The Quest for Financial Sustainability: Foundations in Southeast Asia

By Natasha Amott

Slowly, a portrait of Southeast Asia's organized philanthropic sector is emerging. And the numbers behind this picture are very enlightening. Surveys conducted by The Synergos Institute of the small number of foundations in the Philippines, Thailand, and Indonesia reveal that a significant sum of funds is in fact being channeled through such organizations. In the Philippines, 56 indigenous foundations made approximately US $10.5 million in grants and loans to non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community-based organizations, and individuals in 2000. In that same year, 30 local Thai foundations generated a total of approximately US $3 million in financial assistance and some 25 foundations in Indonesia disbursed about US $8 million.

While these surveys highlight the significant contributions that foundations are making to the development of the region, further information gleaned from the surveys reveal the fragile nature of the foundation sector there. Investigation reveals that organized philanthropy in Southeast Asia is still in its infancy and foundations face long-term fundraising challenges. One major challenge is to increase the flow of funds from local sources, while still taking advantage of opportunities to partner with international organizations in mutually beneficial funding arrangements. Another challenge is to build long term financial sustainability of foundations, regardless of funding source. The 2000 surveys referred to above indicate that a majority of funds received by indigenous foundations come from overseas sources, namely official development assistance (ODA) agencies. In Indonesia and the Philippines, 65 and 57 percent of funds, respectively, were from international sources. Domestic revenues in the three countries are largely derived from government contracts, corporations, and some earned income.

Within this context, this volume explores a range of strategies for increasing the flow of resources to the foundation sector, with particular reference to the Philippines, Indonesia, and Thailand (although much of what is presented here is applicable to other Southern countries with a still developing foundation sector). The current development milieu is ripe for innovation as many foundations in the region seek out new opportunities to increase their resources and impact. Foundations are beginning to build permanent endowments and are exploring market-driven mechanisms to cover the costs of carrying out their social missions. They are also beginning to realize multiple ways of engaging with ODA agencies to leverage their assets.

With this collection of essays and case studies, Synergos is challenging all support organizations including private donors and ODA agencies, to focus attention on how we can significantly increase the financial resource flows to civil society organizations (and foundations in particular) fighting poverty and inequality. The challenge also goes out to foundations to explore how they can take advantage of the experiences described in this volume to enhance their own financial viability and potential impact. The following chapters offer a glimpse of what's possible should sufficient commitment and creativity be harnessed.


In this introduction I will briefly explore six themes that cut across the authors' work and that may be focal points for ensuing discussions. Before doing that, however, a brief overview of the chapters is required.

Chapter Two, by David Winder, proposes a range of options for ODA agencies seeking to engage more effectively with a range of civil society organizations in addressing development challenges. It presents a strong argument for ODA agencies to channel more resources to development activity through existing or new local development or environmental foundations.

In Chapter Three, Gary Suwannarat takes the reader to the specific case of Thailand's experience with ODA-civil society collaboration. She explores the potential for further ODA flows to NGOs and foundations in the country in the context of diminishing ODA supply. Chapter Four, by Consuelo Katrina A. Lopa, explores the rise of Philippine NGOs in managing ODA and considers new challenges and opportunities for NGOs and ODA agencies moving forward.

The focus of the remaining chapters is on exploring additional mechanisms that foundations can apply to raise financial assets. In Chapter Five, Eugene Gonzales presents a general overview of the use of endowments for achieving sustainability based on case studies of four foundations in the region.

Chapter Six by Ernie Garilao and Gil Tuparan presents the endowment-building experience of the Jaime V. Ongpin Foundation, Inc. (JVOFI), a foundation formed with corporate resources in the Philippines. It discusses how this organization created, expanded, and managed its endowment fund, including the challenges it continues to address and the success factors that other foundations could potentially incorporate into their fundraising strategies. Chapter Seven by Sarah Maxim, Ismid Hadad, and Suzanty Sitorus presents a different experience in endowment building through the story of the Indonesian Biodiversity Foundation, or KEHATI, which was established with an initial endowment of US $16.5 million, provided as a grant by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).

And finally, Chapter Eight by Rustam Ibrahim turns to the strategy of earned income, examining how the Dian Desa foundation in Indonesia has been generating nearly 40 percent of its annual budget through a for-profit business in order to support its social mission.

