View Top 12 Tips for Building Sustainability Here!

Erik Detiger About Erik Detiger

Erik Detiger is the Managing Director of FundsforNGOs. Erik brings his two decades of experience working in the field of international philanthropy and fundraising to FundsforNGOs. He has worked with the United Nations, INGOs and grass-roots organizations in Europe, Thailand, Nepal, Tanzania, India, and the United States. Well versed in project management and fundraising, Erik has led development projects in health, education, humanitarian relief and human rights, raising well over $150 million from a wide variety of government agencies, foundations, and institutions.

The top 12 tips that will help NGOs in building sustainability are mentioned below:

1.Review your current practices

Before discussing sustainability with an existing or potential recipient of funding, review your current practices and make improvements.  Does your (online) application form include anything on sustainability? Are you clearly communicating what it is you expect in this area? Did you ever ask for feedback from earlier recipients and make improvements based on this feedback? A proper review of your practices will enable you to book results going forward.

2. Update your budget template

Many donors do not include or discourage adequate line-items covering sustainability. NGOs should be specifically requested to add budget to cover proper office space, quality computers and tools, staff training, staffing, including fundraising staff time, and communications. While it may seem these line items will be at the expense of short-term project impact, the opposite is actually the case.  High capacity, well resourced NGOs will be able to plan and deliver the highest impact over time. They will also be much less reliant for their survival on a single donor.

3. Require a sustainability plan

Once you have decided to fund an NGO, ask them to prepare an action-oriented sustainability plan. A short plan with specific goals, that assigns tasks to certain staff and earmarks budget to do so will move it in the right direction. Make sure you have a basic template and instructions available. or be ready to support the NGO in developing such a plan.

4. Stress the need for continuous fundraising

Many NGOs tend to ease up on their fundraising activities once they receive a sizable grant, only reenergizing their efforts once the funding is coming to an end, by which time it is often too late to find alternatives. For fundraising to be successful, NGOs should fundraise continuously, adding donors to their portfolio of supporters and diversifying their funding mix. Donors can support this process by requiring budget lines for fundraising, quarterly reporting on efforts undertaken and donors contacted, and sharing information and contacts.

5. Have NGOs sign up for and/or

FundsforNGOs provides donors a free and easy way to communicate funding opportunities to millions of NGOs around the world.  Donors should ask their partner NGOs to register for the FundsforNGOs free funding opportunity newsletter services. Even better, would be the inclusion of a budget line in the grant agreement that covers the modest fee for the FundsforNGOs Premium Service. See:

Other subscription sites that are worth considering include the US Foundation Center Directory of Foundations and Trustfunding UK.

6. Provide technical support

Many, especially grass-roots NGOs, have limited capacity to fundraise. Donors, with their funding expertise and typically larger capacity, are well positioned to support NGOs in their fundraising. Providing feedback on proposals and reports, as well as reviewing and critiquing applications and approaches to other donors can be valuable. If you fund multiple NGOs in a certain country or sector, it might also be worthwhile to have a consultant develop resource materials and guides on fundraising topics that can be shared amongst them, e.g. directories of donors and training webinars. Providing feedback on rejected proposals is also a good way to more widely support other NGOs.

7. Create NGO partnerships

Requiring NGOs to apply as a consortium might help them develop their capacity. Twinning high-capacity (inter) national NGOs with grass-roots local NGOs will help the larger NGOs gain better insights into local issues, as well as help the smaller NGOs in learning how to mobilize resources.

8. Link the NGO to other donors

Many donors are linked through personal connections or peer groups, e.g. the Human Rights Funders Group.  These networks can be utilized to broaden the support to your partner NGO. instead of your NGO cold-calling the potential donor, you can make the initial referral. You can also pitch the NGO to other donors, asking for their interest in co-funding certain programs.

9. Be flexible

Many NGOs around the world do excellent high quality work but have limitations when it comes to fundraising. Build some flexibility into how grant funding is utilized. Perhaps the NGO wants to send someone for training, or buy a subscription or service, or hire a local consultant to help develop a proposal. Reserving a small percentage of the budget for sustainability activities can ensure long-term viability and impact of both the NGO and its programs, while furthering your goals as a donor.

10. Demand quality, not the lowest budget possible

Think value for money and not low cost. By squeezing every last dollar out of the available grant budget, the first thing NGOs will do is cut non-programmatic cost, including training, fundraising, administration, and tools needed for long-term sustainability. Or they will shift the cost to another donor.  A great donor will find the right balance.

11. Communicate frequently

To understand the challenges that NGOs face it is necessary to communicate often. Setting up a quarterly Skype call can help indentify issues that affect sustainability early on, before the NGO finds itself in trouble. Are they applying to other donors? Are they doing the necessary donor outreach? How much budget is available and what is their cash-flow position? Do they have new donors lined up to fund future programs? These and other questions will highlight the steps and efforts needed to ensure sustainability.

12. Ask for Feedback

Ask your NGOs for feedback and suggestions on how to improve their sustainability and how you can help. Perhaps an annual roundtable (via Skype) can be convened with select grantees to better understand how things can be improved. What are your current practices and what can be done better?


If you want to teach a man to fish, you better be prepared to provide him a fishing rod. It is near impossible for NGOs to properly function without support for training, communications, reporting, technology, and other needed tools. It is the responsibility of the donor to not only support project activities but also the NGO entrusted with carrying the project to completion.

Additional Resources

There are some great resources available online for donors who want to learn more.

Rita & Alex Hillman Foundation inviting Hillman Emergent Innovation Program 2019

Apply for Stanley Thomas Johnson Foundation’s Conflict and Violence Grant Program

Help the Homeless Grant to Support Homeless Charities throughout the UK

Asia New Zealand Foundation announces Media Travel Grants Program

U.S. Embassy Banjul, Gambia PAS Annual Program Statement

UNDP/RGB launches a Programme on Strengthening Civil Society Organizations for Responsive and Accountable Governance in Rwanda

UN Women/Georgia to Support for Gender Equality Measures Among the Private Sector

USAID’s Lebanon Investment Initiative (LII) Program

Applications Open for Innovate UK’s Smart Grants Programme

U.S. Department of State, Bureau of INL: Capacity Building for Nepal’s Judicial Committees on Local Dispute Resolution & Community Legal Education Project

UN Women seeking Proposals for ‘Social and Economic Stabilization and Strengthening the Resilience of Refugee Women and Adolescent Girls in Turkey’

U.S. Embassy in Djibouti announces Julia Taft Refugee Fund 2019

Sida International Training Programme on ‘Sustainable Urban Water and Sanitation’

U.S. Mission to Serbia announces Alumni Small Grants Program

East European Foundation announces Grant Contest to Support Vulnerable Groups in Moldova

Apply for Joint Research and Development Program in the UK and South Korea

Sir Halley Stewart Trust Grant Program to support Innovative Projects across UK

Canada Fund for Local Initiatives in Micronesia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Marshall Islands, Solomon Islands and Vanuatu

NAF’s Grant Program for Cultural Exchange in United States and the Netherlands

Apply for the European Neighbourhood Instrument Cross-Border Cooperation Programme Latvia-Lithuania-Belarus 2014-2020

4th Sunhak Peace Prize for Individuals & Organizations to Make the World Better for Future Generations

DST Call for Proposals inviting Indo-Canada Joint Research Programme

Funding for Community Based Organizations in South Africa to address HIV and AIDS

Japan Foundation, Bangkok announces Small Grant Programs to Promote Cultural Collaboration