Reflections on resource mobilisation realities for youth movements and organisations

By Alex Farrow

Alex FarrowYouth movements and organisations are always at the forefront of campaigning for human rights and social change. Whether Brexit in the UK, abortion in Ireland, anti-gun laws in the USA, LGBT rights in Russia, democracy in Armenia, or climate change in Fiji, young people risk their safety – and their lives – in the pursuit of change.

But changing the world costs money. #MarchForOurLives is up against the NRA - an organisation with an annual budget of $250 million. Having the resources is not just about cash in the bank; it is the time and capacity to plan and deliver, having staff and volunteers with the right knowledge and needed skills, and the ability to respond to changes in external environment (something that is getting worse).

Too often this is a luxury that only large, formal NGOs can afford. If you are in a small and less formal youth organisation, global research found, you will face the ‘most acute’ challenges. This is due to a lack of internal expertise and capacity to fundraise, the stringent requirements of some funders and donors, and the restrictions (and outright suppression) from governments on civic space.

So how can we all help?

If you’re an established NGO:

  1. Offer your space and resources – youth organisations often only need a desk, a printer and somewhere to store their things. Could your organisation help by giving space, resources or facilitates? Being generous and collaborative with other organisations – especially newly formed or youth-led groups – is a way of giving back to the movement.
  2. Be flexible with your funding – if you’re a funder, change your model. Some funders still only give funding to formal, accredited organisations. If you’re a Syrian human rights organisation, government accreditation puts you on a hit list, not a funding list. Funders like FRIDA - the young feminist fund - give to informal movements, have limited reporting requirements and focus on relationship building. Be more like FRIDA.

If you’re a youth organisations or movement:

  1. Consider breaking up with your funder – Too many organisations are trapped in a cycle of project funding - applying each year for a project grant that will not cover core activity but will keep them alive. Is this working? If the delivery of the organisation is only possible on the backs of the staff and volunteers – through endless unpaid hours, buying materials yourself, or even funding it – then you could consider Your funding model is not working, so find a different way.
  2. Relentlessly focus on your impact – What is your organisation trying to achieve? What does it want to see changed in the world? By focusing on the outcomes – and not the activities – it frees you up to thinking differently. Do not think about how you can fund projects, think about how you can best achieve the change you want to see. This may radically change what your organisation does.
  3. Use new power – It has never been easier to raise money for causes that we care about. When the Girl Scouts of America rejected a $100,000 donation (because it came with the stipulation of not working with transgender girls and women) they took to Twitter, launched #ForEVERYgirl, and raised $350,000+. They had more money, lived their values and built a community of donors that cared. This story, and more, is from a new book on new power by the founder of movements like Avaaz, Get up, and All Out. Check it out here.
  4. Take advantage of the CIVICUS crisis response fund If you’re facing immediate and serious threats to your freedoms of assembly and association, then CIVICUS can help. With a $10,000 grant available to organisations facing systemic threats to their existence (and that of civil society), the fund can be a lifeline to youth organisations and movements.

These are just a few things to consider – there are plenty more ways in which established organisations can support others and how youth organisations and movements can think differently about their work.

Money doesn’t mean success; but resources help.

As an alliance – and as a movement for change – we can all do more to cooperate and strengthen the work of others. This may mean thinking differently about how you work with others, how you fund, or the core work of your organisation.


Alex is a member of the CIVICUS Youth Action Team and works at the intersection of research, policy and journalism, attempting to improve the lives of young people through knowledge, training and expression.



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