What I Learned About Fundraising Here By Fundraising Abroad

Over the last few years I have had the privilege of conducting fundraising and management work globally.  It has been an incredibly rewarding and fun experience; an experience that goes beyond merely having the opportunity to see new parts of the world.  It has in many ways confirmed and strengthened my/our philosophy of fundraising here in the United States.  My experiences have varied and of course every country and culture are different, but I’ve boiled what I’ve learned down to three main lessons.

Communicating Impact Matters – We all know this in our heart, we talk about it constantly, but I am continually amazed at how infrequently I actually see this happening.  In 2011 I was speaking at the International Fundraising Festival, a conference run by the Czech Fundraising Center in Prague, Czech Republic.  As part of the conference the organizers brought in some donors/philanthropists to speak to the attendees.  I was struck by how forcefully and constantly that talked about a need to have a clear understanding of what their philanthropy was accomplishing.  In fact, it was more or less the only thing they cared with the exception of the percentage of each donation that actually went to services, which I could also argue is part of impact.

Here in the US I rarely see impact talked about in such an upfront manner.  We tend to spend a lot of time talking about mission (what we want to do), methodology (how we do what we do) and track record (what we’ve done in the past).  We seem to rarely “bottom line” our work and come out and say “here’s how the world/community/this family,etc. is better off because of your donation” or if we do, it’s lost in a sea of other information.  Impact is why people give.  Make it front and center.

Stick to Your Vision – Over the last two years I’ve developed a personal interest in civil society development in Central Eastern Europe and South East Europe.  I’ve gone so far as to join the international advisory board of the Czech Fundraising Center and start a blog on Serbian NGOs and civil society.  In talking to some of the folks involved with the civil society sector over there they have lamented to me the fact that in many ways the nonprofits have, or are in danger of becoming, mere arms of the government.  The government or the EU or USAID puts out an RFP for certain work they desire to have done and nonprofits submit proposals to conduct that work.  This isn’t a terrible thing over all BUT I would argue that nonprofits serving communities in those countries will have a far better sense of what those communities needs are than government bodies based in Washington or Brussels.

Far more impactful and interesting and then seeing what institutional funders desire to fund is having your own vision of the impact you’d like create based on the needs that you and your organization see.  Your own vision will inspire and motivate.  Following the money results in mission drift, at best.

People are Generous – A common complaint I hear in parts of the US is that “there is no money here.  This isn’t like New York City where you’re from.”  True enough.  I understand that different regions have more or less people, industries, foundations, etc.  That said, nearly$300B was donated privately last year here in the US.  Many of the places I have been abroad have far less money available to them and far less of a culture of philanthropy and manage to carry on.

Is fundraising always easy?  No. Often it is very hard.  But altruism is a part of our heritage as human beings, hardwired into us.  Give people a clear sense of your vision and how their generosity can help realize that vision and the money will come.

you can follow me at:  @bobosborne17