Nothing to Offer

The storm that has devastated Japan is hardly past. But as charities appeal and the public offers up their support, I cannot help but think of the three friends in southern Africa, all heads of local organizations serving vulnerable children, who have contacted me personally for help in the last month:

From Zambia: I need to seriously find out how you can help us raise funds. We are in very serious funding crisis. Pls pls I will wait to hear from you. We got funds last year from [donor] and one other partner but unfortunately the other partner is still not fulfilling. Jennifer [we] have done so well on the ground pls give us your hand.”

From Zimbabwe: At the moment we have funding problems and it has really been difficult for us to have long term funding so things are kind of tough really.”

From Malawi: “Jennifer, things are not financially working with us and I thought I should send you some information in case you might know one or two foundations or individuals that might be willing to help us.”

This Waiting for Pennies from Heaven is extremely frustrating for effective local organizations that are doing valuable work with children and families on the ground. They see the needs on a daily basis and are working tirelessly.

Unfortunately, I have had to respond to these people whom I respect and admire greatly, that I don’t have the time or money to contribute at the moment. What I could offer was my acknowledgement of their struggle and the fact that each of these organizations have much of which to be proud, as well as my hope that this is also just a storm that will pass.

My heart also goes out to the people of Japan in the wake of such tragedy, but let us never forget the long-term, slow-moving disasters of poverty, inequality and injustice around the rest of world. Given that Japan will not be relying on outside assistance, what can we do to ensure that funding also goes to grassroots organizations in the developing world where it is needed and can be readily utilized?

I worry, like many, that my prayers and compassion are not enough. But in response to my inability to help, one of my friends wrote back: “Thanks for the words of encouragement. The truth is things will work out as you say. Jenny you know you might think that you have nothing to offer, but just talking to you like this and reassuring our efforts helps to keep the momentum.”

So for my three friends, their staff and volunteers, for the relief workers in Japan, and for people working for social justice everywhere else in the world, here is my measly offering to help you all keep the momentum:

A Blessing By John O’Donahue

May the light of your soul guide you.

May the light of your soul bless the work you do with the secret love and warmth of your heart.

May you see in what you do the beauty of your soul.

May the sacredness of your work bring healing, light, and renewal to those who work with you and to those who see and receive your work.

May your work never weary you.

May it release within your wellsprings of refreshment, inspiration, and excitement.

May you be present in what you do.

May you never become lost in the bland absences.

May the day never burden.

May dawn find you awake and alert, approaching your new day with dreams, possibilities, and promises.

May evening find you gracious and fulfilled.

May you go into the night blessed, sheltered, and protected.

May your soul calm, console, and renew you.


For more information about these three effective local organizations working to protect the rights of children and families at the grassroots level in southern Africa, see:

(1) Lupwa Lwabumi Trust (Unfortunately, LLT does not have a website. You can read profiles of their work by other organizations here and here.)

(2) Justice for Children Trust (Here’s also a presentation made by JCT’s director on how the international community can more effectively support in-country advocacy.)

(3) Eye of the Child (EYC also does not currently have a functioning website. Profiles of their work by other organizations can be viewed here and here.)


Related Posts

Would YOU fund this organization?

Overlooking the Capacity of Local Organizations

Changing the system…from the ground up

Listening to People on the Receiving End of Aid

The Real Experts


  1. Jennifer, this post echos my exact feelings last week as I received more funding requests from deserving CBOs. There are so many groups out there posed to make huge impacts if only there was more funding, if only, if only…

    I responded much the same way you did – with reassurance and encouragement for their work – and they also expressed their gladness at receiving my response. I can only imagine that they send out many different requests and hear a deafening, discouraging silence. I feel the least I can do is respond even if it’s to tell them that we cannot fund their project.

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  3. Jen,
    On behalf of all small/grassroots organizations like ours. I thank you for bringing our struggles to the public, as dedicated, and ready to serve as we all are,lack of funding stops us dead in our tracks. For all your commitment to exposing, bringing awareness to our fight for funding to make a difference, I salute you. Thank you. Ps, To all my sister and brother grass roots organizations leaders, this too small pass if WE hang in there. Our efforts are not in vine. Our community needs us, and we are answering a call, A CALL TO SERVE> A CALL FOR SERVICE> WE ARE THEIR HOPE the struggle continues.

  4. Thank you so very much for writing this timely, sensitive and important post. While my heart breaks for the people of Japan we must never forget the very silent but equally tramatic toll that poverty takes on this world everyday.

    Keep fighting the good fight.

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  8. Here is my frustration with those three organizations that contacted you: it’s all about “We are desperate for money, please send us some.” Nothing about what they have accomplished in the last year. Nothing about how the money will be used. Nothing about how the projects are more than just one-person operations but are, instead, community driven. Nothing about what other organizations these small NGOs partner with. Nothing about how their projects are transparent financially and credible in their program delivery.

    People *love* to donate, but they want to *invest*. They don’t want to constantly be told so-and-so organization is desperate for money *again* – because they begin to wonder if perhaps the organization is poorly run. I’ve seen tiny organizations from Cambodia to India to Afghanistan to Uganda to Peru *get it* when it comes to demonstrating credibility and financial transparency – and, as a result, they are often flush with funds. Maybe you need to help these organizations that are contacting you understand that they need to show why they are worthy of investment, instead of pleading for funds in desperation.

  9. Thanks for your comment Jayne. While I can certainly understand your frustration, I should emphasize that I have personal relationship with each of the founders/leaders of these three organizations. They were not writing to sell themselves to a donor, but rather to a friend. I have seen their programs and can personally attest to their effectiveness as organizations and their “worthiness for investment.” Any omission of their accomplishments is my oversight.

    However, a “you-must-always-be-selling” attitude doesn’t acknowledge the cause and roots of local organizations’ dependency on international assistance. In essence, every non-profit is dependent on its donors. Let us not forget the large discrepancy between the vast amount of resources that are mobilized or acquired by donors, governments and international organizations for global development, and what percentage of the money actually trickles down to local organizations, communities and families. Until the aid delivery system changes to meet their needs, we all know that grassroots groups are competing for often scarce and ineffective resources.

    Much too often, the policies and procedures of donors put the onus of finding and keeping funding on local organizations. I think there must be room to explore how donors and NGOs can restructure and revise their grant application and reporting practices, in order to lower the glass ceiling for more local groups to participate in and benefit from assistance. Project Streamline is an example of a collaborative effort of grantmakers and grantseekers working on this.

    In the meantime, I think those of us in the aid industry need to be more sensitive to the pressure on the leaders of local indigneous organizations. The three people who contacted me are the people who never rest, the people in living in the community who others know to go to for help, the people who receive the knock on the door in the middle of the night when a child is in trouble. They are the same the people who wake up in the middle of the night worried about from where the next funding will come and how they will pay their staff next month.

    There is certainly a necessary process that can help transform organizations from “pleading” to “demonstrating credibility.” But given the strength and courage needed to ask for help, I want to offer compassion first.

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