Lessons Learned

Several issues cut across the following chapters and I would like to highlight six of these that together form a framework for thinking about options for financing development in Southeast Asia.

First -- and this is an assumption that the book admittedly began with -- of all the types of civil society organizations, indigenous foundations are thought to be a highly effective vehicle for building long-term financial assets for development. Second, building permanent financial assets in the form of an endowment may be advantageous for achieving long-term growth and sustainability. Third, while the overall volume of development assistance from ODA agencies may be falling in the region, there may still be a range of opportunities for continued ODA-civil society collaboration. Fourth, the value of earned income in building sustainability needs to be considered and tapped more, where appropriate. Fifth, there may be opportunities to leverage the financial assets of foundations in more creative ways. While much more thinking needs to be done in the area, some initial ideas are proposed here. Finally, the ability of foundations in the three focus countries to build long term financial sustainability may be hindered by a number of factors, including complex decision-making processes at ODA agencies, weak enabling environments for organized philanthropy, lingering mistrust of NGOs and foundations, and questions of adequate capacity within civil society organizations generally.

Foundations as Effective Bridging Institutions

A premise of this book is that indigenous foundations are appropriate vehicles to build assets, financial and otherwise, for development. When The Synergos Institute began conducting research on this topic in Southeast Asia in 1997 with the support of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation, the indigenous foundation was an obscure concept. Today, there is much greater familiarity with the idea.

Like their counterparts in countries as far widespread as Latin America, Canada, and Eastern Europe, foundations in Southeast Asia have shown the capacity to successfully bridge divides between communities and resources (financial, intellectual, human, and other). Although the number of such bridging organizations remains small, they are nevertheless helping to support, strengthen, and sustain thousands of small and large civil society initiatives. These organizations are distinct from NGOs because, as bridging organizations, they tend to share the following characteristics:

First, they mobilize and facilitate the transfer of financial resources from both local and international sources to NGOs and community-based organizations in their country or region. These organizations in turn are directly working to effect positive change in pressing areas such as rural development, economic inequality, women's reproductive health, and environmental conservation.

Second, by building permanent endowments and executing strong grantmaking or lending programs, foundations can become a self-sustaining and long-term domestic funding resource for development activities.

Third, foundations often provide community leadership in important community and national dialogue, often by advocating on behalf of those who are more marginalized.

Fourth, foundations assist in testing and scaling up poverty-focused strategies.

Achieving a common name for such organizations across countries and multiple contexts and languages has not yet been achieved (although these characteristics are emblematic of foundations in other parts of the world too; see Schearer 1997 for more on their roles generally.) Most often, and in this book, they are referred to as "foundations" or "community development foundations" in recognition of the roles they have in common with foundations in the United States, Canada, and parts of Europe. In Southeast Asia, the term "civil society resource organization" -- or "CSRO" -- has also been used. The lack of an adequate "label" notwithstanding, the functions detailed above do exist in organizations across several countries and makes their experiences all the more important to understand further.1 The growing universe of such organizations in Southeast Asia is only beginning to be systematically studied.2 (In Chapters Two through Four, the term "NGO-managed funding mechanisms" is used to refer to NGOs or foundations managing ODA funds.)

Sustaining Permanent Assets

Throughout this volume we present diverse examples of endowment creation and management. An endowment is a collection of funds managed by an organization for the charitable purposes specified by that organization's governing body and donors. The funds are expected to remain intact either in perpetuity, for a defined period of time, or until sufficient assets have been accumulated to achieve a designated purpose. It is expected that the size of the endowment will increase over time and that it will provide regular income over the lifetime of the organization.3

An increasing number of civil society leaders in Asia are now gaining direct experience in the creation, management, and growing of endowments. In the Philippines, most endowments have been sourced from corporate contributions or ODA funds; a smaller number have been built from earned income and the levying of fees for services. Comparatively fewer organizations in Indonesia and Thailand have formed endowments.

Depending on an endowment's size and skills with which it is invested, the interest earned on an endowment can enhance the autonomy and security of a foundation, thus freeing up more staff time to focus on long-term planning and program development. For example, while JVOFI (Chapter Six) existed for 11 years before its endowment was established, the foundation's management prudently chose to establish one because the corporation could not guarantee that it would always be able to transfer funds to the foundation. Moreover, the presence of an endowment has meant that JVOFI has been viewed as a credible actor by other international donors and has enabled it to leverage resources. In Indonesia, KEHATI's sizable endowment (Chapter Seven) has enabled it to focus on developing strong institutional systems and strategic programs without having to be overly consumed by fundraising activities.

