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Tuesday, February 19 , 2019, 9:48 am | Fair 52º


Steven Crandell: Funding Locally, and the Story Behind the Well

In philanthropy, as in most human endeavors, lasting change is elusive.

But when donors act to replace local dependency with local capacity, they can empower a locally led and stakeholder-supported evolution of service. Responsive growth can become part of a project’s DNA. And change, fed by local needs and local dreams, becomes both durable and flexible.

Santa Barbara County is full of generous people who give because they perceive genuine need. There are many nonprofit organizations that exist to fill that need. But we all benefit — donors, nonprofits and the communities being served — when we ask a simple question: Are we building capacity as well as serving immediate needs?

I believe we can all draw inspiration from an African example. The town of Makutano, Kenya, “transformed itself from a poor, inaccessible and arid ‘outback’ into a thriving hotbed of people-led development,” according to a 2011 report.* Part of the story of Makutano’s success depended on its partnership with a key external funder, the Kenya Community Development Foundation (KCDF) working in concert with the Makutano Community Development Association.

The former leader of the KCDF put the key issue beautifully in the following quote, which leads the report:

“Development is the story behind the well ... you can have a community that wants a well to get better water, and most development agencies are happy to just help a community sink a well, get a water pump and say, ‘Hurrah, we have clean water, we have done our job’ ... We were arguing that just getting the well is not enough — because that isn’t the development.

“The development, we were arguing, is the story behind the well; it’s how you get the well that’s important.

“Did you build local capacities? Did you change attitudes? Did you help the community to think differently?

“Did you help them to see that you are not going to be there to repair the well?”

        — Monica Mutuku, founding director, Kenya Community Development Foundation

Here are six factors that helped make the Makutano philanthropy work:

Common Vision and Approach

The donor-community relationship is based on an understanding that residents are owners and agents of their own development.

Harness Local Contributions, Build Local Assets

Encouraging local giving is part of building local infrastructure. And local infrastructure — whether physical, social, organizational or educational — is the key to self-determination.

Build Software and Hardware

This means supporting organizational capacity as well as concrete action plans. Analysis and planning can be funded as well as tangible assets and financial management.

Give Consistently and Consistent with Community Change

Keep your funding at a scale that doesn’t undermine community ownership or overwhelm capacity. Smaller amounts given consistently over a longer term can be very helpful.

Foster Long-Term Sustainability

Mobilize local resources as a means of increasing independence. Use matching funds to encourage other donors to contribute.


Accept that change takes time and requires multiple participants.

Source: Funding Locally, a guide created by Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors.

* Halima Mahomed and Brianne Peters (2011) “The Story Behind the Well: A case study of successful community development in Makutano, Kenya.” Published by the Global Fund for Community Foundations and the Coady International Institute.

Additional Resources: A 2014 update on Makatuno from PartnershipsInAction, an initiative of the Aga Khan Foundation

— Author and writer Steven Crandell helps integrate story and strategy for organizations, with nonprofit foundations a particular focus. “Thinking Philanthropy” aims to provide practical, thought-provoking ideas about giving. This article was cross-posted on Tumblr. Steven can be contacted at [email protected], or follow him on Twitter: @stevencrandell. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.

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