This is part two of a blog on how the Global Fund for Women is committed to sustainability within the organization and in the larger movement. Read part one published last week.
“As a women's rights organization faced with ever increasing demands on a daily basis, we have come to strongly recognize the significance of gaining access to flexible funds in order to increase the organization’s effectiveness in responding to the diverse needs of women. Support from the Global Fund for Women has therefore been an essential component in determining the scale and sustainability of the organization’s work in the empowerment of women and prevented the organization from limiting its vision.” --Federation of Women Lawyers, Ghana
One of our roles as the largest public grantmaking organization in the world dedicated exclusively to women's rights, is to help women build sustainable movements. We know that financial sustainability is key to building such movements. Providing small, general support grants is one of the most important ways the Global Fund contributes to sustainable social change worldwide.
As Michael Seltzer of PhilanTopic recently wrote in The Case for Sustainable Funding, more foundations are beginning to think of themselves as "Builders" rather than "Buyers." Seltzer distinguishes the Buyers, or foundations that award grants “with an eye to achieving specific programmatic outcomes” from the Builders—those foundations that, “always mindful of outcomes, seek to help grantees strengthen their organizational capacity so as to achieve greater impact in the future.” A Builder, argues Seltzer, “seeks to bolster the sustainability of the organizations it supports.”
While many women’s funds around the world, including the Global Fund, have been making the case for general support for more than two decades, these unrestricted grants still only make up less than 20 percent of all grantmaking dollars, according to the Foundation Center (Foundation Giving Trends, 2009 edition). Still, efforts like these within the field of philanthropy to make the case for more sustainable funding are making a difference. As Seltzer writes, “a growing number of leaders in the sector have made the case for general operating support as integral to a nonprofit's ability to survive and thrive -- in any kind of economic environment.” Following through on increasing this core support will be a key component of building strong sustainable movements.
Many others are now also talking about general support funding. In a recent issue of World Pulse magazine, a feature article “10 Ways to Give to Women and Girls” also laid out the case for general support. In its advice to donor activists, the article quoted a study from the Association of Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) citing that most of the funding accessed by women’s rights organizations worldwide is still mostly project-based funding instead of core support. The article urged those who wish to provide the most useful, flexible, and effective support to women’s rights to provide general support, noting, “If you only want your funding to go to programs and not to salaries or rent, think twice: you many be doing a disservice to the organization’s ability to be flexible and carry out its work.”
Equally important on the issue of how we fund, of course, is what we fund. Environmental and cultural sustainability cannot be divorced from women’s rights. They are, in fact, inextricably linked. A number of our grantee partners are already working on a range of sustainability initiatives within their communities—some for a long time, and others more recently. For example, EcoWomen, a grantee since 2001, is the first women's group in China to address the link between pesticide use and women's health and is working to eliminate pesticide risks to rural women. Equally important, the group is promoting women's participation in environmental protection and sustainable livelihoods, including organic farming. The Indigenous Women’s Fund, a recent Global Fund start-up grant recipient, is dedicating funds to the development of Indigenous women leaders worldwide. These women will ensure their rights to the sustainability of indigenous cultures and environments long into the future. Access to sustainable sources of funding and general support is as important to us as for our grantees. Especially during times of economic uncertainty, consistent support that organizations can count on over time also contributes to the financial sustainability of organizations like the Global Fund and our grantees. “Inconsistent, unstable funding is one of the most stressful obstacles that women’s groups face from year to year,” noted the World Pulse article, before recommending strategies to support organizations overcome these challenges by providing multi-year pledged support or through committing to monthly giving.
For this reason, we are particularly grateful to our community of the Corazón Network, monthly supporters of the Global Fund. As Corazón donor, Jen St. Hilaire of Scarlet City Roasting put it, “I truly believe in Global Fund's philosophy that small grants aimed at improving the lives of women all around the world leads to improvements in everyone's lives. And in that respect, I achieve sustainability every month.”
You can be a regular, sustainable supporter of our efforts to mobilize funds for women's rights by joining the Corazón Network.
To learn more about feminist activists working to foster activist sustainability and to curb activist burnout: check out the recent publication of “What's the Point of Revolution If You Can't Dance?”
Annie Wilkinson is part of the Global Fund’s Development Team.