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Restless Development's Skills Sakhi's working to empower young women with livelihoods skills in marginalised communities in Delhi.

CREDIT: Dominic Smith

Time to level the funding playing field for local partners?

10 May 2022

Lots of NGOs are trying to change the way they fundraise. 

After our Responsible Fundraising series kick off meeting last year, it became apparent that members saw responsible fundraising as a way to shift towards locally led development. However, what also became very apparent was that NGOs didn’t feel they had the power to make that shift happen, unless donors made the first move. NGOs also felt that the short-term nature of fundraising was a huge barrier to making that shift, as was the fact that at a senior level, organisations didn’t understand the link between how they fundraise and the role that plays in shifting power to communities.  

During the first our Responsible Fundraising sessions we heard from Farida Makame, head of resource mobilisation and Corina Pickering, programme funding manager. Both colleagues gave us an insight into how Restless Development have embraced and implemented their responsible fundraising strategy.

During a fascinating and informative session, here is what we learnt.  

Put the communities or people at the heart of your work

Keen to restore power and development to young people, Restless Development have developed youth models for fundraising. A key part of this is the idea of youth leadership. Over the years, putting youth leadership at the core of their work has been transformative, but Restless Development believe the sector needs to change the way current models of development work. Right now, most funding goes to big NGOs, which means an unequal distribution of power and funding. 

When Restless Development think about power, they mean institutional and individual power. One of the key principles that underline their funding partnerships is that they do not compete with partners for funding. Restless Development share their resources with youth civil society, and aim to create equitable partnerships. In pursuit of this, they are also looking at their use of branding and language and are also diversifying their teams. 

Restless Development have a specific ethical policy that guides any private sector funding and are willing to both avoid and turn down funding if it doesn’t comply with their policy, which can be found on their website.

Define what power restoring funding looks like for your organisation

Defining what “power restoring funding” means for your organisation is critical, as is having clear measurables. Questions Restless Development ask themselves are: is the funding flexible? Can we design our programme with young people? If there is a chance to codesign with youth organisation, is there a chance to boost the resilience of youth organisations through the funding? Would the donor welcome conversations on these issues? Would the donor welcome thought leadership on how to provide power restoring funding?

This is something Restless Development has done with some donors to help improve the diversity of philanthropy. Though Restless Development have financial targets in terms of how much funding they want to get to youth organisations, they remain flexible and adaptable. Restless Development also deliver annual or quarterly reporting to their Resource Leadership Team to create a body of evidence and learning that maps how they are progressing, as well as what they need to improve. 

Restless Development also work with donors to help them understand the issues around restoring power to youth organisations. The facilitate conversations, produce annual reports working with partners and local organisations, and they work through challenges together and share decision making around resources. Restless Development are also part of the We Trust Youth partnership

Securing responsible funding requires Board and leadership team buy-in 

Both speakers spoke of having a Board and leadership team that both truly bought into what the organisation was trying to achieve and how they were trying to achieve it. The leadership team at Restless Development openly talk about working themselves out of a job in 10-20 years’ time when they hope funding will be going directly to the local youth organisations. If that hasn’t happened, it would mean Restless Development would still be needed as a relationship broker, and only then they would need to keep going.

Both the Board and the leadership team buy in to the idea of diversifying the organisations funding so that they support youth leadership, rather than compete with it. Restless Development are losing some funding teams a result, but they are also setting up new ones. The organisation has also specified how much funding needs to go to local youth led organisation, and the extent to which this needs to increase over the years. 

No ambition to grow

Interestingly, Restless Development have no ambition to grown financially. The organisation wants to keep most of their refunding at the same level and right now the organisations turnover is around 10 million pounds. Restless Development are already doing less and less of the direct deliver and implementation work.

In the long-term, the aim is that the funding will gradually decline as they improve access to funding for youth organisation, and as they become a smaller organisation the hope is that they will transition towards more of an advisory service for youth organisation and donors. In the future, they would like to help donors give funding directly to youth organisations and help them connect with the right people. 

What's next?

In our next session we will be exploring the experiences of local civil society in fundraising and trying to understand how our individual behaviours impact fundraising and our relationships with partners.  

We will be sharing the findings of the series with the sector at Bond’s Dismantling Development conference which is taking place in September. Please keep a look out through the Bond channels on how to sign up.