By Ivana Jiménez and Joyce Soares

Civil society networks are key actors in the achievement of Agenda 2030 and the realization of the SDGs. As they are engaged at the national and regional level, these networks become platforms for dialogue from which it is possible to provide support and strengthen members’ capacities. A key component to do so is by having a sustainable, reliable, and regularly revisited fundraising strategy to support the platform’s activities. 

Following the research report on Promising Approaches to Financing Development in the 21st Century, Forus has decided to launch its toolkit called “Exploring new funding approaches for civil society”. This toolkit was written with the support of Flamingo for NGOs (funding, learning and management consultancy). As we dive into the different funding approaches implemented by different networks, this journey of analysis and peer learning aims to explore how civil society networks, with their own characteristics and structures, can become more financially sustainable. 

Six recommendations are drawn on how to ensure financial sustainability. Through these axes, the goal is for organisations to reflect on their current strategy and start thinking about new ways in which they could be applied and acted upon. 

1. Know your value - Whether seeking income from donors or membership fees from your constituencies, all organisations need to be able to understand and demonstrate their value clearly. What makes you different from other organisations working on similar objectives? What kind of robust and persuasive evidence do you have of this unique value of your organisation? 

2. Understanding the value of your membership - CSOs are at the core of civil society networks. Besides their contribution to the collective work with their expertise and understanding of the specific contexts, members often contribute with membership fees. Are you using your membership fees as an opportunity to communicate with your members and understand how they engage into your network? 

3. Cultivate strong relationships with your existing donors - As organisations tend to allocate more resources to pursue new financing opportunities they tend to neglect the existing ones. To pursue a deeper and longer-term engagement it is key to create opportunities for regular contact, such as organizing meetings or inviting donors’ to project launches or to other opportunities. How do you engage with your donors outside of your formal reporting schedules? What other issues do you discuss with them besides funding?

4. Avoid single donor dependency - If you are part of the majority of the CSOs that rely on a single donor, do you know what you would do if your main donor shifted its strategies? Having several income streams means that a change in one donor represents a smaller impact in your organisation. Nonetheless, deciding to establish funding relationships with additional donors, it is important to assess the total return on investment of adding income streams to ensure the gains outweigh the costs. 

5. Branch out ampliarse & diversify - Scoping new income-generating opportunities needs to be an ongoing process in your network. Striving to diversify funding can be quite time-consuming, but it’s an exercise that can be very interesting if it’s done within the network. If the idea of a complete mapping sounds overwhelming to you, you can consult with members to define priority targets. This could be an opportunity to discuss strategic priorities and explore new thematic growth areas, all while mapping new donors and income-generating opportunities. 

6. Turning threats into opportunities - In light of the shrinking of civic space, the network's role is even more essential. As they are in dialogue with their members, they can create spaces for joint reaction and collective mobilization to negotiate with authorities. It is key for networks to learn from each other about the different ways organisations are successfully adapting to this situation. 

As seen through these six recommendations, in order for civil society to be successfully involved in the achievement of the SDGs it is necessary to ensure proper funding for them to realize their full transformative potential. Participation is central in this process, and that is why donors, partners, and members from civil society need to have equal opportunities to discuss and negotiate the changes and adaptations required to implement their work together. By doing this review of their strategy, networks are one step closer to better understanding their role while assessing the resources needed to achieve a sustainable funding strategy. 

Interested in learning more about these six recommendations on funding approaches for civil society? Read the full toolkit, it is available in English, French and Spanish ! If you want to know our members’ opinion on the toolkit, we invite you to watch this video.  

-The Capacity Development Team