Back to Blog
How can on-purpose organizations become better at securing more resources for their organizational development and building up their resiliency? The 10% budget for administration will never get you there.
1. Change your mindset
This practice has been ingrained in your psyche long enough that it becomes the proverbial truth. Far from it, this practice squeezes out the smaller organizations from existing and thriving. Anything that involves being strategic will require financial investments. It may not be a large amount but it should be sufficient enough to build capacities through systems and processes that have direct benefit to staff well-being, Board strengthening, and programs and impact-generating activities. You need to educate yourself, build a business case and build a team to champion it. It is an investment, not as cost to control.
2. Link to strategic objectives
Your strategic plan spells out clear alignment over goals and objectives, measures, activities/program, budgets, and performance evaluation. Institutional activities that support strategic aims should be supported by budgets and clear metrics. If the links are clear and well-established, flows out are part of the strategic management.
3. Support from the top leaders
Nobody cares whether your organization exists tomorrow, but you do and you must lead this conversation inside and outside your organization. Your Board, executive team, and staff have a stake and roles to play to make this happen. Organizational sufficiency is worth the struggle and effort so you can build a generational impact around your mission. In the end, everybody benefits.
4. Get donors who understand
You might say 'our donors insist we keep lean as much as possible.' Lean doesn't mean bare bones structure. Your survival is at stake. Get out from the group that rewards this mentality and reach out to funding organizations and donors who have a broader and progressive outlook on sustainability economics. When you're ready, fire the ones that will block you from achieving success in this direction.
These are easy to say but hard to do. Like with everything, getting there takes effort and courage. Don't be proud to tell the world that you have a 10% budget on administration and that you have great volunteers who help out. You're lucky but it's not the route to real sustainability. Get on the right road.
Back to Blog
Imagine a balloon. It expands and once it reached its maximum point, it will stop expanding and start exploding.
Rapid, unbridled, uncontrollable growth creates pressures and issues for the organization. Capacity is over-stretched than normal, new needs are required to make it successful. There is a tendency to forsake other boring functions in the organization to service the change which had left a huge demand for management and staff. A huge imbalance threatens order and stability. The management is left to fend for itself to put back a new normal of arrangements. In short, caught with its pants down.
When times are great, they roll and frolic, not making/creating strategies that will outlast the growth in a measured way. There is a tendency to ride on the high wave unaware of the risks and threat, but when the wave disappears leaving the organization unable to sustain the growth. They crash into the shore with battered limbs.
It can be a major capital gain, major project, a business partner that has to be serviced, a new donor with high demands, program scope creep, new acquisition, etc. Anything that has been committed and is eating a major chunk of organizational resources without clear and compelling alignment to the overall business strategy.
This is an unsustainable and non-desirable growth that you don't want to have.
Be careful when you wish for growth. Only with the alignment to strategy can you justify investing in more and more for far greater returns.
Back to Blog
Engagement is the lubricant to effective change management efforts.
Once the solution has been identified and a plan has been set in place, the question now is how to implement the plan and ensure that all the stakeholders are in the same page and would be able to support it.
The engagement process is very similar to many change management process in many organizations, be it in the public and the private sector.
It starts with understanding and knowing who are the authorities who need the approval of these mechanisms so that it is set for adoption throughout the organization.
Who needs to lead, articulate, and champion this at the public level? They hold the accountability role. It is with them that the buck stops, so to speak.
The second tier of engagement in the organization is the middle management and the staff. They need to be on board in the whole process.
At the implementation stage, they need to fully agree and provide the best support or facility to ensure its successful implementation.
The third tier of engagement is the public.
It could be your shareholders, stakeholders, volunteers, constituencies, customers/clients, and other important public entities that have a clear stake in the process.
They should be engaged throughout the process but in implementation, they should have a clear role to play - to be involved, to support, to be informed/updated on the progress, etc. They hold the keys to wider support from the communities they represent, can speak on behalf of your organization, and can oftentimes, clear the cobwebs of doubt, negativity, and pessimism about the changes that are being espoused.
