It is a known fact that “Nothing comes easy. This is especially true for NGOs because these organizations go through thousands of efforts to make things work. In fact, even if NGOs become successful in implementing a programme or scheme, in order to keep it running without any obstacles on its way, help of government is a must. But again, how to engage with the government in situations like these? Following are some tips.
There are some people who have worked with the government. They are very well acquainted with the transfer of staff on a regular basis. This in turn risks continuity of work, funds and knowledge. A formal Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) will act as a shield, while also explicitly state the outcomes and the duties of the parties. It protects the project in the event that the principal secretary is transferred and the successor has different priorities. It also makes this nonprofit work legitimate. As a result, getting an MoU signed is a difficult and lengthy process, because it needs legal clearance, which consequently delays approval. Instead, a statement of collaboration will play the same role as an MoU and will also avoid the obstacles faced in a legal procedure.
While there is no shortcut to the “right” financial contribution that assures government ownership or commitment to a programme, it is important that the work appears in the annual plans and budgets of the government, because it further strengthens their support of the project. Receiving these funds is not without any hassles. Special attention is paid to ensure that the government spends on specific activities directly and remove any problem that might exist with the idea of the government transferring money to an NGO.
Governments typically prefer agreements which are for a longer period and have a larger scope. But nonprofits face limitations on this front, mainly because their funding is contingent on donors agreeing to support multiyear projects. Annual grants are quite common, and make it difficult for nonprofits to run programmes, as they compel them to continuously fundraise and renew agreements. Our approach involves convincing our donor to invest in the project for a period of time. This is easier said than done, but it is assured from the start that the programme will run for 56 years at a certain scale and achieve the expected outcomes, after which responsibilities will be transferred to the government. Ideally, nonprofits should secure another source to support their efforts, and leverage government infrastructure and funding for implementation costs.
Lay down the benchmarks right at the beginning. Try getting the programme included in the state Programme Implementation Plan (PIP because it shows that the proposal is aligned with the state’s priority, and this will help meet laid down goals. Advocate for the relevant department budget to allocate money for the proposed intervention. Ensure that collateral, including letters, include the government logo and has government endorsement. Government approval is a must. Invite relevant government personnel to lead and attend the events and major meetings about the programme. These measures not only create ownership on the part of the government, but also protect during unexpected crises.
A few years ago, many states in India had banned adolescent education in schools. The ban, enforced in 12 states, resulted in media coverage calling for an end to such initiatives. Since the programme was led, approved, and owned by the government, they explained the need for such work to the press. The programme got by relatively unscathed. Handing the programme over to the government is a sustainable approach since no funder will support work endlessly of a nonprofit. Programme quality will be the first casualty once it is withdrawen. It is important to be aware of what that dip in quality will look like. Is it going to plummet from 80% to 20%, or will it sink to 50%? Knowing this can help you act preemptively, putting in place systems and processes that can maintain a minimum level of program efficacy.
Easier said than done, an NGO must do the best to ensure that quality loss is minimised. Like most things, working with the government can be unpredictable. It can also be time-consuming and sometimes frustrating. But in a country of 1.3 billion people, making a dent in the social and economic progress warrants collaborating with the government. After all, their reach and resources are unmatched. When the government takes the programme to all schools in the state, or five new states, it is established that the uphill climb to get there was worth it.