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!




0 Replies to “Community philanthropy and development: Deepening the discussion”

  1. My experience has been that the hierarchy between external donors who give large sums of money and recipient organisations is too pronounced. Lack of trust, respect, and often high-handedness on the part of the donor does not allow or affirm that both sides are engaged for the same cause.

    On the other hand, the playing field is levelled while engaging in community philanthropy. This promotes, mutual respect, trust, as well as learning. In leading a campaign with a goal to raise US $900000 in Tewa – the Nepal Women's Fund, we did raise 1 million dollars. But out of this we raised more than 1/10 by engaging 90 grantee groups from all over Nepal, more than 85 Nepali donors who gifted more than US $ 1000 each, and all the staff and members of Tewa, as donors to the campaign. In a place where the Nepali money is 95 to a dollar – this is not a small amount!

    Although time consuming, this increased ownership, a sense of self worth, inter dependence, and mutual trust & respect. Furthermore all the good things gained in this act goes further. It spreads through grantee organisations, each gifting person learns to give more through renewed self confidence, and not only Tewa but the entire community is strengthened.

    For me it is the only way to go!

  2. This is a really interesting discussion. Perhaps I can add one or two points related to our experience in South Sinai, Egypt. We work in an authoritarian environment in which it is difficult for civil society to flourish – the more so because the Bedouin communities we work with are themselves a marginalized minority. In this situation issues of accountability and legitimacy are both critical and contentious. We have to operate within the legal constraints of a system apparently designed to hamstring rather than facilitate civic participation; this makes it enormously hard to work as transparently as we’d like. We are accountable to the Egyptian authorities and have to be seen to comply with their requirements: for example, obtaining endorsement of grantmaking decisions from Ministry officials. However, to gain the trust of our communities it is essential that we are seen as wholly independent of the system. This is a delicate tightrope to walk, and a good example of the tension between grantmaker and community noted in the discussion.
    We seek legitimacy by establishing local committees when funds are to be distributed, and by acting in response to our network of thirty community volunteers, mostly based in scattered desert communities with almost no facilities (patchy or no electricity, no reliable water supply, poor or absent education and no healthcare). Established two years ago (by a civic participation project co-funded by GFCF) the network is a good example of the way that the effects of a grant can go way beyond their original intent and really build local capacity. The volunteers bring issues from their patch to our attention. We act as a hub where needed, linking them with other communities with similar issues. They learn from others’ experience, we help them co-ordinate action. We provide resources, they do what’s needed. There’s a real sense in which the network is becoming the community foundation. And paradoxically, the fewer resources we have (at this time when bringing in foreign funds is close to impossible), the more local people step forward to contribute what they can in time and kind. By catalyzing widespread community action at ground level, the community foundation is helping people assume responsibility for their own communities. They are accountable to each other.

    Hilary Gilbert
    Chair, South Sinai Foundation (UK)/
    Community Foundation for South Sinai (Egypt)

  3. Developed countries with intricate philanthropic and development structures may take for granted the concepts and practices of transparency and accountability. For us in Global South countries like Haiti, where philanthropy is not institutionalized and corruption permeates the system, the concepts and practices of transparency and accountability are powerful tools for equity, social change and social justice.
    In 2013 briefs, the Center for Global Development (CGD) stated the following: “An estimate of $9 billion in public and private funding has been spent on disaster recovery since the 2010 earthquake… but despite the large amount of public money invested, it is nearly impossible to track down how it has been spent and what has been achieved.” CGD also reported this year than only “0.6 percent” of the funds given had gone directly to Haitian businesses and Haitian organizations. A 2014 Editorial from the New York Times reported that “Data from the United States Agency for International Development show that barely 5 percent of its financing for projects in Haiti in 2012 went to Haitian-led institutions.” The newspaper Editorial Board went on to say: “That is not good enough.”
    Haitian institutions and leaders in Haiti and abroad have been advocating for a higher level of transparency and accountability from International organizations and institutions that dominate the development field in our country and (by default or deliberate design) shape its development agenda. We are marginalized from our development efforts and overly dependent on foreign aid agents that do not comply with basic transparency and accountability standards.
    For all of these reasons and more, we need a Haiti-based and Haiti-led community foundation to support civic engagement, leadership development, long-term capacity building and the development of philanthropy in Haiti. For the past two years, the Haiti Community Foundation Initiative (HCFI) has worked in the Grande Anse region (Haiti’s last green reserve and food basket) on a pilot program. ESPWA, the facilitating agency for HCFI (supported by a number of Haitian partners and international partners such as GFCF and IAF) has worked closely and horizontally with local leaders on a regional planning process which has involved hundreds of leaders, and which has been powered by a very active Planning Committee of 20 local leaders and a growing Support Committee of influential community residents. The focus of this community assessment has not just been on collecting data, but more to the point, it has been on bringing together leaders from various sectors in each commune or regional sub division to discuss their assets, their needs, the solutions to these needs and their self-identified and determined priorities. The results of the regional planning process have been multi-layered and gone beyond our expectations as outcomes have included: the creation of local leadership groups focused on the implementation of identified priorities; the comprehensive training of regional leaders; the rallying of communities to support this process; and the emergence of a strong movement for Haitians to reclaim both their cooperative cultural traditions and their development agenda.
    The development process of the Haiti Community Foundation has so far proven to be a powerful community-organizing process, and an inclusive nation-building platform for Haiti (a country that has historically been divided by conflicts revolving around politics, class, race and religion). At its core (at the core of community philanthropy) is the concept of mutual accountability. Donors should listen to the community and fully leverage and support local leadership’s social capital while community leaders should serve the community by implementing effective programs grounded in community needs, and being accountable to the community and its supporters/donors. The concept and practice of mutual accountability are central to effective and sustainable development. In fact, we desperately need them in Haiti.

  4. I think of "mutual accountability" in two senses as it relates to our experience in Palestine. First, as you refer, the relationship between the community and the community foundation. Theoretically, the community foundation is both "of" the community and "for" the community (not true of external donors). This means that the community is at the table. Accountability is not between insiders and outsiders but among insiders with different perspectives. Accountability and community building and institution building and capacity building and trust building become intertwined and mutually reinforcing. I say "theoretically" because there is still a gap, perhaps in most places, between those who "run" the philanthropic organization and those who benefit from grants (we are all beneficiaries, but we don't all get grants). Narrowing that gap is an objective of a community foundation, not just a means to an end. That's unique in community foundations.

    Secondly, in Palestine, we work towards mutual accountability with "external" donors, by making advocacy to reform international aid a core objective. In aid dependent societies, dependence on internal aid undermines the potential relationship between communities and community philanthropic organizations. So, addressing the problem (aid dependence) directly makes sense to us.

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