At the same time the chapters reveal three critical lessons. First, as the case study on KEHATI argues, it may not always be easy to find donors willing to give to an endowment, especially in developing countries. It is difficult to convince donors that it is more prudent to invest for tomorrow when there is still a significant poverty gap to fill today. KEHATI has learned that communicating about its endowment needs to be fundamentally linked to the potential impact to be gained by the foundation's efforts. As Gonzales reminds the reader in Chapter Five, "endowments will be measured not in financial or project terms but in terms of their impact on a society's environment, health, poverty, and overall development."

On the flipside, the cases suggest that foundations need to decide how much priority to give to building an endowment at a given moment in time. They have to consider the opportunity costs involved and recognize that it is likely to take many years before the endowment is large enough to cover a significant proportion of institutional costs.

Finally, these chapters remind us that an endowment is not a panacea for everything financial. In fact, as these chapters demonstrate, fundraising is ongoing and a strategic plan needs to be in place to not only manage the fund's investment portfolio but also to bring in new funds. KEHATI withstood a fall in its investment portfolio of US $5 million in market value between 2000 and 2002. This experience taught KEHATI staff that a broad interpretation of financial sustainability is important, as an endowment itself cannot necessarily provide for all existing or future needs.

Collaborating with Official Development Assistance

As argued by Winder in Chapter Two, in recent efforts to increase the impact of bilateral aid on poverty, inequality, and injustice in Southeast Asia, ODA agencies have sought ways to directly support community level initiatives. In part, this has been a result of dissatisfaction with the failure of many governments to effectively allocate ODA. Winder describes the ODA-civil society collaborative approaches adopted in Southeast Asia as ranging "from ad hoc small grants programs directly managed by ODA agency staff in country to carefully crafted strategies that seek to build strong civil society-managed funding institutions that are sustainable…" Based on cases he explores, he argues that more impact has been achieved through the latter vehicle because it is under this scenario that the greatest level of decision-making and financial sustainability passes to a civil society organization (most commonly to a foundation via an endowment).

In early 2003, The Synergos Institute hired an outside evaluator to assess the impact of earlier work we had been doing to promote increased ODA flows to civil society in Southeast Asia. Among the responses was one from an ODA agency official who argued that supporting indigenous foundations may not be an appropriate vehicle through which to channel ODA because it adds an additional layer of administration that in the end increases the costs of reaching communities. As pointed out in a recent article in Alliance by Kingman (June 2003), however, this may be the case if intermediary organizations like foundations are only seen as adding value for the purpose of transferring funds. If, however, they are seen as adding value in other areas, such as providing capacity building services to grassroots organizations, speaking out on behalf of small NGOs and community based organizations, or engaging the private and public sectors in the work of civil society, then channeling funds to local foundations is not an unrewarding investment.

It is critical to ensure, however, that foundations have sufficient capacity to absorb and channel these funds in the most strategic ways. The importance to development agencies and others of working increasingly with intermediary organizations that are able to bridge between the demand coming from initiatives on the ground and the supply of development finance is increasingly a topic of international development fora (see, for example, the International Institute of Environment and Development's collection of essays prepared for the World Summit on Sustainable Development and UN Conference on Financing for Development, both held in 2002).

While Chapters Three and Four present somewhat contrasting realities of ODA-civil society collaboration in Thailand and the Philippines, an underlying recommendation in both is that civil society (and I would argue foundations in particular) and ODA agencies need to be in an ongoing dialogue with the goal of creating strategic partnerships. On the part of NGOs and foundations, this necessitates creating a research capacity to demonstrate to recipient and donor country governments that endowed foundations serve the public good. In the case of potential debt swaps, one strategy is to form an NGO or civil society task force to explore debt swap or debt forgiveness options and work with creditors and debtors to develop concrete proposals. International NGOs can play a helpful role in mobilizing public support for debt swaps and even raising the foreign exchange required for debt buy-back.4

