Organizational Sustainability




As a community foundation dedicated to reducing Palestinian civil society’s dependence on international aid, we ourselves have to remain independent of international aid. To do this, we agreed to take international funds 1) for our own defined programs, when we can package them as pilot projects without distorting our objectives; 2) when the donor is an organization whose policies and politics we can live with; 3) in amounts of not more than $25,000/year from any one donor if for operating funds. In no cases do we take government funds, and we will not sign anti-terrorism agreements. We are pleased with our philosophy and it helps us gain local credibility, but it is very hard on the pocketbook!

We came up with many ideas about how to raise sustainable funds in small amounts from individuals and companies and set out to do them all, not knowing what would succeed or fail. For example:

We had plexiglass boxes made to collect donations in stores and hotels. This was supposed to be part of a project whereby a pharmaceutical company funded the boxes and distributed them to all pharmacies for a one-month campaign each year, accompanied by a PR campaign “we are the donors” but the company postponed and delayed and never came through. So we piloted this on our own in Jerusalem and a volunteer agreed to check the boxes monthly. Almost immediately the volunteer disappeared leaving our executive director to run around Jerusalem on her days off because no one else has a military permit to enter Jerusalem. Within 4 or 5 months nearly all the boxes had fallen and broken and in two cases we know there was theft. Some of the boxes did bring income (only in local places, not hotels), but not worth the effort.

We distributed flyers at a big business conference inviting corporations to open named company funds at our community foundation but we didn’t take out an exhibit table as we should have because it was expensive. And we didn’t have the resources to follow up with the companies one by one! It was worthwhile anyway because we got some visibility and now when we go back to them, they may remember us.

We have a fiscal sponsor in the US and did three fundraisers in 2009. They went fairly well because people write checks that are tax-deductible. Now we are starting to develop a relationship with a CF in the UK for them to serve as our fiscal sponsor. We have a volunteer traveling to the UK twice this month and he’ll meet with Diaspora to discuss how to access that community for fundraising. There are many details and logistics and it might not pay off for a long time and maybe never, but we have to do it.

Lots of foreigners travel to Palestine on solidarity, political or cultural tours. We want to ask the alternative tour operators to distribute information about how they could contribute grant funds through our foundation. To interest them and the potential donors, we want to make one side of the flier about advocacy – ideas for how they can educate others and promote peace when they get home. The other side will be about how to give to Dalia. The challenge is how to word it given that potential donors come from many different countries. There is really no reason to delay this any longer but our director just hasn’t had time to finalize the text, have it designed, meet with the tour operators. Also, if they give on their credit cards through our fiscal sponsor, it will be hard for us to distinguish that it should go into the grant fund rather than operating expenses. We need to think this through a bit and we don’t have a good system and there is no time for all our good ideas.

We have a famous business speaker who agreed to come to Palestine to launch a speakers’ series for the business community. We want the speakers’ series to develop relationships with the business community. The speaker will talk about corporate social responsibility and will be a big media event. We got a big Palestinian donor to sponsor the event for $10,000 and then the speaker postponed indefinitely. We have spent so much time and he keeps changing the date and now we fear losing the sponsor. Seems people are very unreliable.

Our last newsletter was in April and it had 5 excellent articles. We didn’t get any single donation. We decided to send an article every month instead and appeal for money 4 times a year. But the guy who sends our newsletter takes 6 weeks to do ANYTHING we ask. He was supposed to send out the link to a radio show our executive director did, and he hasn’t done it in over 2 weeks. We want to give this task to our brand new admin assistant, but the website doesn’t function properly because it was designed in Drupal by a non-Drupal programmer and he made a lot of mistakes. It will take us months to get out of this mess. Until then, we can’t get out an appeal to our newsletter list, and this is costing us.

We are trying to get funding to pilot a recycling initiative that might be an income generator for our community foundation. We submitted it to the UN but were refused. Now it is under consideration by the French Consulate. We have an excellent relationship with them and are likely to get the grant, but if we get it, we do not have room to house the project manager. We already have 3 employees in one room. This will be very stressful. We need to grow, but we don’t have the resources quite yet!

What caused our + or – results? What did we learn?

What we are learning from all this is that we are spread too thin and are stressed out and this isn#8217;t sustainable. We keep working for the long-term – to create systems and relationships that will build an organization that will last. Meanwhile, we are killing ourselves trying to do excellent work on almost no budget without enough help. The defining moments are when we get approval for something and then again when it gets postponed or has to be re-done because it was done wrong.

In addition to the above, which focus on financial sustainability, it is important to remember that sustainable financial system ensures that an organization’s programs and projects are adequately funded. The financial systems translate the organization’s V-M-G, programs and projects into the cost of doing them. In fact, the budget is also known as the organization’s plan in financial terms.

Moreover, a sustainable financial system begins with accountability and transparency. What does this mean?