What you must know (and a few things you probably don’t) as an international fundraiser

Philanthropy as we have known it is changing. And while donors continue to focus their time and money on the causes to which they have the most personal connection, our understanding of ‘community’ has evolved so fundamentally in the wake of globalisation that one may have just as much tangible experience of a starving child a hemisphere away as of the patrons of a breadline around the corner. And yet, despite the increasing sophistication of our donor communications and marketing strategies, the security of our success as Western fundraisers is irrevocable gone.

As philanthropy is increasingly more global, and strategies to raise and distribute funds from those who have to those who need becomes relevant across more borders and markets, the need for a new breed of fundraiser is also more important than ever before.

The new breed of fundraiser is not merely a product of his or her own community, but a global citizen. She understands the context in which she operates, and knows how to apply the learnings from one market to the challenges of the next. He doesn’t simply impose a set of learned techniques on any sector, but understands the basic principles of need, charity and human motivation that transcend any particular market or culture.

An important read for this new global fundraiser is the 2013 book Global Fundraising: How the World is Changing the Rules of Philanthropyby Penelope Cagney and Bernard Ross.

This book takes a continent-by-continent overview of philanthropy and fundraising, showcasing techniques and trends, opportunities and obstacles, and features authors with specific knowledge of each market or trend.

Although Global Fundraising is organized also to highlight several major themes (including major donors, social media, innovation and the ‘charity giants’), there are others that, throughout the reading of the text, resonated quite strongly with my own experience and observations of the international fundraising landscape. These are, in my view, among the most important things that any international fundraiser or nonprofit leader should know:

1. The global shift in wealth and philanthropy has begun

We all know about the Giving Pledge, a strategic philanthropy initiative started by Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffet in 2010. But did you know about the World Congress of Muslim Philanthropists? This network of wealthy Muslim donors focuses on effective and accountable giving; strategic social investment; public policy and advocacy, and environmental stewardship.And this particular highly influential network existed before the founding of the Giving Pledge and continues to engage world leaders and donors at the highest levels.

The reader will also learn that per capita, the most millionaires and billionaires are to be found not in the United States or Europe, but in Hong Kong, Singapore, Qatar and Kuwait. And the number of uber-wealthy is growing in China, India, Brazil and Mexico. But the global shift in wealth is not limited to the most privileged. India is home to the biggest potential donor population in the world, with 336 million individuals giving (28% of the population) more than the entire population of the United States. And South Africans are, second only to Americans, the most generous people in the world. Fundraisers in both countries rely largely on direct marketing techniques: Face-to-face fundraising, direct mail and email appeals. And the entry of Western INGOs such as MSF, UNICEF, Greenpeace, Habitat for Humanity, World Vision and International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) into Asia is creating a new population of regular giving donors that are opening major new revenue streams for fundraising.

Not surprisingly, these new opportunities also require a new type of organization. Contributing author Rebecca Mauger writes thatsome [large charities] such as Save the Children International have completely restructured their entire organizations to respond to the changing global environments.For others, such as the Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement, it has been a driving force in their fundraising strategy.

A global fundraising organization must be innovative, flexible, and have a strong brand and a clear global fundraising strategy that recognizes both the incredible potential but also the challenges of these new frontiers in philanthropy.

2. There are still major obstacles to growth

Fundraisers around the world cheered when Dan Pallotta shared our pain, challenging the notion that limiting fundraising costs is somehow a noble measure of charity effectiveness.

And while these old-world ideas are slowly be replaced with new ideologies about impact measurement and strategic philanthropy, many fundraisers and fundraising organisations still face major obstacles to investment.

In Australia, for example, laments Sean Trinera charity with 40 percent cost of fundraising, growing at 50 percent each year, would be judged as worse than an otherwise identical charity spending 10 percent on fundraising, yet not growing.

It’s a phenomenon we all know all too well. But there are also other cultural obstacles to growth. In Africa, for example, despite a deeply ingrained culture of giving and fundamentally generous people, a colonial history contributes to the perception that NGOs, imagined as having highly paid staff driving huge fuel-guzzling cars and working in sleek modern offices,do not need their money.

Another obstacle may simply be structural: limited budgets, for example, or as in the aforementioned case of ICRC, “National Societies” operating in markets with fundraising potential, but no formal structure within the organisation to access investment funds.

INGOs therefore need to have a clear, but flexible, global fundraising growth strategy, and be structured to take advantage of new opportunities, with fundraisers working together closely across different markets.

3. There is a great need for trained and experienced fundraisers

A particularly acute issue is the lack of skilled fundraisers is many markets: an obstacle for both INGOs and NGOs alike. And it is not solely an issue in new fundraising markets.

Bemoaning the lack of skilled and experienced fundraisers in Australia, Triner writes:

Many of the heads of fundraising of top charities did not come from fundraising backgrounds. Instead they may have marketing backgrounds, occasionally direct marketing, but otherwise arrive in the job with nothing but their passion for the cause and the willingness to work hard.

They know little about the field they have just entered. When 50 fundraisers at a conference were asked to identify the top five fundraising charities in Australia, not one personal could name them all, and few know where they could find this information. Raising money is no easy task and without the background and skills needed, they become frustrated, quit, and then the cycle continues.

Certainly other well-development fundraising markets suffer the same challenge. The Netherlands, for example, where I currently live and work, has a great many fundraising organisations and yet relatively few trained and experienced fundraisers. With the exception of a handful of top notch professionals (including the creators of and some of the contributors to 101fundraising) many heads of fundraising and senior fundraisers, even at the largest organisations, have no more than a background in marketing, communication or business management. And while there is now a professional association for fundraising, a Dutch fundraiser must apply for any professional certification through a U.S. or U.K. program.

Global Fundraising is replete with other examples: in newer fundraising economies such as India, Africa, and Latin America, where larger INGOs with a culture of skill sharing, and an infrastructure to develop staff internally, have a distinct advantage. BRAC, for example, one of the largest development organisations in the world, maintains its dominance in the southern hemisphere by “its management approach, the focus on capacity development and strong training programs for staff…

We all know, of course, that fundraising is an essential core competency within a professional NGO, but what can we all do to help ensure a growth in trained, knowledgeable fundraisers worldwide? Share your ideas in the comments!

In additional to the many other reasons for (aspiring) international fundraisers to read Global Fundraising, there are two additional, highly valuable resources for the nonprofit professionals: ‘how-to’ chapters on creating a culture of innovation within an NGO, and a formula for effective campaigning. I’ll focus on these two in a later post, as they both deserve much more attention.

What do you think is most important that all fundraisers must know? Please share your thoughts!

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