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Letter to a Donor Friend

April 26, 2011

By Fiorenzo Conte

An extract from a letter by a local activist to her aid worker friend.

Instead of writing reports or documenting experiences in ways that help us to learn, we spend a great deal of time trying to please you and doing what you want. Think of any NGO that you have funded during the last five years. If you were to ask them right now to give you something that provides enough depth and critical reflection to contribute to learning, would they have it? They would certainly have their annual reports and reports written for their other donors, but not much that is deeply reflective. We have little time, energy and resources to commit to such time-consuming practices. (..)Your reporting “format” – or shall we call it “template” – is all about you and what you want to know. It is not about us and what we want to learn. (..) I withhold information that might damage my organization. I spend my time trying to understand the language that you speak and how to fit my organization into the relevant templates. We have to move with the times, keep up with the latest lingo.

The letter is a sharp critique of how the donor needs are prioritized vis-à-vis the local needs when it comes to reporting procedures. A practice that can create rather than solve problems. You can read the full text here.

HT to Ravindra Ramrattan for the link.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. April 26, 2011 3:53 pm

    Skimming through the longer version, I love how the letter format has been used to explore these issues. One particular section, describing how ‘we are an oral culture’, that they want to express themselves in long paragraphs, yet are forced to put their words into templates with tick boxes, rings some bells for me. Working once on the donor side I used to get very frustrated by long, winding applications, which were trying to express visions, as the letter points out. I often found the use of long paragraphs confusing, and became frustrated as admidst this, I often couldnt make out the essence of the application, what the organisation was really trying to do.

    Templates for me were therefore an attractive and simple means to really force the organisations applying to think about their vision, aims etc, and to allow me to ineterpret this fully enough that I could then hold a decent, and more detailed phone conversation with the best applicants. Sifting through hundreds of applications it simply isnt realistic to let the applicants ‘express themselves’ exactly how they would like at the initial stages. I have sympathy with applicants going through overly complex and restrictive application and reporting formats, however at some levels I would argue that an element of restriction is needed.

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