A fundraising checklist: what Italian fundraisers look like?

Published by Patrice Simonnet on

For sure, you would be able to answer this if you had participated at the 5th Italian “Festival del Fundraising” during the second week of May 2012. Three days, around 600 fundraisers, more than 20 sponsors and a lot of sun. The annual meeting is held at Castrocaro, a little town located next to Bologna, strategically between Roma and Milano.

Many, many, many sessions and activities and no time to rest if you came like many of us to learn by sharing. So even though you are in an historical 4-star hotel and have free access to thermal facilities, there is little chance for you to come back home without a huge need to rest. I am sure that every attendee will also have taken back a huge checklist full of technics to explore or to test: online, offline, integration of channels, new services and many ideas from abroad considering the number of foreign speakers that joined the event.

So let me try to review what are the trends that emerged without being too descriptive…let’s hope the other 599 people will write comments and identify their best moments. So here we go:

What is the difference between an Italian Fundraiser and a Fundraiser?
For the moment none. There is no statistics of how many of us are working in the country to fund causes. But considering the total Italian population declares to be a donor, you can bet that Italian fundraisers are everywhere in the country.

To bring the spotlights on our profession, the event organizers decided to create the first “Italian Fundraising Award”. But still, fundraisers from Italy desperately need to organize in order to unify, in order to be able to lobby the government, fiscal authorities, cellular phone providers …

Italy, the most beautiful country…true for fundraising?
How is the best way to share the local skills? Long workshop (until 3 hours) are always a good way, but to me the best sessions were short ones of 30 minutes where colleagues had to focus on practicalities of one mailing, one campaign, one idea. You just have to be to the point when given so little time.

The sessions and the discussions in the corridors covered the main highlights of our particular market. For example, the increase of recruitment costs both online and offline. The uncertain economic future of the whole country, seem to make donors more cautious in the last 3 quarters. No good news either at the horizon about the postal fees that increased by 500% in 2010. No certainty either on “5permille” (a part of the taxes that Italians can choose to give to a charity when filling out their tax form).

The good news is that all these changes requires the NGOs to adapt and to review a part of their fundraising programs in depth. That is why I think Internet and Digital platforms seemed to get much of the attention when looking for innovation.

Social networks on the other hand are still to be discovered by Italian fundraisers…for example, only a few fundraisers tweeted during the festival (#FFR12), even though a specific tweet corner was set by the organization.

World, ready for Italian Fundraisers?
Highlights of the last editions were plenary sessions with Stephen Pidgeon, Adrian Sargeant bringing case studies, motivation and even dreams to national fundraisers. This time too the success of sessions with Nick Allen or Guy Mallabone showed the interest of Italians for good practises coming from abroad “even if it’s difficult to adapt to our market” as I very often hear.

At the same time, several Italian Fundraisers working abroad came to share their own experience. This is clearly the sign that “pasta” fundraisers are willing to conquer the world. Be ready for them!

While speaking about a global world, let’s recognise that donors are following the same path: now that they surf the net and can get information about charity work from all over the world. In Italy, according to the “osservatorio del fundraising” 46% of the 35 millions active users of internet made a donation in 2011. And over 6 millions subscribed to a NGO newsletter. But only 11% out of 20 millions users of social networks, declared to read the NGO blogs. Not surprisingly, fundraisers are looking for creative and technical solutions for getting the best out of the digital revolution. Looking also how to structure themselves and their database to be taking the most of it.

The Festival organization team perfectly understood the digital trend and decide to use for the first time a digital system for networking: each of the participant was provided a hand-shape usb key that would glow when pressed to another one. Simply fantastic, paper business cards were useless especially because you could find the whole profile of the people you met online afterwards. During 3 days, the number of “digital hands” were shaken 12.820 times. So let’s recognize that Italian fundraisers are happy to meet and exchange. Especially if it is fun!

On this particular subject, there would be a lot to say about how fun was the networking dinner, the disco party and especially the final plenary session that saw hundreds of fundraisers learn juggling…but don’t ask me too much, and make sure to join us next year instead.

