A good financial administration in ten steps

ErnstJan Stroes

By ErnstJan Stroes

Programme Coordinator Citizen Initiatives. ErnstJan manages the secretariat of the European Network for the support of private initiatives from Wilde Ganzen.

More from ErnstJan ErnstJan Stroes

Wilde Ganzen believes it is important to strengthen local civil society organizations and support them on the path to independence. Drawing from hy hands-on international experience, I am convinced that strong civil society organizations that help local communities realize their needs are an important factor in sustainabily combating poverty. In this blog you can read about my personal experiences in Poland, along with 10 tips on how Dutch or Belgian partners can help you achieve greater self-sufficiency and independence.

In 1992 I was posted to Poland as a young development worker, a country that had just entered the open world economy. After 60 years of communism, substantial legislative changes were required to adapt to new realities. These were incredibly challenging times for civil society organizations. My task was to collaborate with Polish environmental organizations in establishing activities to enhance the environment, which was in bad shape. In 1993, we supported our Polish partners, active since the ’80s, in launching two campaigns: one for waste separation and another for creating city cycling infrastructure.

Just temporary

Even though I worked with great pleasure in Poland, I knew it wasn’t a lifelong commitment. Moreover, at a certain point all these projects financed by Dutch funders would come to an end and my presence would become unattainable. My Polish partners would need to be able to continue their work with their own preferably local sources of funding. My contribution as a foreigner was even more half-hearted. For everything that I did in Poland as a foreigner my Polish partners were formally and legally responsible. This was a situation that was not going to exist forever. Being aware of these limitations we started instantly seeking for ways to strengthen and increase the self-reliance of our Polish partners. We organized training on public campaigning. Created networks with other civil society organisations. Prepared proposals to strengthen local fundraising. Together with our Polish partners we were looking for funding from different sources.

We, as supporters of those Polish partners, were able to do this as we had independent partners with a strong mind set to be the owners of the change process. We worked with local people that could push the transformation further that we wanted to contribute to. Partners that stubbornly created the future they wanted. Local partners with who you work should be strong due to the community they unite and represent, the integrity and passion with which they pursue their objectives. We wanted to enable our partners to access new and diverse sources of income from their communities, authorities, or other funders.

Work of people

When we are enabling our partners to work towards independency and self-sufficiency it is important to realise that organisational development is not a top-driven process. Organisational development is above all the work of people. People are organized in different manners around the world nowhere people are organized identical. Nevertheless, everywhere groups of people are organised around the issues that matter most to them. Legislation that enables organisations may vary from country to country, as cultures are divers. In Poland I learned this very fast, that practices are much more centralised and hierarchic. I had to adapt to something I was totally not used to. Moreover, culture is more competitive – a characteristic that can produce wonderful results, but also intense conflicts about leadership and management style. As an outsider modesty and distance are appropriate in such a context, to allow your partners to find their natural ways of organizing.

In 2021, Wilde Ganzen conducted a research into the level of independence we so desire from our partner organizations. That research showed that it is still very difficult for many co-funding partner organisations to really let their partner bear the final responsibility. The most important aspect is the financial side of the matter. Too many co-funding partner organisations still apply the saying ‘Trust is good, control is better’. That was actually how I was initially deployed in Poland by my client from the Netherlands, as a kind of accountant. But that distrust is counterproductive, because if you do not give your partner the space to also be responsible for the money, that partner will always remain an underdeveloped organization.

You want your partner to build up their own network with their authorities, with local companies and, above all, with the community they are committed to. You cannot work with people who prefer not to take responsibility for their own causes. You want to work with people who takes up the challenges vigorously, because only independent and socially supported organizations are able to maintainĀ  evelopment in the long termĀ and really stand up for the interests of their local community. Even when you as a co-funding partner organisation are no longer there.

10 tips to support your local partners with

Based on a decade experience in Poland, Slovakia and Lithuania – I would like to share tips on how your partner can best coach you towards greater independency.

  1. Your partner has to operate with humility. They must acknowledge that as a foreigner and outsider, they will never be fully part of the community,Ā  and apart from a small financial risk, they have limited stakes.
  2. Your partner should give you space. The partner needs to enable you to take responsibility for the money, governance and liability of your own organisation, community and actions.
  3. Your partner has to provide you with complete information about plans, projects and obligations. As you have to provide them with complete information. You need to make sure that you both are fully informed about the status of your cooperation.
  4. You need to feel that your partner has a huge positive drive to contribute to your community and a has a large informal commitment to this community.
  5. Your partner could invest in building your personal capacities, while implementing projects. Find out what the Change the Game program can mean for you.
  6. Your partner could invest in the capabilities of the people that run your organization by helping you find procedures that are workable for you, for example on how to resolve mutual disagreements, make and record decisions and overcome tensions.
  7. Together you can study and evaluate what goes well, but certainly also what fails, and learn from this together. Your partner can help you create moments of reflection.
  8. Your partner should respect cultural differences, as well as the way organizations are led and formed and the way people work together. Our western standard for collective management and responsibility is the exception rather than the rule in the world.
  9. Your partner has to realise that they are investing in an organization that may serve the community for another 50 years. And also know that only locally rooted independent organizations can represent the broader interests of the community. Your organization cannot run away if things become difficult due to changing local or political circumstances.
  10. Ā Your partner should let go of the idea that it is better and even possible to control things from the Netherlands or Belgium. Rather, they should learn to trust people, their skills and their ability to take responsibility for themselves.