Making & Maintaining Relationships for Sustainability
Fundraising experts agree: “fundraising is friend-raising”. The importance of building strong relationships with donors for financial sustainability is widely acknowledged. However, the issue of building relationships for sustainability beyond traditional donor engagement is an area that requires greater attention.
In our age of scarce resources, donor fatigue and the need for innovation in resource mobilisation, an organisation’s survival seems to depend not only on relationships with donors, but also with its peers, beneficiaries and other stakeholders. While many of us are discouraged by the associated work load and pressures on our time, constituent relationship management is an undertaking that is becoming increasingly important to the sustainability, relevance and impact of individual NGOs.
There are many factors driving this agenda and this includes donor priorities. However, there appears to be a re-emerging acknowledgement that building alliances and relationships contributes to organisational credibility, especially for NGOs seeking recognition for the purposes of bolstering causes and opening up funding coffers.
From a peer group perspective, the development of relationships between NGOs brings enormous benefits, including peer recognition, which strengthens organisational integrity, encourages the sharing of resources and may attract donor funds. More significantly, peer relationship building is becoming very important for the long-term relevance and survival of the local NGO sector that has been labelled as weak, fragmented, lacking coordination and having poor influence.
Donors in particular are keen on the notion of strategic partnerships between peer organisations or similar types of NGOs where allocated funds have a complimentary and reinforcing effect. Many donors argue that it makes more sense to fund synergies across organisations to avoid duplication and potential dilution of efforts.
Nevertheless, perhaps the most significant relationships are those that both contribute to organisational accountability and impact. These are relationships that NGOs have with their beneficiaries. Traditionally these have been considered important for determining needs and priorities. However, NGO/beneficiary relationships often suffer from a lack of development beyond a fleeting engagement to determine community needs. In this regard, much more could be done to forge longer term partnerships to iteratively inform an organisation’s focus, thereby ensuring a vision that is responsive to changing contexts. This matter is fast becoming an important indicator of accountability and impact.
Establishing and building relationships requires an investment of time and an appreciation for the art of networking. Both which appear lacking in the local NGO sector. How do we overcome this hurdle? Prioritising networking means that it needs to become an activity that is integrated into the programmatic objectives of an organisation. The biggest obstacle to this is that it’s not something that donors are keen to fund, especially if networking happens outside of formal events. However, the best networking does take place in informal and spontaneous settings, so the challenge really shifts towards developing an informal culture of interaction that is conducive to exchange at various levels and which potentially creates the foundation for stronger partnerships.
In concluding these brief remarks about relationship building and partnerships, it is important to point out that it’s vital for individual NGOs to recognise that the web of relations they build around themselves, can act as an important safety net for their long term survival and sustainability.
- Fazila Farouk, Editor, SANGONeT.