Financing civil society

For non-governmental organisations the quest for core funding to sustain their good work is a constant challenge, occupying an inordinate percentage of their time and efforts, again and again, project by project, year after year. In a time of governments withdrawing, and fierce competition for scarce philanthropic and public resources, even the most popular and highly qualified organisations struggle to sustain their funding. Without adequate resources no organisation can do its job. Although financial resources for civil society organisations vary among the fields, in the different Members States as well as at the EU level, funding for the majority of organisations comes from the following sources:

  • Government subsidies: These subsidies tend to shrink as a result of cutbacks in public expenditure; governments generally tend to provide short-term funding only; organisations are constrained by stringent requirements (Never bite the hand that feeds you); EU-project funding requires a considerable percentage of national co-funding;
  • Donations, membership fees and legacies from members of the public: This is an area in which there is increasingly fierce competition between a growing number of organisations;
  • Sponsoring by trade and industry: To a certain extent there is an increasing amount of this, but it has its limitations where the independence of the civil society organisation is at risk of being compromised. Such constraints are felt particularly by socially critical organisations. Furthermore, this kind of funding also depends on the economic situation;
  • Funding from international donors: This is mostly the case in several post-communist regimes: international donors (Open Society Institute/Soros, Mott Foundation, Ford Foundation, United Way, US-AID etc) have invested large sums of money in order to help develop civil society. This kind of funding has been terminated, and trust funds are currently deflating;
  • Income from lotteries or other games of chance: In most European countries lottery revenues come from state-operated lotteries and with an obligation to apply it for a particular purpose. In a few member states, non-earmarked funds come straight from private charity lotteries; it is a source of funding that has grown considerably in recent years and now accounts for a substantial proportion (sometimes as much as twenty or thirty per cent) of the beneficiaries’ budgets. The total amount raised by the members of ACLEU in 2011 amounted to half a billion euros for more than 200 NGOs.