Achieving Financial Sustainability: 6 Lessons From Nonprofits In West Africa

Every nonprofit wants to be financially sustainable—but how can you make it happen? Here’s what Dalila Sumani learned during her time visiting West African nonprofits.


The most exciting moments of GlobalGiving’s Field Program is interacting with knowledgeable, passionate, and determined leaders of nonprofit organizations. These organizations are usually doing amazing things, but too often, they are constrained due to lack of financial resources.

I have visited more than 40 nonprofits in West Africa, and I noticed that financial sustainability is a question for many. Some rely on a single source of funding, while others think creatively to ensure sustainability. There is a need for them to vary their funding base to maintain growth and impact in the region.

So, how can a nonprofit achieve financial sustainability? There are dozens of different approaches, but the common theme among them is diversifying streams of funding. Put simply, a financial sustainability plan for a nonprofit includes putting in place strategies to sustain itself and programs over the long term, perpetuating its ability to accomplish its mission.

Here are the top tips I’ve learned from local nonprofits in West Africa for achieving financial sustainability:

    1. Ensure you have the right vision to achieve impact! Ask yourself:

    What problem am I trying to solve? A nonprofit cannot achieve financial sustainability if they cannot articulate why they exist and what they ultimately want to accomplish as a charity. Break down the problem you are trying to solve with GlobalGiving’s free problem definition worksheet.

    2. Plan ahead and allocate responsibilities.

    Do not try to do everything on your own as a nonprofit leader. Involve your entire team including your peers, board, and constituents about what they think about your project and be open to new ideas. See how Dr. Helena, a Ghanaian GlobalGiving partner, who founded the African Library and Information Associations and Institutions (AFLIA), is preparing her nonprofit’s financial future.

    3. Diversify your streams of funding:

    First, make a list of your organization income sources, as this will give you a clear picture of your funding base and help you strategize. By not entirely depending on one source of funding, your organization is more resilient to stressful financial times. You can even try involving the community you serve to raise funds through a social enterprise. Get inspired by three successful local fundraising projects from nonprofits I visited in Sierra Leone.

    4. Try new things: Test what does and does not work.

    Project Maji, a nonprofit in Ghana, organizes Impactathons and Hackathons in schools where students are involved to give innovative solutions and ideas they can try as a nonprofit. For instance, the founder of Project Maji, Sunil, spoke at Arcadia Primary School in Dubai as part of their entrepreneurial speaker series. He taught children about water conservation practices and the issue of water poverty in developing nations. The children were so receptive to Project Maji’s cause that they brainstormed various fundraising ideas which resulted in hosting a fundraiser sale! Generate new ideas with this free worksheet from GlobalGiving.

    5. Embrace the idea of allowing your community to put skin in the game.

    Partnerships can dramatically increase your ability to have the impact you desire but making your community have skin in the game increases ownership and enables you to be sustainable in the long run. See how one nonprofit in Ghana, ACE, calls in the community to end child labor.

    6. Create an exit strategy so your constituents can be self-sufficient and independent in the end.

    A GlobalGiving partner in Sierra Leone called Welbodi Partnership, which once received large grants from the likes of Comic Relief and DFID, realized the reduction in their ability to secure these grants. To sustain their efforts, the organization selected two nurses through Ministry of Health in Sierra Leone to train them into specialists as an exit strategy so when Welbodi leaves the Ola During hospital in Sierra Leone, the hospital will be able to conduct these special trainings on their own.

While many nonprofits in West Africa are financially constrained, so many inspirational leaders are thinking creatively about sustaining their life-changing programs. Hopefully, these lessons can help your nonprofit do the same.

Propel your nonprofit toward financial sustainability and diversify your sources of income by applying to join the GlobalGiving Accelerator.


Featured Photo: Help Refugee Youth in Uganda Find A Future by MindLeaps
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