Civil Society’s Sustainability – Not all About Financial Resources

Civil Society’s Sustainability – Not all About Financial Resources

Getting your Trinity Audio player ready...

The question of civil society’s sustainability cannot be explored without analysing the implications of financial resource factors for civil society organisations (CSOs). Acquiring the appropriate and adequate financial resources is crucial for the long-term survival and effectiveness of CSOs. However, ensuring the sustainability of CSOs requires efforts that should not be limited to adequate financial resources alone.

Financial resources can be considered as funds used to achieve an objective. For an organisation to fulfil its mission, it must be effective and sustainable within its operational environment; and, financial resources are undoubtedly a key success factor.

Donors and funders need to support CSOs to achieve their respective missions by providing a collaborative response to the organisational challenges in programming, capacity, and funding. These challenges often cripple rather than strengthen affected organisations. It is, therefore, necessary to push the thinking of CSOs, donors and governments to reflect and apply new approaches to ensure a sustainable future for CSOs.

As concerned development actors, we must continually explore how CSOs in Sub-Saharan Africa can be empowered to face and adequately address the threat to their existence and relevance – hence, their sustainability.

It is essential to share best practices and lessons as well as foster debates that will nourish promising actions to boost CSOs’ sustainability. For many CSOs, sustainability has been defined through interconnected factors of the environment, economic and social domains. Despite the increased popularity of the term “sustainability”, the glimmer of hope on the extent to which CSOs in this era will become sustainable, and remain so, has been and continues to be questioned.

Sustainability has been defined as “the process of change, in which the exploitation of resources, the direction of investments, the orientation of technological development and institutional change are all in harmony and enhance both current and future potential to meet human needs and aspirations”.

It “is the strong ability and capacity to maintain independence, continually generate expected funds to pursue planned operations, command strong recognition and legitimacy, and wield influential power in its mission and the sector in which it operates”, WACSI (2015).

Sustainability can, therefore, be understood to be the capacity of an organisation to minimise its dependency and to improve its operational significance while maintaining and striving to achieve its social mission.

Over the years, there has been a global civil society environment in which organisations are facing major reductions in funding. This drives them to seek alternative sources of income to sustain their operations and develop different types of relationships with governments, corporate bodies, private funders and other stakeholders. However, funding is one of several factors that contribute to ascertain the sustainability of organisations. There are multiple interrelated factors that contribute to the sustainability of an organisation and the civil society sector. These include but are not limited to; (i) ensuring organisational legitimacy, (ii) developing strong leadership, (iii) having a good understanding and respect for their mission and vision statements, and, (iv) appropriately adapting to forces within their space and context.

The legitimacy of the organisation: Legitimacy can be attributed to solid qualities such as CSOs’ credibility with funders, prompt response to different supervisory demands, improved access to and collaboration with key target audiences, among others. In ensuring an organisation’s sustainability, it is necessary to recognise the relationship between sustainability and legitimacy. Most CSOs make direct or indirect claims that they are providing benefits to society or specific groups within it. On these, many organisations build further claims for recognition of special status and for financial and regulatory support. Yet, without the public’s recognition of the social or economic added value of an organisation’s purpose and mode of operation, the said organisation cannot claim legitimacy.

Strong leadership: To be sustainable, having strong leadership is inevitable for every organisation with such ambition. It is important to have a robust and competent leader at the helm of an organisation that aims for sustainability. Thus, having a credible, transparent and rotational leadership must be part of any organisational sustainability objective and process. When leadership is weak, static, uninspiring, indecisive, inflexible, autocratic, tired or otherwise inadequate, the performance of an institution can slumber. A visionary and innovative leader who can spot a gap is essential in moving forward to an organisation. A democratic, flexible and personable leader is a catalyst for an organisation’s sustainability.

A regular source of funds could contribute to the continued existence of an organisation. However, it requires a purposeful and transparent leader to appropriately manage the funds to achieve intended goals. Without the latter, there could be mismanagement of funds which can dump the credibility of the organisation into the mud. Such an occurrence will be a setback to the organisation’s drive towards becoming sustainable.

The place for an organisation’s mission and values: An organisation can become sustainable based on how well it ‘lived’ its mission and values. The success of an organisation is grounded on whether it is inspired by its vision and it operationalises its mission, not how well written these are on paper. It is about whether the organisation is genuinely realising its mission of influencing change; about whether the organisation’s behaviour is aligned with its values. And how well this is propelling the organisation to achieve the goals it set for itself. It is therefore imperative for CSOs operating in this era of dwindling funds to seek measures that will enable them to be driven by their vision such that they can consciously work to achieve their mission.

