The crisis in Greece prompted us to fundamentally rethink our strategy and how we could best meet the growing social needs for the finite resources of the Bodossaki Foundation. An important part of our new approach was to extend our support beyond traditional grant-making to include a range of non-financial support to civil society organisations. These capacity building activities have rapidly become a flagship initiative of our foundation, helping us to maximise our impact and visibility during difficult times. Here, we share some thoughts on this journey and some of the lessons learned along the way.
The past decade has been exceptionally challenging for philanthropy in Greece. When times are hard, it is more important than ever to use limited resources effectively. But philanthropic funding can only be effective when there are sufficient organisations on the ground that are able implement impactful and sustainable activities. In Greece, the vast majority of non-profits are very small-scale – often quite newly established, in response to the crisis. If they are to scale up their activities, these organisations need to gain key skills and expertise. Capacity building has an important role to play here, and so we realised that it would increase the overall impact of our support to civil society to offer such non-financial support in addition to our traditional grant-making activities.
In 2013, our foundation had the honour of being appointed as fund operator for the EEA Grants NGO Fund for Greece. This gave us the opportunity to design and implement our first capacity building activities for civil society organisations. These were very well received, and, as a result, in 2016, we decided to establish Social Dynamo as a permanent hub for civil society capacity building, offering a co-working space, training, mentoring and networking opportunities.
After two years of operation, Social Dynamo has already trained over 360 different organisations, therefore considerably increasing the outreach of our support for civil society. Over 50 civil society groups have been hosted in our co-working space, and our pre and post assessment shows that our support has an important impact on their organisational development, visibility and financial sustainability.
In terms of external recognition, Social Dynamo has won two national awards, and our capacity building work has been acknowledged as an example of best practice internationally for supporting grantee effectiveness, in a study by Lloyds and NPC.
One important success factor for our capacity building work has been our close collaboration with local authorities. The City of Athens, through its synAthina initiative, has been a partner of Social Dynamo since its inception. As well as offering a physical space – within ‘Serafio’, a new municipal complex hosting programmes related to innovation, culture and sports – this partnership puts our supported groups at the heart of a growing eco-system to support civic engagement within the city.
Another key aspect of our strategy has been to build a wide community of supporters, including over 40 pro bono mentors and trainers, mainly from the private sector and from larger NGOs. Thanks to this collaborative approach, Social Dynamo offers free access to a community of mentors, trainers and consultants for the non-profit sector that is unparalleled within Greece.
Social Dynamo has also been the springboard for a number of other collaborations, including with several other foundations and international networks, whose grantees also have access to our capacity building services. These synergies have benefits for grantees and funders alike.
A further important aspect of our approach has been to listen closely to the users of our capacity building activities, to ensure that the services offered respond to their needs and priorities. Social Dynamo also provides an ‘ear to the ground’ for the wider activities of the Foundation, keeping us in touch with the evolving needs of civil society.
Our capacity building work has enabled us to increase the scope, impact and visibility of our support to civil society, in part because it has allowed us capitalise on the foundation’s various non-financial resources and put these at the service of our grantees. We are now much more pro-active in sharing the skills and expertise of our staff, for example, who participate in our capacity building activities as trainers, mentors and consultants. We also use leverage the foundation’s wider network of contacts and networks much more effectively and strategically, for example in order to develop our pool of pro bono mentors. Capacity building will also play a crucial role in our approach to managing the new EEA Grants Active Citizens Fund for Greece, amounting to 12m euros.
But our capacity building activities have also helped our foundation to develop another important resource – that of trust and credibility within the sector. Our grantees tell us that they consider that our foundation to be approachable and open – and our capacity building activities play an important role in this openness.
Our experiences illustrate the potential benefits for funders to go beyond their traditional role of grant-making. This has been an exciting journey for us, which is still ongoing – so we look forward to staying in touch with our next steps!