Why developing philanthropy is not a waste of time

Zoran Stojkovski’s article about local NGOs and local philanthropy definitely provoked me to share some of the thoughts on this issue. To start with data, Zoran shared that in Macedonia, “less than 10% of donations and sponsorships from local business sector goes to NGOs”. Not that is much different in other countries: in Bosnia and Herzegovina only about 17% of CSO report community contributions and 12% business contributions; in Croatia only 6,2% of CSOs income comes from companies; in Serbia, in the most recent research, 35% of CSOs stated financial support from business and 11% support from citizens. Last weeks’ post from Turkey reports that over 87% of individuals prefers direct giving as opposed to giving to CSOs. Just to back up this data, last years’ media monitoring showed that institutions are “beating” CSOs as recipients of the donations in all countries except Croatia.


NOT encouraging. Local donors (both individuals and companies) that I’ve talked to seem to doubt CSOs credibility and effectiveness, asking questions like: What exactly CSOs are? Can they really achieve results/solve a problem/make a change? How do they spend all that money?

Where these questions come from when we know how much CSOs have done in the Balkans in the past twenty years????

Well, Zoran hinted the answer when quoting CSO that raised small amount of money after spending a month working on fundraising event: ”if we spend a month in project proposal development, than we will have raised 70.000 US$, and that for us organizing local fundraising event is simply wasting of time”.

In other words, while CSOs do spend their time explaining to foreign donors what they are doing and what their results are in order to get resources for their work, it seems that they are not always willing to spend that time to explain the same things to their fellow citizens. The main reason being obviously – much more money that they can get from foreign donors, which will enable them to get more work done.

Sounds reasonable enough. So why local CSO should develop local philanthropy at all? 

Well, firstly, we may as well remember that foreign donors will not always be here and those who are staying (i.e. EU) will stay will not have resources for all CSOs! Honestly – just ask many CSOs that closed their doors after CEE countries entered EU. So, sooner or later, great number of CSOs will have to turn to local sources of funding, so they might as well start now.  

But also, turning to local sources of funding is not just an issue of financial survival. If you are CSO that successfully raises local money, it means that citizens and companies from communities in which you work:

– understand (at least in broad sense) who are you and what are you trying to achieve

– believe that what you do is important for them/their children, families and community

– believe that you will achieve results, make a change for them and their community

– trust that you won’t misuse their money


if people and companies from your communities believe in all that, that provides certain leverage with other actors as well. Media will be easier to attract and local governments will be taking you more seriously; after all people and companies that give you their money can be mobilized to show their support in other ways too. In other words, CSO that gets local money will be regarded more as a partner to other sectors, and will be able to get more work done and achieve better results.


People/companies that give you money can also promote your work to other local people and other local companies, which (eventually and granted, after lot of effort) will lead to more local money, meaning more stable financing.

Now I don’t live in fairy tale and I do know, first hand, how important resources are for the work CSOs are doing and I do know – again first hand – how difficult it is to start getting that money from local people and companies. But, it seems to me that we (from non-profit sector) sometimes become so busy with doing things for citizens, communities and societies that we forget to communicate with those same citizens, communities and societies. Across the Balkans this resulted – in these same citizens, communities and societies having little information or idea what is it that civil society does and why – as societies –  we should sustain it. And across the Balkans this also might mean that civil society will become much weaker once when foreign donors leave.

So the key issue at this point is not how much money we will raise from local sources in the first fundraising event; and it is not how much more we would get from foreign donor if we spend same time in fundraising. The key issue is: who is our real constituency – foreign donors or citizens and community in which you work? If we, as people working in CSOs, still think that our constituency are our communities and people who live in them, we have no other choice but to try to develop better communication with them. And spending a month to get 500$ from our neighbors to support whatever we want to achieve seems to me as a very good start.  

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Aleksandra Vesic