Good understanding and adaptation to contextual realities: CSOs can be well resourced and legitimate with established structures and strong leadership yet struggle to be sustainable. The challenges posed by the broader context within which they exist – space and context – plays a vital role in determining their sustainability. Extreme poverty may make it difficult to find sustainable local sources of funding. Conflict and political instability can create uncertainty, making it harder to plan and think strategically about the future. A restrictive political environment may compel organisations to keep a low profile or shift priorities to avoid scrutiny.

In such circumstances, organisations otherwise considered effective can find themselves severely constrained in terms of what they can do; hence, achieve very limited results. Conducive legal frameworks are crucial to creating a supportive operational environment for CSOs. However, their absence, misuse, or arbitrary application can lead to an insecure and unpredictable operational environment for CSOs.

Building organisational sustainability has major implications for every fabric of the organisation. The components discussed above constitute the building blocks to an organisation’s sustainability and these span beyond financial resources.

For CSOs to be truly sustainable and effectively manage the risks associated with funding, it must be influenced by robust institutional structures and good governance practices. Organisations must be conscious of the need to invest in building the operational, identity and intervention capacities of the organisation in these changing times.


NOTE: Opinion expressed in this article are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the opinions or views of the West Africa Civil Society Institute.


Leave your comments


Fiifi is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Communications and Information Officer at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. He joined the Institute in December 2020.


Nancy is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Programme Officer in the Knowledge Management unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute. She joined the Institute in January 2021.


Agnes is a Ghanaian and currently serves as Head of the Administration unit in the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2021.


Doris holds a Bachelor of Arts in Social sciences (Economics and Sociology) from the University of Cape Coast. She is passionate about impacting young lives hence co-founded Impart Foundation. A non-profit organization which seeks to empower young lives through education, technology and entrepreneurship.


Prince Akowuah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Assistant in the Translation Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Maxwell Apenteng is a Ghanaian and joined WACSI in September 2010. He provides gardening and janitorial services at the Institute.


George Adu-Mintah is a Ghanaian and currently the Protocol Assistant/Driver at the West Africa Civil Society (WACSI). He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Ibrahim Kwaku Gbadago is a Ghanaian. He joined the Institute in 2008 and provides janitorial services and assisting the institute's errands. Before joining the Institute, he worked at the Palestinian embassy in Accra, Ghana.


Ruth Yakana is from Cameroon and currently the Receptionist at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


Bethel is a Ghanaian. He provides technical and IT related support to the Institute. He joined the Institute in October 2006.


Whitnay Segnonna holds a Bachelor’s Degree in International Management from the University of Benin. With 2 years of experience, she has a strong knowledge of organizational and project management. Combined with her bilingualism, she is very passionate about her work. She joined WACSI as Project Assistant on Critical Ecosystem Partnership Fund (CEPF) for the Capacity Development Unit.


Stella Yawa Wowoui holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Translation Studies. She has a perfect grasp of both French and English, as well as an intermediate level in Spanish. She is currently working as a Project Assistant on the Techsoup Project.


Kwame is an experienced IT Consultant/Software Developer. He is skilled in Web Applications Development, Digital Security, Database Management, Digital Marketing and Brand Management. He holds a Bachelor's Degree in Information Technology and is a Microsoft Programme Alumni. He is currently serving as a Marketing and IT Officer on the Techsoup Project.


Grace Akpene Ziggah is a Togolese and currently the Logistics Officer and also assists in administration duties at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in June 2009.


Lilian Dafeamekpor is a Ghanaian and currently the Assistant to the Executive Director at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in 2020.


John P. Frinjuah has expertise and interests in civil society, international development, democracy and governance, conflict, crisis, and security. He has extensive experience working with civil society and international development organizations where he supported and managed research, programmes, and provided technical assistance on a variety of themes around public policy, governance, and development. He is an alumnus of the University of Ghana and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy - Tufts University in the United States, with a Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Master of Arts in Law and Diplomacy from two institutions respectively. John speaks English, French and several Ghanaian and regional West Africa languages.


Gervin has extensive international development experience, including 5 years of policy advocacy and capacity building of grass root organisations. He has implemented over the years a combination of agriculture value chain, livelihood, food security and governance and rights programmes.
Prior to joining WACSI, Gervin worked on two USAID projects focusing on agriculture value chain development and governance in northern Ghana
Gervin holds a master’s degree in development & Governance from the University of Duisburg-Essen, Germany as well as a Masters in Global Studies from the Universities of Vienna (Austria), Leipzig (Germany) and California (Santa Barbara), USA. He is passionate social justice and inclusion.