The engagement process can be a long process for very complex projects and initiatives involving multi-stakeholders with varying degrees of involvement and agenda/interests.
It could involve a considerable amount of staff time, financial resources, and even public media campaign to solidify the changes in the minds of its target audience. It cannot be rushed though.
Taking the time to really get down to the target audience and create trusting and open dialogue bridges an otherwise hostile and indifferent crowd.
The key is to create the environment where people can trust the changes are for the better, that it welcomes their inputs and participation, and encourages healthy debate and discourse.
Between planning and implementation, the engagement is a must and cannot be taken out from shortcut purpose.
When this is done carefully and wisely, the long-term benefits outweigh the initial short-term growing pains.
Back to Blog
Q: How do I do something meaningful in my career while still being able to sustain myself?
This is a very important question. A young person has asked this and I am impressed by the honesty that this is brought out. Young people are expected to work after they reach a certain age and then figure out hopefully what they want to do with their lives. The person obviously is looking to find a career in international development and wanting to also sustain herself.
Well, the sector is not for someone that wanted to be a billionaire. While saying this, we also don’t want for people to not stay in the sector because they can’t make a gainful employment enough to provide for their families or their own needs. I am sad that many millennials are turned off by the low level of income and opportunities in this sector compared to the corporate sector. This has to change!
Another point of sustaining is Self-care. And this comes with self-awareness. How much is too much? As I was telling this crowd of young people, this is a long game! You need to pause, take a stock, rejuvenate from time to time to get a better perspective on things. These have to be done on a regular basis in order for you to avoid burn-out and all of its negative consequences. Check and monitor yourself when you have become mechanical and apathetic to what you are doing. These tell you that you need to have a break.
It happened to me. Burn-out had crippled me and reduced my ability to be effective in what I was doing. I was traveling out of the country, sometimes 3 times a month for 3-6 consecutive months. The time in the office was used for issuing invoices, making reports, checking in on office matters, preparing for the next trip, engaging the contractors, etc. There was no time for social downtime or for recreation. Weekends were used to complete unfinished projects or think about the next proposal. In the beginning it was great but later on, I was tired, worn out, and ready to quit. I had lost my creative juices.
I also found out that it is important to look for people, network, and allies that could re-energize, restore, and re-establish the reasons why you are working in this sector. You have to seek out and nurture the networks that are genuinely interested and truly cares for your well-being, not only about what you can offer as a contribution.
Sustaining oneself on a regular basis is what keeps you going and thriving in the long game of this work. Instant gratification is not the goal.
I don’t believe in starving all the other elements in your life to be successful in one game too. This thought has proliferated and is the one to blame for the suicides and depressions people faced while building up their businesses or careers.
As I told someone, it is not selfishness that you take care of yourself and discover your self before you can take up the world’s problems.
I think it’s a smart and healthy thing to do. Balance and moderation win the day.
What are you thoughts? Share it here.
Back to Blog
This is a big question that I have to pause when I heard somebody say that they don’t want to be fundraising for the rest of their life.
In a traditional NGO lifecycle, there is fundraising, and fundraising, and fundraising. It is the starting point (never-ending point) of an organization’s life and there is no end in sight.
Maybe unless you hit a jackpot- a billionaire just pledged their whole wealth on your program. Then, you are freed from raising monies.
If one is not fundraising, where is the money going to come from?
Is there a way to detach fundraising from our work and let some platform do it for us? And how about the fees for service?
Is there a machine/robot that can just do a lot of crowdsourcing for a small fee?
Is there a way to run a social enterprise /income generation part of the organization to get the revenue coming?
Is there a way to leverage existing partnerships to create new business opportunities?
Is there a way to remove parts of the organization that have become stagnant and source of burden all the time?
Is there a way to form a network for the sole purpose of fundraising for the projects?
Is there a way to tell donors to stop funding those that have not shown impact/proof of impact so we can get a bigger pie?
Is there a way to teach newer NGOs/non-profits to become market-driven and do not emulate the traditional ones that just ask for monies all the time?
