Opening the Door to Non-Profit Funding in Western Balkans
When the first non-profit organizations began in the Western Balkans region in the 1980s — as Communism was falling and democracy was beginning to take hold — they were nearly entirely funded from abroad. This led to a sort of distrust between different non-profit organizations and the citizens they meant to serve. The citizens saw the organizations as foreign arms that were looking after their own interests, and the organizations did not pay much consideration to the citizens.
Even as foreign funding started to disappear, only some social service organizations began to look for domestic funding. The majority of non-profits had become donor dependent and did not know how to reach out to any sort of resource other than the foreign organizations they had established relationships with.
This slowly started to change in the early 2000s with the introduction of domestic corporate philanthropic giving in the region, but the change has not been great. Most non-profit organizations still do not try to approach domestic donors.
“Their [organizations’] belief is that they represent themselves in this battle for values or this battle for social change; it is the people who work in the organizations themselves who are the change-makers. There is a huge disconnect in the way non-profits see their role and the people they are meant to serve,” explained Catalyst Foundation Director and Co-Founder Nathan Koeshall.
Koeshall is working to change that conversation in the hopes that non-profit organizations will begin to tap into domestic funding opportunities.
Catalyst Foundation led discussions on the disconnect between non-profit organizations and their constituents at the Philanthropy Know-How Conference in May, funded by the Balkan Trust for Democracy (BTD) and Technical Assistance for Civil Society Organizations (TACSO).
At the conference, some of the 60 non-profit organizations present expressed their feelings that there is a lack of funding for non-profit projects in the Western Balkans, as well as a lack of collaboration, communication, and skill-sharing between organizations. The fact that non-profit organizations now acknowledge these problems and even created a list of the next steps they need to take is a great start to finding solutions.
“There is an increased understanding that it is important to connect with their constituents, that it is importance to have a two-way dialogue, and that there is a value to being transparent, both with constituents and with a broader spectrum of public,” said Koeshall. And Catalyst Foundation wants to help non-profit organizations do all those things.
Catalyst Foundation launched the GivingBalkans database and the CiviCatalyst customer relationship management tool on November 13, 2017 as a way address some of the issues brought up at the conference. The projects are the result of two years of BTD-funded data collection in which Catalyst Foundation tracked more than 8,000 records of philanthropic giving in the region.
The GivingBalkans database tracks domestic donations made throughout the Western Balkans, so local non-profits can better understand the funding opportunities available to them. Organizations can go to the website, choose the type of cause they support, select the kind of donor they are looking for, and see who has given to that cause before. Catalyst Foundation’s goal is for one percent of the 135,000 registered non-profits in the region to use the GivingBalkans database within the next year.
CiviCatalyst software will allow non-profit organizations to track all their data in one system, so they will be able to communicate with their constituents more effectively and to maintain transparency. This will also allow non-profits to share their data in the GivingBalkans database more easily.
These two new tools will change the way non-profits work by showing them the many funding opportunities available when they connect at a local level.
“We are proving that there is a culture of giving that exists and is increasing [in the Western Balkans]. And we’re demonstrating that there is an importance to there being transparency because transparency also builds trust, which will help to build and improve an ecosystem in which we can all operate,” said Koeshall. “We constantly use this framework of people fighting for their piece of the pie. In the beginning, organizations didn’t want to share their data with us because they thought their donors would be stolen from them. What we are trying to describe is a reality that the pie is actually not that small. The larger we describe the pie, the more pie there is for everyone.”
BTD wants to see the culture of giving flourish in the Western Balkans because it is “one of the key tools for resilience building,” which ensures the continuity and stability of civil society, according to BTD Program Coordinator Tijana Kljajević. Catalyst Foundation’s work will lead to the further expansion of such a culture in the region.
“Catalyst Foundation’s work can both support the efforts of indigenous foundations and already active players, and can help to increase stakeholder involvement and interaction, also resulting in a greater level of awareness and know-how exchange,” said Kljajević.
Koeshall said the relationship between Catalyst Foundation and BTD is very supportive. BTD was flexible with how Catalyst Foundation reallocated unspent printing funds when the organization had the opportunity to hold the conference.
“The reallocation created an extra output and a great outcome that really demonstrates BTD’s commitment to working with organizations in an open way that helps us to achieve things,” said Koeshall. “Even as time goes by and we see that there is a need for a different focus, BTD’s able to be flexible with that.”
Catalyst Foundation will continue working with non-profit organizations in the Western Balkans to improve the relationship between donors and non-profit organizations. To do so, Catalyst Foundation plans to hold another conference next year, and they will continue to support policies and relationships that improve non-profits’ standing in the region.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.