The Need for International Aid & Development is Acute: Improved Governance Is Key to Helping Nonprofits Step-up to the Challenge

This past March, at the annual Miss Grand International pageant in Bangkok, Thailand, a contestant didn’t use her time on stage to display personal talents or reveal a stunning wardrobe. She used her opportunity to make an urgent appeal for international aid organizations to support her country’s citizens as political turmoil and violence made life extraordinarily difficult for people.

When Syrians were displaced by political violence and the Coronavirus pandemic and pleading for aid, as one refugee told the Associated Press, “We don’t have nearly enough.” Unfortunately, in nearby Yemen, where another major humanitarian crisis unfolded, an international aid operation was less than 50% funded, making it difficult for organizations to provide meaningful relief when it’s needed most. In total, the World Bank estimates that global exposure to extreme poverty will reach 150 million people in 2021. And as the urgency in Afghanistan grows more dire, the international community’s focal point intensifies on yet another calamity looming without the availability and access to humanitarian aid. 

In addition, reduced access to healthcare, disrupted educational systems, climate change, and geopolitical conflict are collectively increasing international aid organizations’ demands. Writing on the challenges faced by international aid organizations, the Brookings Institute noted without exaggeration that the recent pandemic “wiped out decades of gains from international development.”

Meanwhile, some countries, including the UK, are pulling back on international aid contributions, costing charities, international aid institutions, and non-governmental organizations billions of dollars in resources. It’s estimated that financial limitations will close a third of nonprofits, while 75 percent report shrinking donor contributions, further reducing their ability to meet their mission and serve their constituents.

Nonprofit services are in high demand, but their resources are limited. They don’t have time to wait for economic conditions to improve or donor behaviors to change. Instead, international aid organizations need to look internally to become more efficient and effective without compromising results. To this end, nonprofits should pursue exemplary governance as a way to best secure funding, streamline operational priorities, and maximize impact in a fast-changing, extremely desperate environment.

Here’s how international aid organizations can begin that process today.

#1 Fundraising Methodologies Have Changed. Adapt.

To be successful, international aid organizations will need to maintain their current funding sources while identifying new opportunities to generate much-needed revenue. To achieve this, organizations must adapt to the latest fundraising methodologies that tap into consumer behaviors, capitalizing on a data-driven, compassionate ethos that often defines nonprofit contributors.

Most prominently, this means embracing unparalleled levels of transparency and accountability.

For example, 70 percent of potential donors want nonprofits to divulge overhead expenses and other budgetary elements before making a financial commitment. In other words, exceptional governance in the form of time and expense management protocols allows nonprofits to demonstrate their efficacy, including:

  • Revealing resource allocation. Donors want to know what their contribution achieves. Collecting and providing insights into resources allocation can move people from potential contributors to financial supporters.
  • Generating overhead projections. Overhead is a necessary component of running an organization, but donors want to know that this spending category isn’t unrestrained and without accountability.
  • Delivering staff and volunteer equity. Nonprofits should model their ethics, something that is often expressed through pay and opportunity equity among staff.
  • Conveying professionalism, financial literacy, and intentionality. Comprehensive time and expense records can differentiate high-impact aid organizations from those less likely to achieve their intended outcomes.

Simply put, donors demand more than sympathetic stories and emotive imagery to sign on as financial contributors. They want to know that they are giving money to organizations worthy of their investment. International aid organizations should adapt their fundraising methodologies to account for these donor trends, maximizing their opportunities in a financially constrained nonprofit sector. 

#2 Your Reach is Limited. Prioritize.

When organizations are asked to do more with less, “efficiency” is often the buzzword meant to assuage concerns and encourage optimism. Often the implied drawdown can be catastrophic to the organization’s mission. However, when deployed correctly, efficiency doesn’t have to mean doing less with less. Rather, it can be an opportunity to reflect on mission and impact to direct resources accordingly.

Exemplary governance plays a critical role in this assessment, allowing organizations to understand and identify areas for improvement, optimizing impact without compromise. Exemplary governance through time and expense management provides data-driven insights into spending patterns, personnel allocation, and resource management.

For instance, inevitable organizational drift can bloat spending over time. In response, organizational leaders can evaluate spending, ensuring that precious financial resources are deployed with pinpoint precision. Similarly, international aid organizations will be forced to make difficult decisions when it comes to personnel distribution. Leaders should assess their highest priority needs and optimize personnel accordingly.

As international aid organizations strive to meet the surging demand for their services and resources, they must understand that their reach is limited, and effectiveness depends on prioritizing objectives and priorities that align with mission and need.

#3 Impact Matters. Empower.

As time and research demonstrates, supporting international communities requires more than effective resource distribution. It’s predicated on empowerment and self-sustainability that produces long-lasting, positive impact.

Unfortunately, international aid organizations often rely on emotive imagery to compel potential donors to support their mission through resource distribution. Now, as international aid is reshaped and reoriented around local communities, those images are less illustrative and empowering than they once were.

“The images of starving children used to raise money for famine relief are now decried as ‘poverty porn’ that portrays Africans as helpless victims so that American and European organizations can collect funds,” wrote The New York Timeseditorial board in a February 2021 op-ed.

What’s more, as the World Economic Forum notes, international aid often supports “corruption, civil conflict, shrinking of the middle class, and the instilling of a culture of dependency.” This is a critical insight for international aid organizations, allowing them to direct their efforts towards empowering communities, training leaders, and implementing sustainable processes as addendums to financial and physical resources to meet immediate on-the-ground needs.

Since donors are looking to support change outcomes, not just problems, addressing holistic, systemic issues is both a tangible benefit to constituents and a value add to potential investors.

The Importance of Now

This is a pivotal moment for international aid organizations. Many were formed for moments such as these, created to provide critical goods and services to people in need. Right now, hardship is expansive and expanding even as funding limitations significantly restrain capacity.

In this environment, aid organizations can look internally, updating and improving their governance to enhance their fundraising capacity, streamline their efforts, and achieve the best outcomes. With so many people counting on these organizations, immediate action is necessary, and the first steps should be in-house, a priority that can’t wait a minute longer.

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