Jessica Bintou on Enterprising Nonprofits & Finding Your Funding Model

Jessica Bintou recently returned from a two-month trip to her base in the United States, and came back even more invigorated about her mission. Her organization, United Aid for Africa Foundation (UAA), is a direct extension of her upbringing and her passions as a young girl. “My mom used to take in children all the time, and when you came to our house, you couldn’t even tell who was hers and who wasn’t.” As she grew a little older, she would visit the local orphanages and giveaway her old clothes and shoes to other children. She never knew she was going to start her own organization that focused on women and children, but it has been a great journey. She shares some lessons learned as a non-profit leader on building a strategic funding model that meets a growing demand.

Non-profit leaders spend a lot of time on fundraising, but many typically have very little idea how to secure funds, say over a 5 – 10 year period. What are some best practices to plan for an organization’s financial viability or sustainability?
Fundraising is by far the biggest challenge confronting non-profit organizations, especially at their inception and within the first few years of operation. This has certainly been and continues to be the case with United Aid for Africa as a relatively young organization. Here are some of the lessons we have learnt over the last several years that we try to incorporate within our fundraising strategy.

  • Be clear on your mission: Be aware that your organization is competing with tens of thousands of other equally worthy causes for funding from a finite financial resource pool, hence it’s important to be clear about what sets your organization apart from the competition. What makes your organization unique? Why should a potential donor support your cause and not the next guys? It is equally important to stay focused on your core mission and not get distracted by a million other pressing causes. This helps maintain clarity and consistency as well as help establish credibility with supporters and donors over time.
  • Have a plan: Be strategic. Develop a 5-year Strategic plan that anticipates the evolution of your organization during the short and medium term. Develop a fundraising plan in support of and in line with your Strategic plan. Remember ‘failing to plan is planning to fail’.
  • Think long term: Even as you grapple with meeting the day to day challenges of raising the funds to keep your organization’s doors open and fulfilling your core mission, it is extremely important to incorporate your long term objective into your daily activities. This is especially important in the first few years. You can be confident that your organization will of necessity change over time, hence the importance of anticipating the growing pains your organization will confront, and the necessary adjustment your organization must make to keep you ahead and not behind this constantly evolving process.
  • Establish strong relationships: Building strong relationships with your Board of Directors, Volunteers, Individual donors, Institutional donors as well as other non-profit organizations is key to successful fundraising. Building a pool of dedicated supporters and advocates for your organization and its mission is very crucial to long term financial sustainability.
  • Never give up: There will be plenty of reasons to want to give up. Fundraising can feel like a grueling marathon sometimes, and you will often be tempted to throw in the towel. If you truly believe in and are passionate about your mission, DON’T QUIT.

Do you think the idea of ‘fighting poverty in Africa’ is becoming cliché?
I would agree with this. The side effect of this is the perpetuation of negative stereotypes and caricatures of Africa and Africans. Our approach at United Aid for Africa is to emphasize A). The abundance of world class human resource capability both on the continent and in Diaspora that can be called upon to drive an economic and cultural renaissance in Africa and B). Africa’s position as a rapidly emerging market with ROI potential far exceeding what is currently obtained in mature markets like North America and Europe. Africa is increasingly recognized as the last remaining unexplored market frontier for institutional investors globally. Our focus at UAA is to help catalyze the necessary quality of cultural and economic mobilization that will make extreme poverty in Africa a thing of the past rather than a perpetual state of affairs.

Why are you passionate about your organization and its mission?
I have always been of the opinion that Africa’s serious challenges can only be met by Africans. I am absolutely convinced that Africa has all it needs — both human and material — to emerge as a global economic power within one or two generations. Our mission at United Aid for Africa is to be a part of the process of bringing this about. Our dedication to that organizational mission is what keeps me going.

What issue on the continent keeps you up at night?

  • Child Labor
  • Violence against women (sexual, political and economic)
  • Agricultural self sufficiency

Running an organization with your mission is very fulfilling, but there must be some discouraging moments. Can you share some success stories or lessons learned that keep you focused
Being able to make a meaningful and lasting difference in the lives of the individuals and communities we serve is extremely gratifying. Nothing compares with seeing the pure joy in the eyes of a child as she receives her school supplies as she realizes she will be able to attend school with the rest of her age mates courtesy of the UAA school supplies program. Those are moments that makes every second spent in pursuit of your mission worth the while.

The Voix is a creative platform that empowers the voices of global storytellers. For more information, visit: Thevoix.com.