Sometimes You Just Cannot Invest Anymore

One of the main concerns for many firms, and donors in general, over the last few years has been the ability to identify and scale up partners that will provide for the highest report on their program investments in China.

In part, this is a result of the various scandals and difficulties many have faced when engaging China’s GONGOs and NGOs, but it is also the result of a concern that is founded in the general belief that philanthropic investments that are one off are less valuable, or have less impact.

That investors have a responsibility to themselves, to their partner, and to their community to do more than cut a check. That, to maximize the impact of the engagement, more must be done to “help” the organization in the form of capacity development. After all, anyone who “works” has something to teach someone managing a social organization.

Yet, sometimes all the partner wants is the money, and a casual relationship with donors that offers the maximum amount of flexibility with the least amount of commitment. Something my friend recently discovered while looking to “scale up” a partnership that he has been leading for some time.

For he and his team, who had emotionally invested about as much as they had financially (a significant sum), it was perplexing partly because it was so personal for them and they thought their ideas “made sense” for helping the organization grow in impact and sustainability.

Creating a website. Raising awareness. Developing new sources of funding. Etc.

All ideas that had built over time as the volunteers in the team got to know the organization, began to understand how to help, and worked to develop a team plan to execute on their plan. To the frustration of the team, the organization proved resistant to the “plan”.

When speaking to my friend about the partner, the program, and their plan, and working with him to develop a strategy to get buy in, something was obvious to me (and later to my friend).

That while the goals of the group were to help the organization grow, the organization did not have the same goals. They were just happy with where they were, the impact they were having, and were not looking to take on more of a workload because (as a group with strong ties to the government) they were maintaining a constant balance that needed to be maintained.. and their mandate within that balance was NOT to grow.

It was an important point because it was what ultimately undermined the volunteer’s efforts to get their partner’s buy in.

Which left them with two options:
1) Invest several years of their time to build up the business case for their plans and implement little by little. It would be an up hill climb, would likely frustrate volunteers, but for the “good of the cause” progress could be made


2) The team could accept that what they were currently doing for the partner was the limit, and that they would be best to diversify into a new partnership with a group WILLING and ABLE to grow while maintaining the current level of activity with the current partner.

Neither option was ideal, as he just wanted the original partner to get on board, but unforgettably that just was not possible. Regardless of whether or not the partner needed they help, they just were not ready to accept it.

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