As the first section argues, in order to pursue the debt swap option successfully or to work with ODA agencies in any capacity, the following areas of research and action are important to resolve: identifying a high-priority field of interest to a donor government and ODA agency; ensuring a favorable policy environment (in both donor and creditor countries); having "champions" on both sides to rally support for the idea; having a legal entity that can receive and manage funds and is acceptable to the donor; and ensuring that there is a significant source of funds available (either "one-off" funds or contributions over time). In addition, a high-level mandate on the donor side needs to exist in order to channel funds to a particular issue. Often this may happen after an international treaty or declaration has been signed, such as the Tokyo Declaration, which set the scene for US-Japan intergovernmental cooperation on the environment in Indonesia (and in turn led to the formation of KEHATI's endowment).

Earned Income Potential

Clearly, foundations that receive funds from a single donor, especially when they're not in the form of an endowment, can leave a foundation highly vulnerable. Foundations and NGOs are increasingly recognizing that earned income from the sale of products, services, or intellectual property can be an additional source of operational funding that complements other fundraising tactics while helping to build organizational sustainability. Having discretionary funds from earned income allows a foundation to invest in programs for which it is otherwise difficult to raise donor funds. These may be activities that potential donors perceive to be higher risk.

The surveys referred to earlier reveal the following statistics on earned income revenues. In the Philippines, earned income accounted for an average of 22 percent of all income from domestic sources in 2000; in Thailand, it was approximately 10 percent; and in Indonesia it averaged about 33 percent. In the case of JVOFI (Chapter Six), the sale of training and consulting services to government agencies and NGOs generates earned income and the foundation charges a management fee for implementing projects for Benguet Corporation, the company that created the foundation.

Chapter Eight reveals the most on earned income, however, by providing a case on Dian Desa's experience in generating income for its own programs in Indonesia. One of its most successful projects to date has been the manufacture of leather goods made from the skins of stingray fish, formerly considered a waste product. This case provides a glimpse of what is possible through social entrepreneurship. In recent years, Dian Desa has consistently raised 35 to 40 percent of its US $1.3-1.4 million annual budget from earned income activities. The social mission of the foundation is fundamentally assisted and supported by its profit generating work as evidenced by the fact that fishermen's incomes have increased from selling stingray skins to Dian Desa. What's more, Dian Mandala, the for-profit entity created by Dian Desa to manage the business, now provides employment to over 50 people and gives priority to hiring and training people with disabilities who might not be able to find employment elsewhere.

Of course, foundations may be taking a gamble in trying to generate earned income. A significant investment of capital, time, and effort must be made in order to identify an important market niche in which an organization can be competitive. It requires drawing on private-sector expertise within the organization's network of board, staff, and volunteers in order to identify and implement an appropriate business plan. At the same time, carrying out earned income activities can also mean directing scarce resources away from the pressing social agenda of the organization. Moreover, simply earning income does not guarantee financial sustainability for an organization. It is perhaps not surprising then that few foundations around the world have taken significant advantage of market approaches to earning income (Morales, Jr., 1997, provides an excellent overview of the considerations involved in practicing earned income as a fundraising strategy.)

In Dian Desa's case, several critical elements were pursued by the foundation in order to realize profits. These included: identifying an as yet untapped market niche for products made from stingray skins, a raw material that had been discarded as waste previously; fully understanding how to market the products; maintaining two organizations, one for profit-generating activities and one for nonprofit activities in order to avoid conflicts in business plans and remuneration scales; and investing the foundation's savings in order to conduct initial experiments in skin-processing technology and product design. In great part, Dian Desa's success in earned income is owed to the fact that these activities mirror the core competencies, or comparative advantage, of its nonprofit work, which are two-fold. First, it develops community development programs by working closely with target populations in the process. Any income generating activity should have a direct link to this process. Second, all activities should rely on the application of "appropriate technology," meaning technology that is easy to develop, maintain, and replicate, both for Dian Desa's staff and its target populations.

