Peace Direct recently undertook research to understand the challenges organisations face when it comes to financial sustainability, the ways they are effectively overcoming them, and how they are building resilience.
We spoke to peacebuilding organisations from Bosnia and Herzegovina, DR Congo and the Philippines. They explained many of the challenges they face, including a lack of visibility to funders, restricted access to funding, short-term funding cycles, and losing staff to INGOs. They also shared with us the practical tactics they are using to build financial resilience, and vitally the difference this makes to their work in building peace.
When financial circumstances are tough, what can you do to ensure your organisation thrives? Here we share five key characteristics exhibited by organisations with high degrees of sustainability.
Community participation is highly valuable in overcoming division, and bringing local people into the conversation can help to overcome prejudices, build bridges among groups, and ultimately contribute to peace. In addition, the organisations we spoke to explained that increased community participation can also be a key way to maintain sustainability. When funds are low, involving community members can ensure important peacebuilding projects can continue. As well as providing essential people-power, community members who are more involved are more invested in the long-term project and committed to the successes of the organisation. Community participation offers valuable contributions such as supplies, fundraising support, or a reliable base of volunteers. Further, involving local actors helps to increase organisational credibility among donors and beneficiaries by ensuring the relevance of projects to local needs, improving the overall perception of the organisation.
To engage local people, set up community consultations to identify pressing needs and to demonstrate to the community that their views and opinions are valued. Include input from the community at all stages of project development, from design to implementation.
There are a number of ways that organisations are building their own pools of unrestricted funds. The research identified that contributions from staff, community members, social enterprises, religious groups or side businesses such as guesthouses can be incredibly effective. These reserves (or ‘rescue pots’) can enable rapid response activities or services that fall out the scope of grants from institutional donors. The availability of unrestricted funds, whatever the value, can enable peacebuilding organisations to quickly react to opportunities for negotiation or reconciliation, such as dialogue with local militias, improved relations between groups, or collaboration with other organisations. It can help to ensure that opportunities to prevent and heal conflict are not missed.
A local membership contribution scheme, adapted for the size and structure of the organisation, is another way of providing an important financial ‘back-up’, which is critical when funding is limited or non-existent. Thinking creatively for ways to raise funds when resources are low – and involving the local community in this – can often be the best way to bring about resilience in challenging times.
Participating in international and local networks is an important way to increase visibility and develop strong connections to donors, peers and providers of technical assistance. For organisations based in rural locations who face competition for funding from larger INGOs, networks offer donors the opportunity to learn about their work, and raise the profile of their solutions that best reflect the needs of the community. Peacebuilding organisations that engage in networks will enhance their ability to collaborate and to enter into dialogue. Building trust and enhancing cooperation are key to building peace, and joining forces with other teams or organisation is a way to extend tolerance, openness and acceptance into communities. Financial resilience can be developed whilst bonds are formed and prejudices are overcome. Relationship building, either with local or international INGOs, is an important way to also develop the relationship with donors, for example becoming the lead grantee in a project, or leading a consortium of project partners. Local organisations know the communities they support and can tell whether a project is changing lives or not, and their insight can serve to enhance not only the communities they operate in, but also the networks they engage with.
To increase interaction and participation in networks, local organisations can extend connections with other local civil society organisations in the area. This can be done through collaborative projects, setting up working groups or meetings to discuss a particular issue, theme or region. Building on these partnerships and networks will reinforce the view that local organisations are the best placed to support their communities and change lives for the better.
When communities and partners feel confident in how an organisation operates, they become more supportive of its operations. Organisations interviewed mentioned that having high levels of financial accountability helped to gain the trust of donors and beneficiaries, and having strong internal processes and structures allow them to demonstrate transparency and compliance. For peacebuilding organisations, technical capacity is important not only for a solid organisational structure, but also for ensuring staff are better able to translate their knowledge of and sensitivity to local conflict dynamics into skills that directly support the organisation. This also means that organisations will be better able to efficiently plan, design, implement and monitor their own peacebuilding work and conflict sensitive projects.
Capacity can be increased by developing strategic plans, establishing effective monitoring and evaluation systems, reliable financial systems with clear budgets, and improving communications skills. When working with partners, it is advisable to start with a well-defined agreement and working framework to solidify strong relationships.
Building a culture of care, with good communications, and a feeling of family were all seen as important in encouraging resilience. High staff turnover is often a repercussion of financial strain, yet when staff feel committed to an organisation’s success, this can compensate for a lack of financial resources. When this is the case, the importance of investing in training, filling gaps in technical capacity, and promoting a culture where staff feel committed, passionate and motivated by their work is clear.
With increased competition for the same sources of funding, and local organisations losing staff to INGOs, the necessity to emphasize the particular identity and aims of an organisation grows. Developing organisational culture can be a powerful asset for peacebuilding organisations working in conflict-affected environments. Outlining the shared values and beliefs of an organisation, and how these align with the culture and strategy, can build internal cohesion and amplify a coordinated message when working in trying circumstances.
Clearly defined roles and leadership can help to build a positive working culture by helping people understand how the organisation works, how they should act, and how to communicate more clearly about their goals. It is important to ensure clear communications on news, changes, goals and successes, so that all staff have the necessary information, and are encouraged to provide feedback. Investing in training for volunteers as well as paid staff is an effective way to ensure staff retention when finances are limited.
More tips and practical advice about how peacebuilding and civil society organisations can enhance their financial sustainability and resilience is available in our recently published research reports. The research is part of our Facilitating Financial Sustainability (FFS) project in collaboration with LINC and the Foundation Center.