA).

This whopping sum is largely due to high poverty levels in the continent that compels family members who live abroad to send money back home but it shows two things– the resources collectively owned by Africans in the diaspora can make a huge difference and a strong culture of giving back already exists, so it could be structured and leveraged for a greater good.

We acknowledge that diaspora remittances are private (sent directly by immigrants to their families in Africa for personal/family use) but it still presents an exciting possibility of sustainable fundraising for local NGOs.

A Nigerian non-profit, Jela’s Development Initiatives employs this tactic through personal connections to Nigerians living abroad, and requests for recurring donations of $20 or £20, depending on the donor’s country of residence.

In Zimbabwe, Sisonke ZW Family Trust has some of their board members who live in the diaspora contributing varying amounts monthly with a minimum of $100 to support the organisation’s activities. While these have not yet yielded large scale results, with targeted campaigns and narrative change on giving, diaspora investment presents a unique way of channelling resources directly to the organisations that need them the most.

3 – Local organising: By nature, Africans are largely communal and this has resulted in many community members banding together to address societal injustice and developing local solutions.

This trait is one that can be organised and explored to fundraise for local non-profits. For example, in North-Central Nigeria, Vaccine Network for Disease Control mobilises female small business owners to ‘adopt’ a primary healthcare centre, where she makes a donation towards the facility, takes on responsibility to support the monitoring of that facility and holds it accountable in its service delivery.

The donations are not cumbersome to the women and it creates a local networked system of accountability and ownership. A similar initiative exists in Zimbabwe where the Citizen Initiative saw the construction of classroom blocks and ablution facilities in rural areas with citizens financing the projects.

These examples show that local organising works, even if it is on a small scale. However, if more grassroot NGOs adopted this methodology, involving community members in the identification of problems and design of local solutions, they would be more than willing to co-execute and monitor the success of such initiatives towards desired outcomes.

Too often, local NGOs are more concerned with catching the attention of the international funders that they neglect the advantage Africans have as a communal society and the power within that to secure lasting change.

Conclusion

Addressing the existing fundraising system in Africa and its linked challenges requires a multifaceted approach. By empowering local organisations, promoting cultural sensitivity, and advocating for supportive policies, we can pave the way for sustainable development that originates from within communities themselves.

While international funding undoubtedly plays a crucial role in community development and we are not advocating for throwing the baby with the bath water, we maintain that addressing the clash of values and power imbalance is paramount for the success and sustainability of projects.

We also recognize the effort of pan-African philanthropic organisations like the African Visionary Fund to democratise the funding space and abide by game-changing principles like multi-year funding and institutional capacity development but one organisation is definitely not enough to serve the needs of the Continent.

Such visionary approaches need to be duplicated by other indigenous philanthropic organisations. Thus, it is through collaborative efforts that we can build a more resilient and self-reliant future for Africa’s community-based initiatives. Ultimately, it is time to look inward and restructure how we give. The time is now.

Angela Umoru-David is a creative social impact advocate whose experience cuts across journalism, program design and corporate/development communications, and aims to capture a plurality of views that positively influence the African narrative.

Tafadzwa Munyaka is a nonprofit/social change professional with crosscutting expertise in fundraising, program management, and child rights advocacy.

© Inter Press Service (2023) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service


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