NGOs should systematically check that fundraising claims are ambitious but realistic, within the limits of what they can achieve.
NGO managers have to handle relationships with many different stakeholders. If funders have unrealistic expectations about what the NGO can achieve, this can create huge pressures that prevent NGOs from contributing effectively to other people’s efforts.
On the one hand, managers have to make a compelling case for why funders should support them, rather than other NGOs. This naturally encourages NGOs to aim for major results and to report positive performance. NGOs are also ambitious to achieve as much as possible with the funds available.
On the other hand, the need to impress funders can distort how NGOs manage their performance. It can encourage NGOs to focus on long term impact. It can make it difficult to acknowledge poor performance internally and learn how to improve. It can encourage NGOs to focus more on funders’ priorities and less on being responsive to local people.
NGOs can handle this tension by systematically checking that fundraising claims are realistic, acknowledging the limits of what the NGO can achieve. This applies to all fundraising and communications work, including formal proposals and fundraising from individuals.
Fundraising material should describe how NGOs are contributing to other people’s efforts to improve their lives and societies. It is an opportunity to educate supporters about NGOs’ role in helping people help themselves.
All fundraising material should be reviewed to check it is realistic, accurate and does not overstate the NGOs’ capabilities. This could be similar to the ethical review process used in academic research proposals.
NGOs should systematically report actual performance to their funders, including feedback and scope indicators.
Fundraising often also needs stories that link the NGO’s work to wider changes. It may be most appropriate to collect these through an ‘internal journalism’ function, separate from performance management systems.
To remain credible, [NGOs] need to be more modest about what they are able to achieve.” (Fowler, 1997)