Community philanthropy and development: Deepening the discussion

Issue 1: Community philanthropy and mutual accountability

One of the things that Global Alliance for Community Philanthropy offers is a rather unique platform for a diverse set of donors and development practitioners to come together to expand their understanding and share learnings about complex issues in development and, in particular, how community philanthropy might perform a particular and valuable role that results in more effective development outcomes.

A few weeks’ ago a conversation began between some members of the Alliance about how community philanthropy might foster greater mutual accountability. We thought it would be good to invite others to contribute to this discussion so we tidied up what was originally an email exchange, sharpened our thinking and have published the conversation so far. Please join the discussion!

The question:

I would like be able to be able to distinguish more clearly community philanthropy from other forms of civil society support. Specifically, there is a reference in “A Different Kind of Wealth” (a GFCF publication on African community foundations) to one of the defining features of community philanthropy being “mutual accountability” between the philanthropic organization and its community. I’m wondering if you could say a bit about how you see that form of mutual accountability as distinct from efforts by outside donors to support CSOs (assuming that the donors aim to support the CSOs relationship with its community/constituency).

I also wonder if you can speak to the way that having grantmaking power affects this pre-existing mutual accountability relationship.

I suppose part of my aim is to be able, in discussions with colleagues who say “we already support mutual accountability when we work with CSOs,” to have more clarity on how the community philanthropy meaning of that term might be distinct from the typical donor efforts to support the same.

The response:

Thanks for your question about the extent to which community philanthropy can foster mutual accountability between a local philanthropic organization and its community. It is indeed a big and important question and one that, where community foundations / community philanthropy organizations are still quite young or emerging, represents both a hypothesis and a potential source of tension. The answers aren’t yet cut and dried and, within the global field at least, we have to rely somewhat on anecdotes and one-off experiences of partners we have been working with over the last few years (although the outcome indicators that the GFCF has developed in the last four to five years are aimed at facilitating the collection of evidence across a diverse set of individual organizations and geographic regions so that we can begin to talk about trends, common characteristics, etc.).

Firstly, it is probably worth emphasizing that that the report, “A Different Kind of Wealth”, focuses specifically on community philanthropy organizations that are all grantmakers to some extent or another and that we didn’t include other types of NGOs / CSOs that were seeking to leverage local philanthropic assets. So this response will focus on experiences from that narrower cohort of specifically grantmaking organizations (as against broader forms of community philanthropy).

In very practical terms, a community foundation can demonstrate mutual accountability by modelling transparency. In regard to transparency, that might include an Annual Report that outlines how grantmaking has been carried out and which groups have received what grants to do what. Because grantmaking is often the community foundation’s primary tool for fund development, it is essential that local donors see exactly how money flows to and through the community foundation if they are to be convinced to give again. It should also include annual Donor Statements that allow each donor (whether local or international) to see exactly where their money has gone. It should contain a Summary Income and Expenditure statement for the community philanthropy organisation.

By comparison, typical outside donor funding for a CSO may include requirements for an annual audit, but generally does not require that the organization publish information in a way that makes it accessible to local stakeholders. Outside donors tend to emphasize accountability (tracking, through third-party audits, how funds were spent) rather than transparency (information sharing about how funds were spent).

In terms of governance and local participation in decision-making (beyond the board itself), there have been some very interesting efforts by some community foundations to engage with power dynamics directly and root themselves more firmly and “horizontally” in their communities. Strategies include publically advertising for board members (Community Foundation for Northern Ireland), organizing community-decision making processes around the allocation of grants and then having grantees report back to those same community forums (Central American Women’s Fund and Dalia Association, Palestine), working with communities to create their own community funds within the foundation which give them a stake both as co-investors in the foundation but also decision-makers in regard to their allocation for local development purposes (Kenya Community Development Foundation) and engaging young people both in fundraising and grantmaking activities through projects such as YouthBank (where they raise the funds, decide how to allocate them and then monitor and review them, with the support of a community foundation or other hosting institution). We also have examples of foundations (e.g. Tewa in Nepal and West Coast Community Foundation in South Africa) where organizations that have received grants are encouraged to make a donation back to the foundation as a strategy for fostering a sense of co-investment / mutuality between the foundation and its partners. Of course, the potential for elite capture and for token participation always exists with any organization. But a community philanthropy institution that is making decisions about how to spend locally-raised resources often tends to have a stronger incentive toward horizontal engagement, and it is often built into governance structures or programmatic management.

Central American Women’s Fund

 By contrast, in terms of local participation in decision-making, where large outside donors support CSOs, even including re-granting facilities, their emphasis tends to be on the organization’s reach and potential array of activities to support, rather than the quality of engagement between the CSO and its constituents. Outside donors often have incentives to define a minimum standard of engagement for the CSO and push it not to go beyond that standard – so it is effectively a minimum and maximum – in order to maximize “value for money” from the donor perspective.

In the realm of governance, outside donors often have very robust governance standards. Their standards, while often high, reference compliance with international best practice or local legal requirements and tend to place emphasis on avoiding conflicts of interest among staff or board, with much less attention to formal roles for an organization’s community in its governance.

What is key here is that the simple “bricks and mortar” of the institutional framework of a community philanthropy organization are not in themselves sufficient to ensure mutual accountability, power-sharing with the community and only a clear articulation of some key values and principles by board and staff can help ward against the push and pull of forces that exist within any multi-stakeholder institutional arrangement.

And finally perhaps it is worth touching on the role of grantmaking and re-granting in all of this. A recent issue of Alliance magazine included a special focus on grantmaking. It explored whether grantmaking as a tool for achieving social change had been over-stated and whether other philanthropic and development tools might be more effective. Overall, contributors from emerging markets and developing contexts were adamant that grantmaking was an essential tool in fostering local development – and that it was so much more than a series of transactions and transfers of money (as is often the case when it comes to “re-granting” on behalf of international donors. Filiz Bikmen observed that in Turkey grantmaking is so much more than the transfer of funds; it is all about increasing the capacities of civil society, fostering connections between different groups – an investment in democratization. And Akwasi Aidoo, from TrustAfrica, also noted that in Africa, for so long dependent on donor aid and only just now beginning to experience the reality of a developed and indigenous African philanthropy sector, “grantmaking becomes an essential tool in fostering new and more horizontal and transparent forms of mutual accountability between donors and recipients; it constitutes part of a paradigm shift towards a form of development that is driven and resourced by Africans.”

What do you think? The GACP offers a valuable platform to establish a dialogue across different development approaches and agendas and what it needs is a range of different voices and perspectives. So, please, join the discussion!

 

 

 

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