Nick Giammaria

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Lessons, February 2006 As a PCV working with an environmental NGO, I have been surprised at the amount of time and effort I have spent working on fundraising. Not only have I spent time trying to secure funds to cover programming, but also funds to cover basic organizational expenses such as rent, electricity, and telephone. For the local NGO, fundraising is a major obstacle, and without the assurance that they can meet their monthly expenses, it is difficult to focus on programming and community outreach. I believe that I have been mistaken in trying to steer my NGO towards an "American NGO model" that is not appropriate for Armenia at this time . Unfortunately, I have not been able to offer a viable alternative. In short, I feel that I am ill equipped to devise a sustainable solution for the fundraising challenges facing the NGO. There are many PCVs working with NGOs in similar situations. I believe that Peace Corps can and should address these issues with PCTs, to better prepare the next group of volunteers for working in the Armenian NGO sector

I came into Peace Corps having worked for an American environmental NGO. They had an accountant and fundraising coordinator. They received some grants, but their primary income was from a large membership base that gave donations. The NGO actively courted their members with an informative website, periodic mailings and a semi-annual report on their activities. The benefit that members received was the pleasure they derived in supporting a cause in which they believed. In addition, their donation was tax deductible. Past that, there were no benefits. The members did not take classes from the NGO, nor did they use the office resources in any way.

This "American NGO model", in which the primary source of funding is from a large, local membership that supports the NGO for ideological reasons was deemed to be the goal for Armenian NGOs. Armenian NGOs which lived from grant to grant were considered flawed. This was the pervasive attitude expressed by trainers and guest speakers during PST (for A12s, 2004), and was later reflected in the NGO assessment tool developed by PCVs in collaboration PC staff. It is also reflected in EE Project Object 2D, "Financial Stability: By 2009, EE Volunteers and their counterparts will have assisted 15 local Armenian NGOs in identifying reliable alternative sources of funding. As a result NGOs will decrease their reliance upon grants to fund operative, administrative and project costs by 25% ." The argument for weaning Armenian NGOs off of grants and moving towards the American NGO model was made both along philosophical and practical lines. Communities need to take ownership and support local NGOs that are working for their benefit. Only with direct community support and input can local NGOs successfully address the needs of the community. In addition, community based funding will hold NGOs accountable to their beneficiaries. From a purely utilitarian standpoint, grants to NGOs are becoming fewer and more competitive. The era in which international donors create and support local NGOs is drawing to a close. To survive, NGOs need to stop relying on grants and become community supported.

After working with a local NGO for a year and a half, I believe that both cultural and financial realities are working against the American NGO model -a large local membership base becoming the primary financial supports Armenian NGOs. I have observed great generosity and giving among the Armenians with whom I live and work. However, this giving has always been along family lines or between close neighbors. The concept of donating to an organization that represents your interests is completely foreign. This is true for individuals as well as businesses. In addition, there is a pervasive of lack of trust in governmental and non governmental organizations. Finally, even if people had more interest in donating, financial constraints make donations impossible or at best symbolic. Especially outside of Yerevan, people fortunate enough to have jobs are living paycheck to paycheck. Many families have been separated, as the men have emigrated to Russia to find work. It is unrealistic to expect significant donations from a population experiencing this type of economic hardship.

In my experience, for the average person to even consider donating, they want to receive a tangible benefit from the NGO (i.e. classes or access to computers). The NGO I work with had a donating membership of 0 until we started offering weekly. English classes for "donating members only." Overnight, our donating membership grew to 20. Offering services in exchange for donations, however, moves us away from being an NGO and towards being a business. Our members don't really care that we do environmental work, and if we stopped offering English classes, they would cease to be members and stop donating. Conversely, if we were to offer enough English classes to cover all our programming expenses (current donations only amount to AMD 3500 per month), we would have no time left to implement our programs.

In addition to cultural and financial obstacles, regulatory uncertainty from the Armenian government hinders local support for NGOs. Fundraising, accounting, and tax laws are unclear and often contradictory at the local and national levels. Communication is poor between ' regulatory agencies and NGOs, often resulting in fines for NGOs. • The net effect is that local NGOs are afraid to overtly court local members and engage in fundraising activities:

In the face of financial and cultural difficulties with the American NGO model and regulatory uncertainty, what can Peace Corps as an organization do to better prepare volunteers for working in the Armenian NGO sector? Three things. First, it can better educate its volunteers to the realities of working with Armenian NGOs. Second, it can move away from the "American NGO model". Third, it can explore new models that PCVs can work towards implementing with their NGOs.

PST tech sessions must make volunteers aware that they will be looked to as sources of funding and this role should be comprehensively explored. In our PST, we were told that organizations would probably ask us to write grants, but not to do it too soon or all the time. Our primary role, we were instructed, was program design and implementation. Our organizations, however, looked to us for fundraising just as much as for programming ideas. We need to be comfortable in our role as fundraisers. Our instruction should include a basic overview of current fundraising practices in Armenia, tax laws pertaining to NGOs , and NGO membership regulations. This would make us valuable assets to our NGOs even if we didn't raise a single dollar. Freeing our NGOs to act without fear breaking laws and fines would be a big step forward.

Secondly we must bring some fundraising ideas to the table. Not, theoretical fundraising possibilities, but examples of actual fundraising that has worked in Armenia, at the local level. If there is an active local NGO, in any sector, (local meaning outside of Yerevan and Without ties to a Yerevan organization, international organization, or Diaspora community) and this organization is truly community supported (meaning the majority of its income is from non-grant sources within the community), then let us find it and hold it up as a successful practice of the "American NGO mode! If we find such an organization, we should study it and figure out how and why it works, and how it can be replicated in other sites in Armenia.

If, however, we do not find a successful example of a local NGO operating along the "American NGO model", then I suggest we should consider other models more suitable to Armenia at this time. There are a range of other models to explore : NGOs starting a partner small business (SPA) to handle fundraising, NGO's partnering with and or becoming branches of larger Yerevan NGOs, NGOs finding an international donor to sponsor them, NGOs receiving support from Diaspora networks, and NGOs existing solely on grants. All of these models have pros and cons and not all are suitable for every situation. It would be extremely useful for volunteers, however, if these models were covered during PST, along with case studies of Armenian NGOs successfully using each model. Once the different models were understood, steps could be outlined (or a new NGO assessment tool created) for helping local Armenian NGOs to choose the most appropriate model and work towards implementing it.

To continue working in the NGO sector, PCVs need to be more comfortable and capable in their role as fundraisers. I believe this requires a shift away from the "American NGO model" and a more comprehensive exploration of other NGO models coupled with insight into fundraising logistics. Better training in the area of NGO finance, will make us more effective volunteers and more valuable to the organizations with which we work.