Leveraging Assets

A number of the chapters implicitly draw attention to the fact that foundations need to think more creatively about how to leverage additional funds for projects and organizations they want to support. The case study on JVOFI (Chapter Six) and the endowment analysis paper (Chapter Five) suggest some strategies that other foundations may be able to apply in leveraging the assets of their current endowment. In the Philippines, JVOFI officials believe that they have been able to "virtually" leverage the value of the foundation's endowment by ten times over the course of the last ten years by establishing funding partnerships with government, NGOs, other donors, and people's organizations. By putting some of its own savings on the table, JVOFI has had the clout to approach other donors to form funding partnerships. In Chapter Five, Eugene Gonzales argues that foundation staff needs to focus on more than just increasing the size of endowments. Efforts need to be directed toward using existing funds as a lever to secure other programmatic funds that can go directly to groups or projects.

In cases of foundations with existing endowments, Chapters Five and Six speak to other options that foundations have to leverage these assets. Loan programs, for example, can be used to support income generation activities on a full cost-recovery basis in order to ensure that interest payments can be an additional source of funds for an endowment. In JVOFI's case, the transfer of some loan repayment income into the endowment doubled the fund and it jumped from US $220,000 in 1994 to US $520,000 in 1995. Initially, however, JVOFI had a very poor rate of loan collections which staff attributes to being a result of not focusing on this as a strategy to add to its permanent assets. An increasing number of foundations are looking to loan programs as a way of increasing their impact and generating additional income. As Lopa writes in Chapter 3, "Earlier funding mechanisms [from ODA agencies] focused on providing grant assistance, which limited the potential beneficiaries as well as the life of the mechanism. Increasingly, there has been a real demand for loans, credit facilities, loan guarantees, equity investments, which can increase the number of potential beneficiaries and even increase the value of the fund."

A Complex Reality

While the following chapters contain advice and examples for strategies to adopt and opportunities to take advantage of, they also highlight challenges to be aware of in developing a diverse and effective fundraising strategy.

One challenge is that decisions made regarding the allocation of ODA funds, traditionally an important income source for foundations in the region, are influenced by a range of considerations, only some of which pertain directly to the perceived capacity of an organization to use ODA funds efficiently. Donor country policies factor in issues such as the status of current political relations with creditor countries, peace and security concerns, creditor government negotiation strategies on debt swaps, and global economic trends. Foundations seeking ODA funds need to be fully aware of the range of interests and motivations affecting ODA aid policies.

A second challenge lies in the fact that while the enabling environment for giving has improved in some countries in Southeast Asia in recent years, a culture of giving to organizations beyond religious institutions is little developed.5 What's more, with tax avoidance still a problem in some countries, tax incentives do little to influence the decisions of the wealthy on their philanthropic contributions.

Third, NGOs and foundations are neither fully understood nor entirely trusted by the government and business sectors in Southeast Asia. In Chapter Three, Gary Suwannarat argues that there is a challenge as yet unmet by Thai civil society to strengthen public understanding and acceptance of NGOs (and by association, foundations) and their roles in society. A recent survey in Bangkok pointed out the low opinion that society generally holds of NGOs, ranking as they did at the low end of the spectrum just above the police and media. While some political manipulation to thwart the best intentions of NGOs may be responsible for the survey's results, Suwannarat argues that there is an undeniable pressure on civil society to demonstrate that they do not exist solely to advocate against government but in fact desire to create more economic opportunities for the masses, amongst other needed actions. She writes that, "the state of civil society in Thailand appears less robust than it did during the same period surrounding the 1997 promulgation of the constitution." She goes on to argue that most civil society efforts are addressing village level needs and not taking advantage of opportunities to bring about national policy and regulatory change. In Indonesia, foundations are still figuring out how best to position themselves given that the term yayasan ("foundation" in Indonesian) became somewhat tainted in the public's eyes under the rule of former dictator, Suharto, who, along with his family and cronies, has been accused of using foundations to launder money.

Finally, in as much as foundations -- and the NGOs they support -- need the partnership and support of other sectors and international donors to help build their financial sustainability, they also need to achieve strong organizational capacity. This includes enhancing skills to reach out effectively to donors, manage funds well, communicate with the public, and establish long term funding partnerships with donors, including ODA agencies. Although there are many different kinds of foundations now operating in Southeast Asia, most are quite small, with limited assets and little capacity to manage endowments. What is really critical is that foundations have opportunities as well as support to engage in capacity building of their own systems and institutions.