Patrice Simonnet

Patrice is a French fundraiser lost and happy in Italy since 11 years... There, everyday, he discovers what cross-cultural means! After experiences as DM officer for Unicef and Head of Fundraising for ActionAid Italy, he is currently Head of Fundraising of a foundation taking care of Italian cultural and environmental heritage (FAI-Fondo Ambiente Italiano). There he manages a team of 30 dedicated and passionate staff. In a past life, he lived in Africa and South America, graduated both in "international business studies" and "development studies".


Laura Fredricks · May 15, 2012 at 18:25

Patrice – great tweets about the conference. As a New Yorker I loved the conference and speaking about how to ASK for money in Italy when it has not been a tradition and it is not done with much regularity. Trail blazer…that’s me. Hope our paths cross in Milan! I may be teaching in the Masters program soon. Send me an email!! Laura

Simona Biancu · May 16, 2012 at 09:24

Very interesting post, Patrice!
I was at Festival del Fund Raising too, and I substantially agree with your analysis.
I met some consultants from US, and I have been really pleased to hear them say they were pleasantly surprised about the level of expertise from the participants and the sessions and debates there. I have been told that there was a sort of effervescence, something perceived rapidly on the move towards something different (better than the previous years), a very challenging climate.
Apart of my happiness about these thoughts (as an Italian fundraising consultant), I found them true.
I think there are no differences between Italian fundraisers and “the rest of the world”. Simply we are changing mentality and culture about what to be considered “due” from the Government level and what is our responsibility about communities we wish to take care of.
It’s a long and not-so-simple passage to be done, and I think we are in the right middle of it. But there is much more consciousness between Italian fundraisers – and the donors as well (ok, not all the donors…there are lots of prospects who will need our attention!) – about the need of a high level of expertise, accountability, relationships to build and to set into a system, compared to the past.
I think we are on the right way about Digital Fund Raising and all the things we know “are to be done” as professional Fund Raisers.
And I’m sure that “pasta” fundraisers (who are also able to juggle!), are a fundamental point of change in our country (finally, I’d say!).
Thanks for sharing your thoughts here!


eleonora terrile · May 16, 2012 at 13:15

Hi Patrice, it’s very interesting your analysis.
It was my first time at the Italian Fundraising Festival.
First of all, I really liked the cheerfulness of the Festival and all of its volunteers.
In the meantime I appreciated the richness of the program and the quality of the sessions I attended, even if the short ones were too short for me, because I had to run from one to another with no time to talk with the speakers.

I think Italian fundraisers are like the worldwide ones, even if Italy is a really complex country to raise funds. Think of the Italian laws of the legacies, for example, or the two main ways to give funds: hand by hand and by postal office. (Italian population is very old compared to the people of the other countries).

One good news is Italy has a lot of young and smart fundraisers, as we can see at the Festival. Many of them are “digital native”, so they are perfectly aligned with the international web and mobile trends.

I think Italian fundraisers (the younger and the older) have to face a really interesting challenge related to the economical, political, social, ethical crisis of Italy. It’s time to start again and to build something new.

John Greenhoe · May 19, 2012 at 17:25


Nice post. I was also in Castrocaro and loved it. Fantastic response to the discussion I led on approaching American foundations — very enthusiastic and engaged participants. The conference featured many unique and engaging aspects, including the philanthropy quiz competition which was a big highlight for me. I also loved engaging with the students (pursuing master’s in fundraising at Univ. of Bologna) who staffed and participated in the event. Impressed with their knowledge and passion.

Harvey McKinnon · May 24, 2012 at 20:53

Thanks for this thoughful piece. It was a fine conference, very well organized, and I was delighted to have been invited there as a speaker. Plus, great party and the dancing was very fun. And, if ayone knows who has the video of me dancing, I’ll pay to have it not go up on YouTube. (good fundraising opportunity) Although I would like to see it before burning it :).

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