Is there a way to elevate the conversation about fundraising to fulfilling your need to give before you die?
Is there a way to match money per impact, i.e. how many communities did get out from poverty? How many girls went to complete tertiary education? This is happening I know.
Is there a way to create an Uber-like project from the communities in need and then get it funded by people all over the world? When the communities get back on its feet, they get to return the monies.
We need more imagination to deconstruct fundraising for the future.
I have many more questions than answers. I think you get the drift.
What do you think about this question? Share your thoughts.
Back to Blog
Things have not changed.
People working in the non-profit see the scarcity, the lack, and the need for more, greater, better, and bigger. They tend to compete for the small pie that is handed out to them by the donors, funders, and whoever holds the purse. It is a game where the small gets smaller and the big gets bigger. When you think that with all the goodness in the sector, cooperation is not normal; scarcity mentality drives brazen competition.
What drives the non-profits to compete? What led to divisive, turfing wars prevalent among them?
To keep the staff, to keep the programs going, to keep the funders happy, to keep the status quo? What is the fall out? Who doesn’t get the pie and who folded up sooner than later? These do not get published but whispered around.
Good competition is good. Bad competition is bad. It is always a race to the bottom. It kills everyone on its path.
If you are small, nobody wants you, you don’t get picked. That is the reality. But smallness is a perspective. Scarcity is a perspective. The small to you is not small to the people and communities that subscribe to them and hold them as part of their tribe. It may be cliché sounding but it is true, the worth of an organization is not based on their net worth but their network.
I take the blue ocean perspective - that success comes not from battling competition but by creating untapped new market spaces for growth. The social sector needs blue ocean, not a sea of red. Making the sea red is not the way to live for social good. We need to create our own blue ocean because at the end of the day, we owe it up to the people we seek to serve. If there is thriving not sinking, the sector will be healthy, whole, and more powerful.
Back to Blog
Our Guest Blogger is Wendy Coulson. Wendy is a Rotary Peace Fellow Chula batch 18 of 2015. She is the Principal and Consultant of Peace and Development Education Consulting.
Peace and Development Consulting was born after she graduated from the Rotary Peace Fellowship. She has spent 20+-years career working in the field of education as a teacher, program coordinator, manager, trainer and now consultant.
You can learn more about her projects at www.peaceanddevelopment.org.Rotary and CEDESA on Cistern Education
Peace & Development Education Consulting was born after I graduated from the Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University in Bangkok, Thailand in March 2015. I chose this name because I had written down a phrase during one of our sessions that said “There is no development without peace, and no peace without development.” I design education programs for development projects in Rotary International’s 6 Areas of Focus based on the following peace principles learned during the fellowship.
· Do No Harm
· Non-Violent Communication
· Gender Equality
· Conflict Analysis
· Community Building/Connectors
· Local Knowledge
I am currently working in Medellin, Colombia as an English Language Fellow with the United States Department of State’s English Language Programs working at a binational center on children’s and special learning needs programs. Although I have been living and working in Mexico for the last 13 years, my work has also taken me to Jordan and the U.S.
One of the most fulfilling projects took place in my adopted state Guanajuato, Mexico where I worked with a local Rotary Club and its local partner on an education program to accompany their water catchment development project. The club had been involved in the project for 5 years to remedy the dire situation facing rural communities of contaminated water.
After five years, the local project managers observed that many of the beneficiaries were not using the cisterns that they built, not maintaining them or simply filling them with contaminated water. The Rotarians decided that an education component was missing from the program so that the beneficiaries could also ‘own’ the knowledge, not just the cisterns, and be able to teach others.
I worked with the local partners, a community organizing association with more than 50 years of experience, to develop a 3-day education program complete with a facilitator’s manual and a booklet for beneficiaries. I also conducted a facilitator training and follow-up evaluations.
A member of the local partnership conducted a qualitative evaluation of the project from the pre- and post-questionnaires and the results overwhelming supported the benefits of the education program. I heard one participant exclaim, “Why didn’t you tell us this before?! This is important!” The fact is that they were told before, but not shown. They hadn’t had time to process the information and make it their own.
