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Towards a collective funding platform for humanitarian crises
Véronique de Geoffroy and Laure Pons

 

 Comparative study of different types of platform which exist in Europe

 

Comparative analysis in terms of the nature of the platform

It is possible to classify non-governmental funding platforms into two main categories which are different in nature.
The first category is that of NGO groups. These bodies bring together a number of NGOs and are led by a committee of humanitarian organisations. _ This is the case of the Disasters Emergency Committee (DEC) in the United Kingdom, the Collectif Asie Enfants Isolés (CAEI) in France and the Belgian Consortium for Emergency Situations. The professional skills of their members guarantee a high level of expertise. However, this way of functioning can lead to some confusion about roles as the people who manage the funds are from the organisations which receive the funds. Furthermore, this type of body can exclude small and medium-sized NGOs.

The second category is made up of independent bodies which are specialised in fund-raising. This concerns structures which are managed by an independent committee, like the Fondation de France (FDF) or Swiss Solidarity (SS). The impartiality of those who make up the committee favours transparency and establishes neutrality and independence. On the other hand, some feel that because their committees do not come from the humanitarian sector, these bodies do not have any legitimacy making choices about which NGOs and projects to finance.

 

Different procedures for distributing the funds raised

Though all the platforms have the same objective of raising funds from the general public, they do not all have the same procedures for redistributing them. Some base their redistribution system on a pre-established “allocation ratio”. This is the case, for example, of the DEC, which uses an indicator which is accepted by all its members, the Indicator Of Capacity (IOC). Calculated on the basis of two distinct pieces of data, the IOC determines the percentage of the total funds collected which is to be attributed to each member NGO. This percentage is calculated prior to the crisis with reference to each organisation’s response to a previous emergency situation and their overseas spending (with humanitarian spending given twice the weight of development spending).
This is also the case for the Belgian Consortium for Emergency Situations which establishes this ratio on the basis of the NGO’s popularity with the general public. This pre-determined distribution method allows rapid funding, a great deal of freedom for NGOs to choose projects as well as more independence due to the increased funds at their disposal. However, this system means that it is not possible to adapt the way funds are distributed to the characteristics of each crisis.
Other platforms opt for the redistribution of funds on the basis of project proposals by NGOs. The selection of projects to be funded is either done by an external committee, which is the case for FDF and SS, or it is done by peers, as was done by the CAEI. This method helps small and medium-sized NGOs to gain access to funds from the general public while favouring the funding of high quality projects. However, there is some debate over the criteria used for selecting projects and how funds are shared, particularly how they are shared between emergency and reconstruction phases. For example, following the earthquake in Haiti, the FDF chose to give 25% of the funds for emergency relief and 75% for reconstruction based on the ‘test case’ of the Tsunami. This provoked a very strong reaction from the humanitarian sector who argued that the two crisis contexts were not comparable.

 

Relations between platforms and the media

Relations with the media are often central to the way platforms function, but can take different forms. Certain mechanisms have developed institutionalised partnerships with the media, such as the DEC via the Rapid Response Network (a network of different media outlets and other partners like banks, etc. which favours a rapid and wide-reaching call for donations) or SS with SRC SSR (the Swiss Broadcasting Corporation).
Others have more ad-hoc relations, such as the FDF, whose partnership with the French public sector media recently led to heated debates. CAEI benefitted from spontaneous media coverage due to the involvement of a variety of well-known personalities such as Sœur Emmanuelle [1].
Collective communication vis-à-vis the general public has several advantages. It is a useful vehicle for launching an appeal, and it simplifies and harmonizes the message sent.
The broadcasting of collective messages helps to increase public confidence in the organisations involved and brings a certain clarity and better visibility to the actions carried out by the NGOs. As such, this type of communication can be reassuring and can attract new donors who are generally reticent about making donations, whether these are occasional donors, regional authorities or companies.

At the same time, collective communication does have certain risks. Do NGOs collect more collectively, under the same banner, than they do individually? This question is related to that of the appropriateness of mixing the “labels” or images of NGOs, which does not always have the desired effect. Collective communication also raises the issue of taking responsibility away from the general public.

 

The importance of evaluations and accountability to the general public:

Far from being anodyne, the issue of accountability is increasingly important for platforms. The accountability systems they implement vary depending on the strategy they adopt. The DEC, for example, has established a policy of systematically evaluating the projects it finances. These evaluations then have to be published on the website of the NGO concerned. Others have established ad-hoc processes, carrying out evaluations in a more limited way (FDF, SS and CAEI).

These evaluations increase the transparency of the structure, which is fundamental to re-establish public confidence and also to raise awareness, which is an essential step towards developing “activist donors” [2].

Though the platforms generally contribute to improving accountability, this is limited by three factors. The first and most obvious of these is the relatively high cost of evaluation in terms of expertise and logistics, and the fact that donors are not always in favour. The second is the risk of adding too many controls to these platforms and over-burdening NGOs. And the third is that, because it involves revealing the strengths and weaknesses of the humanitarian sector, great care needs to be taken in communicating evaluation results.


[1] Franco-Belgian catholic nun and humanitarian

[2] “Activist donors” is used here to describe donors who are committed beyond simply giving money. It signifies that they are committed to and believe in the cause defended by the NGO.