In this interview with Chidi Koldsweat, founder of Donors for Africa Foundation, we are introduced to the mission and goals of the foundation, and how the organization is building capacity for African social innovators. The discourse goes on to reveal peculiar funding challenges both donors and nonprofits face on the continent, and the pressing need for innovative sustainable funding within indigenous nonprofits.
What is the Donors for Africa Foundation mission, and how has it evolved within Africa’s development sector?
Donors for Africa: Donors for Africa Foundation is a nonprofit organization working actively with social impact leaders, organizations, philanthropists, and investors to break poverty cycles with a vision to provide long-lasting solutions to global challenges on the African continent. We are determined to build a better world by strengthening mission-driven African social innovators’ capacity to access funds, achieve groundbreaking results, and create sustainable organizations.
Donors for Africa started three years ago as a platform at first engaging only Donors, and then over time focusing on developing leaders’ needs. We have transformed into a social movement incubator dedicated to providing nonprofit professionals with the right technical expertise to guarantee sustainability. We help them create, launch, and scale-up their work’s impact, providing the right platform to increase visibility and thought leadership. Then we connect them to funding opportunities.
The development sector has not received as much attention as say the business sector, seen in the minimal attention placed on developing leaders’ growing needs (which in turn impacts the beneficiaries they serve). At DFA, we work with our partners to bridge this capacity gap and continue to engage on local and international platforms in advancing the conversation of development in Africa and the critical roles of all players and sector leaders.
How has your Foundation been able to fill the gaps identified in the African philanthropy ecosystem?
Donors for Africa: Through our work:
- We are building empowered institutions with the right internal structures and processes armed with a clear road map. We lead social innovators, nonprofits and social enterprises through a thoughtful assessment of their current programs and campaigns to align goals with organizational values and create a bold plan of action.
- We are raising transformational nonprofit leaders through several incubation programs and leadership accelerators who are skilled and competent: We develop nonprofit leaders and support them through a blend of virtual, onsite training, and funding opportunities.
- We advocate for and educate government agencies to implement policies to enable the social sector to thrive. Donors for Africa also focuses on research & impact investment.
- Through initiatives like the Social Innovators Bootcamp, Donor Engagements, and the Small Grants Program, we have raised over $349,500 to fund local projects. The funding raised has trained over 5000 African women from marginalized communities, built libraries in underserved communities, and launched digital platforms that connect persons with disabilities to career opportunities. We have also facilitated training for 700+ development actors on building more vital local institutions, and continue to share up to date information on development trends and practices for which we won the Social Media for Social Good Award.
How can African donors and philanthropists get practical and better involved in providing impactful grants?
Donors for Africa: According to The African Philanthropy Network, it is estimated that the giving pool of wealthy Individuals on the continent is at $2.8 billion per year, with the potential to be as high as $7 billion annually. This shows the giving landscape is changing, with local philanthropists making a more meaningful impact due to increased insights into poverty, poor governance, and social injustice – it is now time to integrate our solutions. To do this, we must;
Promote collaborative giving: Working together without excluding the key stakeholders (civil society groups) helps funders find a shared goal. This will foster cross-sector relationships and also deepen expertise that promotes a more strategic approach to giving programs.
Fund data collection and research: Donors must consider the need to invest in data collection and research so that prior to assigning funds they are aware of the issues and can track the impact of funding. A comprehensive view of the problem allows funds that are pooled to be put to definitive use and ensure the beneficiary impact is tracked, measured, and accelerated. Rather than have multiple philanthropists starting fresh on giving projects – it becomes more viable to measure the impact and decide what other sectors need support. The ‘how, what, and why’ funders and stakeholders expect from the project is as important as the amount given.
Not overlook giving from families, friends, and individuals, as informal undocumented giving makes up for over 70% of funding on the continent. To improve impactful grants, we must ask; how can the informal sector become more structured to accelerate giving without the bottleneck of bureaucracy?
In your experience, what are some key challenges donors and nonprofits seem to face across the continent?
Donors for Africa: Due to Africa’s peculiarities, donors may face the challenge of identifying an implementation partner within Africa familiar with the donor’s focus area, capable of informing the donor about new best practices, and technological developments that can improve impact.
Donors must also consider revising some of the stringent rules and regulations that guide funding in the third sector. This is a challenge for small nonprofits who rely primarily on organizational support when implementing campaigns and struggle to launch successful projects as donors refuse to fund these administrative expenses. Eventually, this impacts expected results, and Donors should not offer to fund a program and yet refuse to actively engage the key implementing partners on the field.
The importance of mutual trust cannot be overemphasized, and the need for transparency from both parties (Donors & Grantees) when contextualizing solutions. While donors need to be flexible in their expectations, grant seekers must do all they can not to break trust. When funds are allocated for projects, they must be used for what was requested.
Nonprofits must also go the extra mile in institutionalizing the structures and relevant strategies required to replicate impact within their respective organizations. They must realize they cannot continue to rely on donors, and develop innovative approaches to financing local projects to ensure sustainability.