As a foreigner in Mexico, I sometimes get resistance from local organizations and am not accepted at first. In fact, one organization refused to work with me since I was not local. However, when they see my process of first observing and talking and then working together to develop goals and objectives, I gain their confidence. And when they see how the beneficiaries react and the results they achieve, they are happy with my work.
After graduating from the Rotary Peace Fellowship, I infuse everything I present in my trainings and curriculum writing with peace principles even in my work as an English language professional. The dynamics of teaching and learning are not meant to pass on information, but to build communities and community.
Back to Blog
Most non-profits operate alongside earned income-generating activities. In Canada, in a survey of 7,000 plus registered charities, 42% of them were involved in some form of income-generating activities. This is not an unusual. For charities to float, they need monies to cover for their general administration costs and most of the time they employ volunteers to implement these while paid staff focused on their mandates. This is also not an aberration since half of 170,000 charities and non-profits in Canada are entirely run by volunteers.
The survey did not look at how effective these activities are in actually tipping the point towards diversified financial portfolio leading to greater financial and organizational sustainability. One thing is that majority of these charities have very modest assumptions of growth in revenue noting that these activities ended up supporting programs rather than investing in areas of strategic value.
This is definitely an underfunded, underutilized area in sector development that very few studies have been produced on this account. While non-profits are created for societal good, the benefits of having a thriving and robust income-generating activity are hugely untapped. It seems that this for-profit versus non-profit mentality is still prevailing in this sector which did not actually help organizations move from a position of greater knowledge and capacity to handle the shift from merely conduits of public money to actual running an activity much less an enterprise.
How can an organization begin to understand that this is not just a way to get money but to integrate this in their overall strategy for financial sustainability? With financial freedom comes the ability to pursue to grow, innovate and evolve in different means. Here are some pointers to follow:
1. Align the income-generation to your mission-vision-goals and values
Clarify what the purpose of these activities and ensure that it aligns with the organizational fundamentals. Most non-profits do this on the seat of their pants just because they can charge a fee for this and that. This is very counterproductive because without a purpose, the organization will end up scattered, scrambling for the next money-making adventure and the next shiny object leaving them tired, frustrated and disappointed of its results.
Figure out what is the overall business value of this enterprise in your organization. What are the short term, midterm and long term plan for these activities and what business requirements are needed to be marshaled to be successful?
2. Run it like a business
There is something to say about being professional about it. In most cases income-generation activities do not compete well with profitable business because they do not run it like so-to generate value to customers.
Charity thinking is a hindrance to creating value. Your story is as good as the value of the product or service you bring to the table. Staff it with people that understand the business aspect of this enterprise and free them from unnecessary control to be able to deal with the market place with nimbleness and adaptation.
3. Invest in developmental areas
I was sitting in a board of an organization years ago that collects surplus from their income-generating activity year after year after year. It pains me to see that this fund will become an emergency fund once the organization decides to fold up. It has no vision but to become another program in itself. We can do better than that.
Tied public money is risk-averse. This will not let the non-profit innovate or take on risky projects unless it is proven to be the way of the future. Earned income can be used to invest in important developmental areas in the organization such as organizational development, innovations in programming, and novel experiments that will not fly with traditional donors but has the potential to create an expansive effect for the organization. Use that earned income strategically.
4. Evaluate and share your experience
Surround your organization with supporters that understand the value of these activities in your organization. Yearly evaluate these activities if they are meeting your goals and expectations. Remember that there is always a leg room to make mistakes because there is no such thing as a perfect enterprise, only a learning enterprise. Learn from the non-profits that have a thriving income engine side. They have learned the art of balancing social good with a good business model.
The for-profit versus non-profit is a false dichotomy. Having income-generating activities alongside the core mandates should not be a pain. Ensuring that the value that these activities provide to the organization is internalized and articulated to all parts of the organization can make a huge difference. Learn the best business model that works for your organization and reap the benefits and advantage of being financially sustainable.
Thanks for reading this article. Let me know what works for you. Did I miss something important?