WASH funders and on-the-ground program implementers—like many of you at not-for-profit, for-profit, and hybrid organizations—depend on one another. On-the-ground implementers depend on funding from foundations, bilaterals, or investors to finance the work that they do. While donors depend on on-the-ground implementers of programs to make sure their money is used to create social impact.
However, while donors seek the most effective organizations to implement programs in their focus areas, and organizations seek funding to make their programs effective and impactful, they often have difficulty connecting. Before an organization successfully wins funding or makes it to a certain stage of the application process, their interaction with funders may be limited, creating uncertainty around what a potential donor is looking for in a grantee.
Results for Development (R4D) and its regional partners Dasra in India and the Millennium Water Alliance in East Africa, saw an opportunity to open a dialogue between donors and program implementers in the WASH sector by holding funder panels during capacity building workshops for qualifying organizations in the WASH Impact Network. These panels brought together funders of WASH programs in each of the geographic regions, and asked them to answer some questions that could provide insight into the strategic priorities of donors, and what they look for in programs or organizations that they fund.
Through conversations held in India and East Africa, the following six attributes were identified as valuable by donors and investors when considering potential programs for funding:
1. Strong partnerships, networks, and connections with other organizations
In East Africa, funders such as Avina Foundation, Segal Family Foundation and the Water Project recognize the importance of working together and seeing the bigger picture when it comes to helping each other achieve the most impact by sharing knowledge and working together. Avina Foundation is especially interested in seeing this trait in organizations as part of their interest in promoting the spread of South-South collaboration and working with programs that are interested in sharing lessons across geographies. Segal Family Foundation even prioritizes giving funding to programs that are working with or have been recommended by one of their current grantees. In India, funders participating in the roundtable discussion highlighted the importance of both programs and donors to be active participants on existing platforms and networks such as the Sustainable Sanitation Alliance (SuSanA), the India Water Portal, and the India Sanitation Coalition.
2. Holistic solutions
The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation participated in the funder roundtable discussion in India, and used their illustration of the sanitation value chain to highlight the importance of funding programs that understand how their program fits into the bigger picture, and ensures that their intervention is designed to strengthen or work in harmony with the rest of the stakeholders in the value chain. In addition, funders in India expressed particular interest in funding programs that take gender inclusivity into account, in both their program design and in their monitoring and evaluation (M&E) processes. Tata Trusts uses incentives to encourage organizations to be more gender inclusive. For example, for every woman that the partner employs, Tata Trusts sponsors one additional staff member. Segal Family Foundation and the Water Project also expressed that their foundations have a preference for funding programs that are holistic. Segal Family Foundation primarily focuses on reproductive health and youth empowerment, and therefore values WASH programs that recognize the role they play in supporting health systems and youth development. For example, a menstrual hygiene management program that contributes to the sexual and reproductive health of adolescent girls and women, or a WASH in schools program that recognizes how their program helps children stay in school and advance in their lives and careers.
3. Participatory programs designed by listening to the voices of the communities in which they work
Many funders also value programs that incorporate the communities in which they implement programs into the program design and activities. They want to see that programs are listening to the voices of the communities. Social businesses may be positioned to naturally respond to the demands of the community, because if their product or service does not meet the needs or aspirations of consumers, their business will not be successful. For this reason, donors like Aqua for All require “proof of concept”—research or projections based on prior sales—that show that the product or service is valued and needed by the community.
4. Collaborating with the government
In East Africa, several of the funders we heard from required that organizations or social businesses be legally registered with the government, or demonstrate strong government ties - including the Water Project and GrowthAfrica. (Although it’s important to note that other funders at this panel recognize that taking risks on grassroots organizations or small social businesses is part of their mission, and they actively fund and build capacity of non-registered programs. Some of these funders include NetFund, Water Project, GrowthAfrica and Avina Foundation.) Funders participating in the roundtable in India expressed the need for programs to work with the government at both the local level—such as with urban bodies to scale decentralized, non-networked sanitation systems—and the national level to integrate their programs into existing government schemes, and to advocate effectively for important policy changes using existing tools like the shit flow diagram.
5. Open communication and collaboration between funders and grantees
Funders on the panels in both India and East Africa expressed a desire to co-create programs with implementers, and value grantees that will engage in a conversation with grantors about their vision and strategy for the program. In India, funders said that this was especially important when it comes to designing M&E indicators that help program implementers to course correct and adapt when needed, while also helping donors measure the impact of their investment. Donors expressed a desire to work together with implementers to simplify M&E requirements and design common frameworks to use across programs in order to lighten the burden of resource-intensive M&E requirements. A willingness to engage in a conversation in which both donors and program implementers can be honest and contribute their experience and knowledge was expressed by funders across both regions.
6. Ability to tell a compelling story
Funders at the panel discussion in East Africa expressed the importance of programs being able to effectively tell their stories. This not only helps funders understand the vision and strategy of potential grantees, but it also helps donors demonstrate their own value to their stakeholders. It can help show donors that an organization is forward-thinking, and that the program has incorporated planning and thoughtful design. Donors want to see that programs understand their own theory of change and how their program delivers real impact in the lives of the communities in which they work. Being able to tell a story that is both compelling and strategic can help demonstrate to donors that your program or organization shares common values, including those in this list.
While the lessons above resulted from a discussion among a small selection of WASH funders, demonstrating these six qualities in a concept note, proposal, or conversation with potential funders can help highlight your ability as an organization to collaborate, communicate, and be strategic in your approach to addressing WASH challenges.
As a WASH program implementer, what do you think might be important to funders when considering a new program for funding or investment? Tell us what you think by emailing us at WASH@R4D.org.