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

Published by Sarah Clifton on

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.

Global FundraisingAn 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.

Save the ChildrenNot 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…

banner5We 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!

Sarah Clifton

Sarah is a Dutch / American fundraiser who has worked for animal protection and human rights organizations for more than 15 years. Since 2015, she heads up the Fundraising department at Save the Children Netherlands. She also (tries to) write occasionally and connect with other fundraisers frequently (especially over a beer).


Reinier Spruit

Reinier Spruit · February 17, 2014 at 15:27

Great post Sarah, thanks!

Lot of people are asking me what the differences are between fundraising in country A versus country B and C. Obviously there are practical differences, especially in banking systems, mandate rules or privacy legislation.

But from a more strategic point of view, to me fundraising is not much different in one country from the other. You have to deal with the same sort of challenges. The great fundraiser in country A is able to be a great fundraiser in country B.

On the other hand I hope that great fundraisers are also grown and skilled locally, because the demand is much greater than the supply…


    Sarah Clifton · February 18, 2014 at 08:40

    Thanks, Reinier.

    In my own experience moving from one market to another, fundraising itself is not much different in regard to the basic principles; the major difference that I’ve experienced being the way that fundraising is managed within an organisation. Then again, that can vary just as much from one org to the next in the same market. Being flexible, therefore, knowing the basic principles and techniques, and understanding the challenges and opportunities of your current market and org are, to me, the keys to success.

Joe Matassino · February 18, 2014 at 16:53

Sarah, as I try to get a better understanding of international fundraising I think I’ve been focusing too much on the differences, as opposed to the fundamentals, which as you say are basically the same. Thanks for sharing this thoughtful perspective. It’s been very helpful.

    Sarah Clifton · February 18, 2014 at 16:59

    Thank YOU, Joe. I can certainly relate. I began as well in a new country assuming that my existing knowledge of fundraising was not sufficient. It took me a few failures to realize that the commonalities are more important than the differences! Hopefully as more of us begin seeing ourselves as truly ‘global’ fundraisers, we’ll help others avoid those mistakes.

Maryna · February 18, 2014 at 20:10

Dear Sarah,
I have a few suggestions in response to your question “what can we all do to help ensure a growth in trained, knowledgeable fundraisers worldwide?” From a candidate perspective out of Hungary, who has been trained and has successful past track record in FR, potential employers should:

– stop concentrating on 000s raised when evaluating FR experience, especially in case of FR from individuals and integrated marketing campaigns, because it is about TEAMWORK. Moreover, in CEE region, an NGO can raise millions only through grant writing, but the EU money is running out soon.

– focus on a candidate’s ability to LISTEN and truly engage prospects and donors. Pitching for pitching sake is just a bad self-centered salesy style. I am not sure how successful is an attempt to convert ex-corp employees into mission driven NGO evangelists.

– If there is a shortage of qualified fundraisers, then why don’t you guys help the qualified ones who need visa to obtain one? One should invest in hiring, as saying goes: hire slowly, fire fast. Another problem is that the wrong people get fired and the rest stays “thanks” to the organizational politics.


    Sarah Clifton · February 19, 2014 at 09:11

    Thank you Maryna, these are great points.

    I completely agree that the success of an individual giving or campaigning programme lies in the quality of the team, which to me means two things: how do the individual members of the team complement each other in personality, knowledge and skills in order to maximize effect? Secondly, how good is the leadership of the team – is there a shared vision and are the expectations clear, while the team members have the room, guidance and support that each needs to work at their best?

    For more about what makes great fundraising (teams), check out the ‘Great Fundraising’ report commissioned by Clayton Burnett.

    As for the question of visas and hiring/firing practices: This is a difficult issue for us to tackle collectively as fundraisers, as the hiring, training and firing practices of any given organisation are largely derivative of its business culture. I think some organisations are quite open to helping candidates to immigrate, while others prefer to hire locally. Likewise “employee retention” can also depend very much not only the organisation culture, but ultimately on the personality matches.

    In two workshops at the most recent IFC, Tony Myers used shapes as an analogy to compare the fit between organisations and employees (at least in leadership positions): that is, there are squares, triangles and circles (organisations) and squares, triangles and circles (people). A circle (person) can be brilliant but will fail if matched with a square (organisation).

    Is there a special trick to hiring the right people for the right culture from the beginning? Probably. Perhaps Tony, or another expert out there, can share some wisdom?

Ralph Lau · February 19, 2014 at 07:01

You have missed a key fundamental that was not covered in the book nor in your post and it is the need to teach everyone and anyone about the whats and whys of fundraising – this includes your board your staff, your donors and your general publics. The time required is typically triple what many of you might be used to and is a key reason why so many Western parachuted fundraisers fail so quickly without know why in Asia.

    Sarah Clifton · February 19, 2014 at 10:14

    Good point, Ralph! Fundraising needs to be embedded in and supported by senior leadership. It also needs to be better understood by board members, staff and donors so that we can do our job with fewer constraints.

    Any ideas about how we can help to achieve this as a sector?

    One of my personal recommendations is leadership training for fundraisers, so that we understand the dynamics within an organisation that have an impact on our work, and how to influence them. I highly recommend both the Future Leaders Programme for Fundraisers from Resource Alliance and also leadership training offered by The Management Centre UK (=mc).

      Steven Inman - Senior Programmes Manager at Resource Alliance · February 19, 2014 at 13:53

      Thank you Sarah for recognizing the Future Leaders Programme. We are proud to be delivering this event again this year through a residential week at Oxford University (25th – 29th August). The course offers the opportunity for delegates to study with some of the most respected names in the field of leadership education. We are launching the course on our website later this week but if anyone wishes to receive information they can email me directly at leaders@resource-alliance.org

Oliver · March 6, 2014 at 18:08

Hi. This is an interesting post. It’s my first visit on this website and your article/blog is the first one I’ve read.

On your last point “There is a great need for trained and experienced fundraisers,” so where (outside of the US) can people get professional training on fundraising? What sort of quality assurance “label” should people be looking for in order to make sure they are getting quality training?


    Mitchell Hinz · September 19, 2014 at 08:33

    Dear Oliver,

    I’m a founding Blogger here at 101, and I am (literally) writing this from The Cambodia Fundraising Workshop in Cambodia, done by the Asia division of The Resource Alliance (who brings us the IFC each year of course, Steven Inman (above) is part of this organization. They are holding another 3-day workshop in Indonesia on 17-19 Nov, and did one earlier this year in Bangkok. I am a guest speaker here on individual giving, and a 30-year fundraiser, but they have covered IG, institutional giving, major donor giving, corporate relations, and are now finishing up with Strategy.

    The RA also has a well-staffed offie in India, and in Nairobi.

    Don’t skip over this important “resource” if you will excuse the pun.

    – Mitchell Hinz, Director, Individual Giving,
    Plan International

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