Can Your NGO Survive and operate without Grant Money? Here’s how to find out!

I am a seasoned activist. I’ve been in the Civil society movement for the last 15 years; I even started two different NGOs…”  that’s where I interrupted: “how are those NGOs you started doing now?” “well,”(and I knew what was coming next) “they’re not operating now because funding ran out.

This conversation I was having with my friend was all too familiar. Over the last 13 years, I have had a much similar conversation with many well meaning leaders of civil society and non profit organizations from various parts of Africa. These folks usually have great visions for transforming their communities. Sadly, for may of of them, as may be the case for you reading now, the vision was short-lived due to FRO – Funding Running Out.

When funding runs out, many people suffer. People who may not need to suffer only if the leaders of the CSO/NGO started to think strategically.  Rather than depending on the possibility of winning the next grant proposal, how about instituting systems that ensure you have money coming in no matter what.

As one who had been supporting small business owners and NGO founders for the last 13 years, I’ve seen my share of systems and models- ones that lead to organizations success, and others that lead to failure.

In this Guide, I  will be sharing some ideas with you on how you can ensure that you NGO not just survives, but thrives even in the absence of grant funding.  This is possible when your organization has a Financial Sustainability Plan which I may refer to as FSP from here on out.

By the time you complete this ‘course’ you will be more confident in your ability to drive a cause that does not play by the tune of donors.

I urge you to take this seriously. Other Civil Society and nonprofit organizations pay in excess of $6,000 for consultants  to help them use what I’m about to teach you in creating their Financial Sustainability Plans. $6,000 may sound like a lot of money; but when you  consider that the Financial Sustainability plan could lead to bringing in hundreds of thousands of dollars in to the organization, then you see that it’s an investment worth making.

Let me stress here that a Financial Sustainability Plan IS NOT the same as a Fundraising plan.  A fundraising plan  only is a part of an entire Financial Sustainability Plan. It is a significant part of the FSP – maybe 30% of it- but it is NOT the FSP.


If you will like some personalized support in creating your own Financial Sustainability Plan- whether you’re in Africa or not, please feel free to contact me here.


The Financial Sustainability of your organizations is important. But even more important is the organizational sustainability. You see, it doesn’t matter how much money you have the ability of bringing into the organization, if your leadership sucks,  you can’t keep the money coming in for long.

So I’ll begin the lesson with …


Organizational Sustainability

Organizational sustainability refers to your  organization’s capacity to fulfill its mission, achieve long-term success and stability, and serve its clients and beneficiaries without interruption or reducing the quality of the services you offer.

When you  think of organizational sustainability, you need to ask yourself this question:

Is the organization structured in a way that allows it to survive and continue to operate effectively over the long term? 

In attempting to answer this question truthfully, you need to consider the four dynamics of organizational sustainability. Financial Sustainability is just one of the four:

  • Strategic Sustainability

    Are your vision and goals are realistic. Your non profit  must be realistic in terms of impact, objectives, who you can serve, and where you can operate. If you try to be everything to everybody, you will be nothing to anybody. Don’t extend yourself too far,; when you do, the quality of your interventions will suffer or there will be insufficient resources to accomplish the intended results.By being able to articulating a clear and realistic mission and goal, you can provide more accurate expectations for what your nonprofit can and cannot accomplish. This will also help you determine how much money you really need in order to function fully.

    Here’s a secret I learned in my early days of working with nonprofits and Civil society organizations.  Money tends to flow much easily to those who have the guts to refuse money for projects or activities that are not aligned with their vision and mission.

  • Product and Program Sustainability

    You must ensure that you organizations has  high quality programs, services, and products with proven impact for beneficiaries.  When you can’t offer  extremely high quality activities that generate results, donors, partners and stakeholders will soon stop  funding your programs.

     Your reputation and credibility is all you have and you must take extra care to maintain them by implementing the few things you do very well, rather than trying to extend beyond core competencies to take on additional work outside your mission. STOP chasing money in different sectors to offset financial deficits. You should focus on services and programs you can implement well, prove success, enhance your brand, and win new programs


  • Personnel Sustainability

    Do you have  the right people in the right positions?
    Do they have they necessary support, training, and resources so they can perform effectively?If your personnel do not fully understand their jobs or lack resources, then your services and programs will suffer. As a result, the overall quality of your interventions and your revenue will decline, and your credibility and reputation may deteriorate.

    You must make sure you staffs and volunteers are fully trained and supervised. Also, be sure that, if a member of the organization cannot perform her job over the short-term or long-term, someone else can do that job in a timely fashion.

    Some times you have have to hire someone as a consultant to help do what needs to be done while at the same time building the capacity of your staffs and volunteers  This is especially important for smaller organizations.

And then there’s Financial Sustainability which I’ll deal with as a section on its own.  But first, let’s look at how you can measure how sustainable your organization is.

To do this, you need to do what’s called an Organizational Capacity Assessment.

The image above gives a brief  overview of the key factors that impact organizational performance


Organizational Capacity Assessment is  a self-analysis to determine the strengths and limitations of your organization and issues that are currently or could impact  overall operational performance.

USAID had developed a wonderful tool which you can use to facilitate and Organizational Capacity Assessment for your Nonprofit/CSO. Click here to download it.

In the next lesson we will go over some critical aspects of conducting an organizational impact assessment. I will also share with you, the ONE THING every nonprofit or civil society organization MUST do if they’re going to be around for the next 5, 10 or 15 years+

Until then, I’d love to hear your feedback. If this article has been helpful to you, please take a moment and do two things: first, I’d like you to share how it has helped you in the comment area below this post, and 2nd, I want you to please share this on your favorite social media platforms with those who you know can benefit from it as well.


  1. Gabriel September 15, 2017
    • Dan Maxwell, Jr September 15, 2017

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