Non-governmental organizations* have long been funded by membership fees and donations, by public grants, and to some extent (particularly in the Anglo-Saxon world) by grants from private foundations.
Now things are rapidly shifting.
Lifelong members are becoming a thing of the past. Those membership fees that roll in, year after year, are dwindling. We tend to engage for shorter times, in things closer to ourselves. More time spent in the parents’ association, less money for big, anonymous charities? Public funding is also dwindling. As economic recession sets in, in country after country, funds for the third sector are among the first to be cut.
So many NGOs are looking for new income streams – some through crowdfunding, others through contracts that look more and more like commercial consultancy services.
There is certainly a good side to this. For both crowdfunding and contracts you need to make a very clear case for what you want to do. No vague ‘do-good’ missions are likely to succeed.
On the other hand: you are ‘selling’ to the funders, whose interests may not be aligned with those you propose to serve, the beneficiaries of your programs. Well, this is nothing new. All of us in this NGO world have struggled to balance the demands of funders with the needs of our constituencies.
The basic dilemma is unchanged: in order to get funding to support our constituencies, we need to portray them as somehow ‘lacking’. Or, as someone from an association for the disabled put it: “If we portray our members as fully capable citizens, no-one wants to fund us or them.” So the ‘poor me’ or ‘poor them’ syndrome takes over, and we are flooded with (for example) tear-jerking photos of impoverished Africans, instead of being shown the poor but dynamic current reality of most of that continent.
Will the new hybrid NGO-consultancies be able to manage this balance better than before? Or do we risk losing our footing entirely?
* NGOs, or ‘charitable associations’