Donors can do better

9/2021 | Linda Mwesigwa

If donors are very honest with themselves, they will acknowledge that their desire for credit may be greater than that for impact. Otherwise, they would not be competing with their implementing partners for publicity. They would be satisfied with the success of their implementing partner as being their success too, by implication. I have seen these all too familiar dynamics between donors and in-country implementing partners.

The story often unfolds something like this:

A donor will award an implementing partner with a grant and budget heavily for branded assets like office equipment, pull-up and teardrop banners, and cars, and a good amount of money will be allocated to communication campaigns to broadcast the project such as TVCs (television commercials) and media features. The project name will be catchy, usually a word or phrase in the local dialect. It is usually hard to reconcile the brand of the growing implementing partner with that of the highly publicized project they are coordinating. In no time, the organization starts being referred to as “those *insert project name* people.”

At the time when things are still sweet and money is still coming in, this does not seem problematic. Besides, the implementing partner is grateful for the recognition and respect, however, it is presented. They may even decide to milk it. They also feel the need to please the very demanding donor, to whom they feel greatly indebted. All hands are needed on deck to implement this project, compile reports, and participate in the back-and-forth correspondences on the recommended edits.

At this point, the project is the organization. They have no time and frankly, no motivation, to keep the other projects running. Towards the end of the project, the organization’s leadership starts to panic. They wonder what should be done next. They hope the donor agency will have another grant for a new project but also look for other grants elsewhere. Big grants. Nothing less than what they have grown accustomed to. They have bigger operational costs now. They were catapulted so far up, that it is hard to settle for anything less without feeling disgraced. Once the project ends and project assets are disposed of, they lose identity.


Donors continually perpetuate this narrative by designing megaphones for their projects. It baffles me because the implementing partners would still give them all the credit they can give because they too are proud to be associated with them. However, the credit that the implementing partners can potentially give is not enough. They want more and ensure that this is financially accommodated. Donors need to stick to funding impact and get comfortable with staying in the background. These implementing organizations also need to be empowered to grow their spine. The least donors can do is contribute to their growth through technical assistance in grant writing, fundraising, financial reporting, and project management in addition to the grants.

All the recommendations I have made above are not too much to ask. I worked for a youth-led organization that set up a grant program to support youth-led community-based organizations (CBOs) in their sector. A call was made annually, and successful CBOs in Eastern, Central, and Western Uganda would be given financial and technical assistance. Workplans were developed by the program teams of both the funder and the CBOs. The input of the CBOs was greatly valued because they were the ones implementing in those communities. The CBOs knew what challenges needed urgent intervention and what course of action would yield a better impact in their communities. The leadership of the funding organization ensured that their grantees could survive past the project cycle. They held quarterly capacity-building workshops with different teams (finance, programs, and directors). They did not overwhelm the CBOs with unrealistic expectations. They supported the other projects that the CBOs were implementing to ensure that they survived. They exposed them to more funders. They ensured that these CBOs did not lose themselves in the process of implementing these projects. Perhaps their sensitivity and respect for these CBOs came from the fact that it had not been long ago when they were in the same position.

To sustain impact, more resources need to be invested in building local organisations to ensure that they do not get overwhelmed and/or engulfed by the big projects they take on. It should concern donors when promising organisations they partner with do not grow from the experience.

Photograph 1: Staff from Youth Fund grantee organisations attending a capacity building workshop hosted by RAHU Photo Credit: ‘Reach a Hand’

About this article

This blog was written as part of the “From where I stand: Unpacking ‘local’ in aid” series. Through this series, CDA aims to listen to people most affected by aid as they explore and amplify their leadership experiences, stories, and lessons for the aid sector. 

For recent blogs in this series check-out:

And many more to come soon! If you are interested in contributing to the series please contact Nanako Tamaru at [email protected]. We would love to hear from you and include your perspective.  

About the author


Linda Mwesigwa is currently pursuing a Master of Arts in Conflict Resolution and Coexistence at Brandeis University, on a scholarship by the Joint Japan World Bank Graduate Scholarships Program (JJWBGSP). She has six years of experience in managing Partnerships and Communications. She has interacted with development partners, academia, and Ministries, Departments, and Agencies (MDAs) in advocacy campaigns, dialogues (high level and community), research and policy design processes in the reproductive health and environment sectors. She has facilitated capacity-building programs in project management, communications, and environment monitoring and co-hosts Dopamine Podcast with three friends. She holds a Bachelor of Microfinance from Kyambogo University and is writing her thesis for a Master of Public Administration at the Uganda Management Institute.