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Challenges faced by small NGOs: an interview with UMAVEM secretary

Smaller NGOs are faced with an array of challenges, amongst the most commons are:

  • Lack of funds and longer-term financing

  • Limited or no strategic orientation and planning

  • Lack of a solid network

Today we meet with Mr Raymi Castilla Chacon, secretary of the swiss-based NGO Una Mano para Venezuela y el Mundo (UMAVEM), to find out how he perceives and works around these challenges.

NMA: Mr Castilla, please tell us about UMAVEM and its mission?

R.C : We started as an organized community of Venezuelans in Switzerland who decided to take matters into our own hands to help those in need back in Venezuela.

Our main objective is to support people in extreme poverty with basic services, medicines, clothes, etc for children and the elderly. We also support local institutions which contribute to the alleviation of poverty and social inequality, whether through studies, cultural activities or sports.

In the last 6 months, we have sent 2000 kg of material (clothings, medical supplies, food, basic necessities). We have around 20 volunteers, 6 representatives in Venezuela and we support 14 local charities. To give you an idea: the shipping alone of these 2000 kg cost us around 8000 CHF. And of course, this material has first to be gathered, sorted, packaged and stored. Ideally we would have to raise around 20’000 CHF/year in donations.

What is the background of your volunteers? Do any of them have a formal training in the tasks they perform for UMAVEM?

Our volunteers have diverse professional backgrounds, but mainly what motivates us all is the willingness to help our fellow Venezuelans in need. UMAVEM has no paid employees and relies upon its volunteers for every task on hand, from receiving to packing and sending the donations, from managing our communication, to looking for donors and sponsors. As we all have jobs, families and other obligations, it is sometimes quite difficult to find the time and energy to add extra work in our schedules.

Our President, Johanna Falcon, is a social worker though and also works with other NGOs.

Do you think you would benefit from training in some domains, would it help you achieve your goals?

Yes of course, it is always important to learn the tools to do our work more efficiently. The NGO world is getting more and more competitive and professional, and it would be very helpful to increase our personal and organisational competencies in some specific areas. But as usual, time and money are big obstacles.

What would you say is the biggest challenge you are facing?

There are so many. I would say the biggest one is probably the need to get funds, especially to constantly acquire more. We are highly dependent on donors’ generosity and it is difficult to regularly attract some new ones. Additionally we need a constant presence on social media to keep the actual donors interested and engaged, which is time consuming unfortunately.

I would also say that it is difficult to find the time and resources to manage the material donations (clothes, toys, medications, etc). As happy as we are to receive them, they need to be stored, packaged and sent out to Venezuela, which represents a huge organizational effort and uses the biggest part of our budget.

We probably don’t look enough for institutional donors, grants, public fundings etc. though. Once again, it is too time consuming and we just don’t have the human resources for these tasks. We are currently engaged in the competition “Prix Diaspora & Développement” supported by FEDEVACO. Ideally we should engage in more projects like this, but again, we don’t have the resources to do it. Our volunteers are stretched thin as it is and cannot find more time to tackle more projects.

Do you partner with other organizations or NGOs? Is networking an important part of your strategy?

Networking is essential, be it in Venezuela or locally in Switzerland. In Venezuela, we partner with local associations and rely on them to distribute part of our donations. They also contact us when they need resources for a specific project, or to help a specific family or person. For example, we recently managed to send more than 300 pairs of shoes to an orphanage in Caracas that had contacted us with this particular demand.

In Switzerland we have contact with various organisations and often share or exchange ressources. For example, if we receive clothing which is not appropriate for venezuelan climate, we donate them to a partnering organisation in exchange for other material, or any help they can offer.

What about strategic planning? Is it something you are familiar with and/or apply on a regular basis?

Some months ago we prepared a strategic plan. We have been struggling to apply and implement it formally though. Again the lack of resources and full time dedication is a hurdle on our path.

Thank you M. Castilla for answering our questions and sharing your experience. We wish you and UMAVEM all the best in your mission, and we look forward to following your next projects.

If you are facing these challenges as well, we provide various solutions. From project management, to fundraising or strategic communication, our courses cover a large panel of subjects. They all come with personalized coaching to help you tackle your own challenges. We look forward to hearing from you and to helping you and your organization. At NMA, we keep our prices as low as possible, so small organisations with small budget can have a chance to get the resources they need.


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