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I know exactly what I'm going to do with a million dollars

The essential problems are not solved with funding for several months, but through the continuous support of the organizations that deal with them. And that means creating a strong foundation for NGOs: people with decent salaries, funds for consulting and much more.

I have been a grant officer* for 8 years and a project evaluator** for 11 years and I have had the opportunity to read thousands of projects submitted for funding to various funders for whom I have worked. I also had the opportunity to go through a lot of moods, seeing that some such promising projects die due to lack of funding, that some problems that NGOs in Romania deal with remain unresolved precisely because of a struggle of survival for funds, either private or public.

Most of the NGOs in Romania have taken over from the roles that the state should have – to educate children, to build hospitals and after-schools, to offer hot meals, company to the elderly, animal shelters, to protect nature and the list goes on.

Which leads me to the natural question: how do we make people who solve society's problems receive enough trust from funders, to be able to function healthily for their beneficiaries?

Let's do an exercise. Let's say I have 1 million dollars, I don't know exactly how they landed in my account (sure, if I had them for real, then I would be interested in where they come from), but now that I woke up with this money, I want to pass it on. I don't know what you guys would do with 1 million dollars, I'm going to give it to non-governmental organizations, through grants. Other funding.

First of all, I will give this funding to those who work in non-sexy and, therefore, underfunded fields – anticorruption, independent media, grassroots initiative, community development, culture, social equity, human rights. In terms of "human rights" it hurts badly, if I were to name only sexual minorities, underage mothers, post-institutionalized people, over the age of 18 or juvenile offenders.

Under no circumstances, but under no circumstances would I give these organisations funds to do projects. I would not give them the funds to stay in the vicious circle of survival, in which they hardly tinker their salaries from one project to another, and securing fixed costs is a nightmare. In addition, a project of several months does not solve any problems. It just adds one more seam.

I would give them funds to hire people with decent salaries, I would give them funds to develop their capacity in their areas of expertise, to be able to access advice or any other type of professional support they need. I would invest in a strong foundation of the organization, ensuring the current costs of operation and the development of those skills that lead to the fulfillment of the vital mission of the organization (yes, I know, it sounds pompous, but we need to increase our competence to do good).

And then I would invest in the financial resilience of the organization, first and foremost in financial management, in the management of donors and the relationship with them, in cash flow analysis and in white money for dark days; i.e. reserve funds, endowments, investments, etc. Even large organizations with many employees and many programs face such cash flow problems, or periods when they are between funding, and current, fixed costs cannot be covered. Credit is not the most accessible tools because the banks are afraid that we are not solvent enough. Or they are considered as high-risk loans and so we have heavier repayment conditions, the executive director of an organization with 20 employees told me at an event.

It is only after I have strengthened the foundation that I will look at how I, the holder of this million dollars, could invest in the impact of organizations through long-term programs and the fulfillment of its strategic objectives.

This is a pyramidal approach in which we create grantmaking tools (funding) that

they are gradually responding to the needs for stability and growth of organizations as living, dynamic, evolving bodies that you can see here as well.

The FORD Foundation, one of the longest-running and most reputable funding institutions in the world, has created a mission out of influencing other funders to invest primarily in the organization (in its health) if they want to BUILD IMPACT through their programs. This is how the BUILD program appeared: "BUILD is a 5-year funding cycle, in which $ 1 BILLION is invested in the long-term increase in the capacity and sustainability of 300 organizations around the world. The lack of flexible and reserve funds very often prevents organizations from innovating, testing new approaches, taking risks, developing their team and expertise in the long run. Our program comes to fix these shortcomings."

(Ford foundation/BUILD will clearly and simply show how they created this program and how well it works for organizations)


Why is such funding needed in Romania as well?

Because existing financing practices (and we are talking here about both public and private funds) are mostly restrictive, in the sense that they provide funds exclusively for one-off projects or the resolution of immediate problems. This helps to perpetuate a circle of poverty, preventing organizations from getting out of the fight for survival. That's why it's so important to start investing in areas vital to increase impact (vision and strategic thinking, leadership and governance, management systems), even if they don't look so attractive in a funder's annual report.

We no longer want our financiers to put activities before people and force us to have the salary expenses a certain (obviously small) percentage of the entire grant. We are very dedicated people, we are professionals, we have results and we work with vulnerable groups, but we ourselves are at the limit of burn-out and very vulnerable, because we are forced to remain employed in companies or other places in order to be able to support our families, the director of a non-governmental organization told me.


Is it possible in Romania?

More than likely! In fact, Lidl, IKEA, Kaufland, ING or Vodafone are just a few examples of creative and strategic funders, who reinvent their practices so that they are better correlated with the organizations they finance.


* researches available funding programmes (grants), writes applications for funding, ensures that funds are used in accordance with the funder's requests

** evaluates projects submitted for funding, in terms of the implementation capacity of the respective organization, impact, replicability, etc. 


Ela Bălan is a grantmaker at ARC in the Community Foundations program. She has worked for many years in the field of funding for non-governmental organisations, either as part of the FDSC team during the pre-accession period to the EU or as part of various committees and project evaluation committees at international level. He likes money and NGOs, which he wants to put in a mutually beneficial relationship.

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