In the Philippines, the work of the Philippine Council on NGO Certification (PCNC) has been instrumental in setting NGO and foundation professional standards, thus improving the capacity of local foundations' ability to manage their business with prudence and good judgment. To date, PCNC has evaluated 445 organizations; 357 have been certified so far and a number are taking the necessary steps to comply. With the flourishing of organized civil society in Indonesia in the wake of Suharto's fall from power, efforts have now been developed to build a similar set of rigorous standards for enhanced accountability and transparency.

International donors can support capacity building by allocating part of their resources to institutional development of the foundations they're seeking to support or channel funds through. McCarthy (2002) makes a plea for this in Indonesia, arguing for donors to "support the building of both management and delivery capacities of civil society organizations, but in a judicious and targeted manner." He also argues for donors, particularly international donors, to coordinate their supportive efforts as much as is feasible.

The result of this complex reality is that emerging and existing indigenous foundations in developing countries will have to continue exploring new paths to building financial sustainability. While the original intention of this book was to create a sourcebook of resource mobilization techniques, the final output is, we hope, much richer. As a set of stories and experiences, it is crafted to help spark dialogue amongst staff and peers within foundations, donor agencies, and other support organizations. The new thinking that we are confident will emerge from such dialogue will undoubtedly mean incurring some risks along the way, as the chapters within demonstrate. Ultimately, however, new ideas in the field will enable civil society in Southeast Asia to tap into more innovative means for financing development.



Association of Foundations and The Synergos Institute. National Directory of Civil Society Resource Organizations: The Philippines. The Synergos Institute Series on Foundation Building, 2001.

Center for Philanthropy and Civil Society and The Synergos Institute. National Directory of Civil Society Resource Organizations: Thailand. The Synergos Institute Series on Foundation Building, 2002.

Gaberman, Barry D. A Primer for Endowment Grantmakers: Endowment Strategies to Assist and Enhance the Work of Nonprofit Organizations. The Ford Foundation, 2001.

Ibrahim, Rustam. National Directory of Civil Society Resource Organizations: Indonesia. The Synergos Institute Series on Foundation Building, 2001.

International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED). Financing for Sustainable Development. A report prepared for the World Summit on Sustainable Development and UN Conference on Financing for Development. Stevenage, UK, January 2002.

Kingman, Andrew. "Grantmaking At A Distance: What Role for Intermediaries?" Alliance June 2003 (pp.17-20).

McCarthy, Paul. A Thousand Flowers Blooming: Indonesian Civil Society in the Post-New Order Era. Ottawa/Jakarta, 2002.

Morales, Jr. Horacio R. "Earning Income Through Trade and Exchange" in Leslie M. Fox and S. Bruce Schearer (eds.), Sustaining Civil Society: Strategies for Resource Mobilization, pp.21-44. Washington, DC: CIVICUS, 1997.

Schearer, S. Bruce. "Building Indigenous Foundations That Support Civil Society" in Leslie M. Fox and S. Bruce Schearer (eds.), Sustaining Civil Society: Strategies for Resource Mobilization, pp.305-326. Washington, DC: CIVICUS, 1997.


1 Of course, this is not to suggest that operating NGOs and foundations are the only two kinds of organizations that represent civil society. In fact, civil society in Southeast Asia tends toward a rich array of institutions that include media, academia, and other types of organizations.

2 In February 2002, The Synergos Institute and Philippine Business for Social Progress co-hosted a conference for Southeast Asian CSROs in Patthaya, Thailand. The two major themes of this event were foundation accountability and sustainability. In many ways, the discussion that ensued there is reflected in the chapters collected herein.

3 The Ford Foundation has produced an excellent primer on endowments.

4 Both Indonesia and the Philippines are on the list of 78 debtor countries that signed an agreement with Paris Club creditors ( The Paris Club is an informal group of official creditors whose role is to find co-ordinated and sustainable solutions to the payment difficulties experienced by debtor nations.

5 Despite the fact that poverty levels remain high in Indonesia (after hovering around 25 per cent of the population in 2001, following on the heels of the Asian financial crisis), there are organizations meeting with some success in raising funds from the public. Dompet Dhuafa ( is one such organization that raises money via zakat (obligatory donations on monthly earnings), direct mail, media campaigns, and other means. In 2001, it raised nearly Rp 18,000,000,000 (approximately US $2.1 million).

Copyright © 2003-6 The Synergos Institute