Funds for NGOs – How Easy – How Difficult?

Sameer Zuhad is the Founder and CEO of
FundsforNGOs. Sameer’s experiences working with grassroots-oriented community
organizations in India, Kenya, USA and Nepal as well as international agencies,
including the United Nations, drives his desire to work for sustainable civil
society development. He has trained, educated, and digitally empowered
thousands of NGOs at all levels using innovative online technologies in over
150 countries. 
Here he shares his thoughts with Meher Billimoria of CAP. 
You have experience over different countries & continents. What are the
trends you see within NGO & Sustainability here In India and overseas?
The situation of NGOs in India and other developing countries is quite similar.
The sector seems to be unorganized and there is lack of support from the
government in addition to the poor sustainability practices undertaken by NGOs.
However, in developed societies, NGOs play an essential role; they are known
and respected by the public and the government gives them full responsibilities
to manage and lead welfare services and help develop policies. For example in
the Netherlands, the Dutch NGO Coalition for Children’s Rights is actively
consulted by its government for addressing issues related to child rights.
Developed country NGOs also have well planned, fund-raising strategies that
help them ensure sustainability in the long-term. Fund-raising is mostly a
separate department amongst such organizations and their fund-raising staff is
regularly trained in creating strategies, mapping donors, developing prospects,
identifying opportunities and more.
your opinion, what are the 3 quick fixes that any NGO should focus on for
sustainability and what do they tend to overlook?  
Sameer: The
first and foremost point for all NGOs to understand is that there is a severe
crisis and limitation in the availability of institutional funding resources.
They cannot be available permanently nor can they be distributed widely.
Therefore, the high dependency on donor agency funding has to be reduced.
Although for most NGOs, it may be difficult in the short-term to mobilize
non-institutional grants, they can start by reducing costs.
Innovation is the key to sustainability. NGOs
need to innovate if they wish to survive in the long-term and gather new skills
for creatively addressing issues. Even donor agencies easily fund innovative
concepts rather than conventional methods. Ideally, the innovation should be
tested at small-scale using low costs but should be able to scale up for larger
impact. Donors love this type of a concept and are willing to invest in such
Most NGOs tend to outsource their fund-raising
efforts. It may be easier to hire consultants to do the complicated work but it
is not a healthy sign for long-term sustainability. NGOs should seek to acquire
fund-raising skills and try to work on their own to raise funds. Hiring
external fundraisers is not only costly but also risky as chances of grant
success are low and the trend is not good for the sustainability of the
The potentiality of Internet technology is one of
the main areas that NGOs overlook. It can be used not only for raising funds
but also the enormous free content available can be used for building their own
capacity.  Other areas NGOs tend to
ignore are: Networking to lobby for a strong position with the government and
working towards building a positive public image.
CAP:  When should NGOs start thinking about
sustainability & how should they build it into their plan? Who should be
responsible – board or management?
Sameer: I
strongly believe that sustainability should be the first thing NGOs should
think about. We know very well that most projects and organizations have failed
because there has been no sustainability. The board is primarily responsible
for building the strategic vision of the organization and sustainability should
be part of that vision. The management can develop the sustainability plans
through brainstorming, research, networking and exchange.
CAP: Many
donors want NGOs to focus on sustainability but don’t want to donate towards
corpus. Hence they spend a lot of time FR each year rather than the programme.
Your thoughts on this.
Samir: Donors
do not want to donate towards corpus funding because they think NGOs are not
their responsibilities, only projects are. Also donors do not want to spend
resources directly on institutions – there are political, economic and social
consequences because of which they want to avoid it.
In an NGO where resources and staff are limited,
it may be difficult to separate fund-raisingand programme management. But for
every funding programme, there is usually 5-10% admin budget that is given to
organizations by donors to cover overheads. A portion of this budget can be
used to build the corpus in the long-term. Nevertheless, fund-raisingis a
continuous process and NGOs need to remain alert and active throughout the year
to respond to market opportunities.
CAP: Does
a grant-maker’s  perspective of
sustainability differ from that of the recipient NGO? If yes, why and in what
manner? If we can crack this question it could help bridge the gap to an
Sameer: As
mentioned before, the grant-maker is mostly interested in seeing his project
succeed rather than worrying about NGO sustainability. Even NGOs tend to think
little about long-term sustainability when they receive a huge grant. It is
important for the NGO to negotiate with the donor agency to ensure that the
project funding ‘also’ contributes towards the sustainability of the
implementing NGO.
Both the donor agency and the NGO should look
beyond the project period and the latter should convince the former that if the
NGO is sustainable it could do more with the same budget after the project
ends. It can scale up its operations, replicate successes and help the donor
get some footing outside of the project period. However, this type of
negotiation requires tremendous strategic and budgetary work. NGOs need to
undertake proper homework before building a case for this.
CAP: Everyone’s
idea & perception of sustainability is different. The donor, the recipient
and beneficiary. Would you consider it desirable to standardize it?

Yes. Standardization is the need of the hour – not only in terms of
sustainability but also in other areas such as NGO governance, management,
implementation etc. 

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