To build a sense of community among the participants by conducting inventory of the ongoing work, sharing information and discussing ways to collaborate, and
To provide participating organizations the capacity to access large funders like foundations and USAID as well as technical and skill-building workshops on topics like individual donor fundraising and board development.
The most enlightening insight for all participants came from the sheer volume of work currently in progress. Repeatedly, panelists would describe an organization made up entirely of unpaid volunteers, in existence for only four or five years and raising several hundred thousand dollars a year to serve thousands of people in Viet Nam. Also common is the “duplication” of efforts with no set of common standards such as a needs analysis prior to project approval or a consistent method to uncover other NGOs’ projects. (School-building projects are particularly common.) Fellow VA NGOs are currently discussing over ten collaborations in various stages among participating organizations. This indicates that, since the Conference, the move towards concerted and synchronized efforts and actions is well underway.
Identifying and Prioritizing Common Needs and Challenges
1. Participants of smaller organizations see themselves caught in a powerful dilemma: their success in fundraising is based nearly entirely on their access to the Vietnamese American community; very few groups raise funds outside the community. However, due to the traditional Vietnamese view that couples humanitarian work with volunteerism, the Vietnamese American community in general does not wish to support organizations with paid staff and dislikes paying for overhead expenses like office rent, travel, and lodging. For the more established groups, there is a huge obstacle to overcome that most have not attempted: to retain key donor relationships in the Vietnamese American community while managing to build a more sophisticated and substantial non-profit organization.
2. The absence of a regular communication vehicle among VA NGOs limits their effectiveness in sharing information on best practices including project design, organizational development, and funding sources. VA NGOs also miss opportunities for collaboration and coordination.
3. Participants want to have a greater impact in Viet Nam but available resources are too limited to know:
- How to manage the inconsistent, complicated, and often frustrating directives from the government of Viet Nam on working in the country;
- How to find out other groups’ projects, particularly in similar areas of operation both geographically and programmatically; and
- How to coordinate activities with other organizations, both inside and outside the Vietnamese American community.
Creating an Action Plan for Follow-up Activities
- Inter-organizational Communications: To foster better communication and information-sharing between VA NGOs to leverage one another’s experience and resources and facilitate collaboration;
- Fundraising: To help organizations to be more efficient and effective in their community fundraising activities; to enable more concerted efforts in exploring new funding sources such as governmental agencies, foundations, and corporations;
- Public Advocacy: To promote public education and advocacy, in the United States and elsewhere, to inform stakeholders of the important role of VA NGOs in humanitarian development work in Viet Nam; and
- Technical Assistance: To coordinate technical assistance to VA NGOs to help build organizational capacity in project implementation and improve operational efficiency.
Topics for discussion included Education, Medical and Community Health, Self-Reliance & Income Generation, Prioritizing Common Needs & Solutions, Plans of Action (skill development workshops to include foundation fundraising, donor cultivation, and board development), and Multi-Media Presentation.
Alexander Gerbode Foundation
Fund for the Encouragement of Self Reliance
East Meets West Foundation
Anonymous Vietnamese American private foundation
Vuong Family Foundation
Four main outcomes arose from the conference, in order of significance:
1. The conference succeeded in bringing together 32 VA NGOs, many of whom had never before met each other. Independent of the conference activities, the event provided an opportunity for the participants to share experiences, seek common ground, and build their network of supportive contacts. As participants are leaders or core volunteers of their organizations, this Conference presented an opportunity to renew the spirit of volunteerism in everyone. The success of the Conference has spurred over 10 collaborative projects within the course of four months since the conference ended.
2. All participants agree unanimously to create a formal network. The Conference Planning Committee continues to organize post-conference activities, serve as a clearinghouse for information exchange, and arrange technical assistance trainings and meetings for VA NGOs.
3. Conference participants fully support collaborative activities, specifically in four major areas: a) better communication and information-sharing among VA NGOs, b) exploring new funding sources together, c) educating stakeholders in the communities about the work of VA NGOs in Viet Nam, and d) providing technical assistance to VA NGOs to improve organizational capacity and improve operational efficiency. Currently, the VA NGO website and mailing lists remain critical resources about and for participating organizations as well as the community at large.
4. Post conference media attention helped to raise awareness on the work of VA NGOs both in Viet Nam and the United States. This has in turn facilitated numerous discussions at very high levels with Vietnamese government agencies as well as potential funders.