Leandre Banon, Beninese, joined WACSI in September 2014 as Capacity Development Programme Assistant. Since then, he has worked in various units within the Institute to support operational and institutional capacity strengthening programmes for civil society in the region. Currently serving as Capacity Development Programme Officer at WACSI, his main responsibilities involve designing, planning, implementing and monitoring capacity development programmes for civil society constituents and grouping across the West Africa. Leandre is a certified Change the Game Academy Programme Trainer. His background lies in the areas of economics and development planning.


Samuel Appiah is a Ghanaian and currently the Programme Officer in the Finance and Administrative Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in May, 2016.


Jimm Chick Fomunjong, Cameroonian, joined WACSI in May 2018 as the Head of the Knowledge Management and Communication Units of the Institute. He has over ten years’ experience as a journalist and a development communications expert. He has a vast experience in supporting African organisations to strengthen their internal and external communications, building and sustaining relationships with the media and, leveraging on the power of social media to promote their mission. He is also excellent at supporting organisations to set up and operationalise functional communications and knowledge management systems. He has a deep passion and expertise in supporting Africans and African civil society organisations to document their praxis, share and learn from experiences documented from the African civil society sector.


Franck Sombo is a development practitioner with the drive to lead self and others to influence productivity and efficiency. His work involves supporting organisations to develop strategic plans, design monitoring and evaluation systems, develop and use relevant performance measurement tools to track progress, assess organizational growth and institutionalise learning. Franck has eight years of experience working with WACSI where he currently serves as the Head, Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning. His academic qualifications include Masters in Organisations’ and Projects’ Management, and in Business Sciences and a High National Diploma in Finance and Accounting.

Franck is a Fellow of the International Program for Development Evaluation Training (IPDET) and a graduate of the Graduate Training Institute (GTI) - Ghana with specialization in Strategic Management and Corporate Leadership. He has a rich experience in Project Management, Capacity Development, Strategic planning, Data Analytics, Monitoring and Evaluation, Training and Facilitation, Mentoring and Coaching among others.


Omolara is a development practitioner and advocacy strategist with over 15 years of progressive experience in development programming targeted at strengthening civil society in West Africa.

She joined WACSI in November 2009 as a Regional Advocacy Consultant and later became the first Policy Advocacy Officer of the Institute in 2010.

She was promoted to Head of the Policy Influencing and Advocacy (PIA) Unit in 2015. As the Head of the PIA unit, Omolara offers strategic direction to the Institutes’ ambitions to connect and convene groups of organised and organic civil society actors; and influence regional and global discourses on crosscutting policy issues including—civil society regulations, sustainable development goals, civic space and enabling environment, aid effectiveness, gender equality, and civil society accountability.

Previously, Omolara served as a Programmes Associate with the Women in Peace and Security Network-Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), where she worked with her team to design and implement pan-African programmes on—multidimensional peace support operations and gender mainstreaming in security sector reform in Ghana, Sierra Leone, and Liberia.

She also served as a Service Development Marshal at TVQ Consulting Group, a customer service firm focused on designing strategic customer relationship and business growth plans for private and public financial institutions in Nigeria.

Omolara is a social justice advocate, a network weaver, and a convener. She has a postgraduate degree in Peace and Conflict Studies; a degree in International Relations and History, from the University of Ibadan and Obafemi Awolowo University in Nigeria respectively.

She also holds executive certificates in Behavioral Science in Public Policy from Harvard University Executive Education in Cambridge and in Citizen Advocacy from the Coady International Institute, St Francis Xavier University in Canada.


Kwabena Kroduah is a Ghanaian and currently heads the Finance Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). He joined the Institute in January 2008.


Charles currently serves as the Head of the Capacity Development Unit at the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). Charles has over 10 years of experience working in international development and social justice issues in Africa. Charles has expertise in strengthening civil society and public agencies including the design and implementation of governance and leadership programmes, development of knowledge pieces and policy advice. Charles was the founding Board Chair of Innovation for Change (i4C)-Hub Afrique, as well as the founding member of the International Consortium on Closing Civic Space (iCon), an initiative of the Centre for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) in Washington DC. Charles currently serves as the Member of the Governing Board (Coordination Collective) of Africans Rising. He is a Member of the Development Studies Association, United Kingdom. Charles is a 2017 Stanford University Fellow for Nonprofit Leaders and a certified Change the Game Resource Mobilisation Trainer.


Nana Afadzinu is a Ghanaian and currently serves as the Executive Director of the West Africa Civil Society Institute (WACSI). She joined the Institute in October 2010.