Embargo Period


Degree Name

MA in Sustainable Development

First Advisor

Rachel Slocum


The purpose of this research is to explore ways in which non-governmental organizations (NGOs) can become more sustainable in light of a crucial challenge facing them today: that of financial instability. In the charitable sector in the U.S, NGOs, especially small-scale NGOs, have struggled with securing daily operating revenue rather than revenue for long-term program operations, in spite of the continuing needs of their beneficiaries (Janus, 2018; Le, 2017; Meehan & Jonker, 2017). Fundraising has come to involve relationships between NGOs and institutional donors such as foundations, government agencies and corporations. Competition among NGOs and rampant power asymmetry between donors and grantees has come to define grantmaking in the neoliberal era (Gilmore, 2016; Janus, 2018; Le, 2017; Meehan & Jonker, 2017; Parks, 2008). Although revenue streams have been diversified through sound alternatives to conventional grantmaking, grant funding nonetheless remains a regular source of funds (Janus, 2018; Le, 2017; Meehan & Jonker, 2017). The objective of this research is to examine the challenges that both NGOs and institutional donors are confronting, and to think about how to establish best practices for both NGOs and donors to enable viable alternatives to conventional grantmaking as well as sustainable donor-NGO relations. Secondary data and literature from leading academics, as well as interviews with NGOs, foundations, social ventures, and academics have led me to conclude that the ideal relationship between institutional donors and NGOs should be co-creation, and ideally mutually beneficial collaborations, rather than typical competitive models (RSF Social Finance, “Shared Gifting,” n.d.). I argue that transformative change in the donor-NGO relationship is possible through three approaches: 1) a paradigm shift from competition to systemic thinking to handle limited resources, 2) grantees’ need-based grantmaking practices, and 3) the right regulations and policies to close loopholes in grantmaking. In the end, all sectors should recognize their responsibility to play their roles for the public good of their communities (Eisenberg, 2004). This means that it is important that both NGOs’ and their institutional donors’ priorities do not experience mission creep nor focus on sustainability, but, rather, fulfill their missions in a prompt manner (Gilmore, 2016; Walker, 2017). When NGOs are able to determine the best way to pursue their missions on their own terms (Burton & Barnes, 2017; Le, 2017), and institutional donors, in turn, provide the best support for them with tax-exempt money, donor-NGO relations could become unprecedentedly powerful for the charitable sector and social cohesion.


Business Administration, Management, and Operations | Entrepreneurial and Small Business Operations | Nonprofit Administration and Management | Politics and Social Change | Public Policy | Social Policy


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