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International fundraising: globalisation and charities


Globalisation is not the reserve of fat-cat capitalists, it’s also a reality for many international charities and has led to some interesting fundraising developments. Hannah Gannagé-Strewart reports


In its roughly quarter of century history, fundraising has gone from an old boys club of key players to an international profession with cross-border consultancies, internationally recognised qualifications and global conferences.

Each year Blackbaud, specialist software providers for non-profit organisations, release their State of the Non-profit Industry (SONI) report. This year’s report pulled together data from 2,203 fundraisers spread across nine western economies, supplying useful benchmarking trends and projections for the future from within the sector. According to the survey the western economies surveyed are optimistic, on the whole, that despite the economic climate, fundraised incomes will increase over the next year.

But what is going on elsewhere in the world? While Europe, America and our antipodean friends in Australia and New Zealand rely on the accumulation of around 25 years of gradual professionalisation, are things looking as rosy elsewhere? We have a habit in western economies of regarding our trends as ‘global’ but there are countries out there for which our recession signals a window of opportunity to rise onto the international economic stage.

International non-governmental organisations (INGOs) have been expanding into emerging markets for a number of years. For some, their campaigns and projects lead them to countries which then pose opportunities to expand their fundraising programmes, for others the arrival of other fundraising INGOs in the country highlights that there is a market there and inspires them to do the same. No matter how the expansion into new markets arises, it is happening all over the world, in economies and cultures that on the surface of them might not appear at all suited to the fundraising approaches we are familiar with in the UK, and some of them aren’t.



Ellen Waters is head of resource mobilisation in the international fundraising programme at Amnesty International. Amnesty operates fundraising sections in around 30 countries but has externally supported offices in a further 40. The organisation is used to working out of local offices, hiring local staff and coordinating fundraising in the field.

“First we would check if there are any other organisations, national or international, that are fundraising to get an idea of how it might be received. Then we identify some of the benchmarks and find out what kind of infrastructure is involved.” Waters explains. The infrastructure she refers to is mainly the banking system. If there is no direct debit system set up in the country then rolling out an effective face-to-face (F2F) programme would be difficult and it is F2F that INGOs use to build a supporter base as well as start attracting regular donations.

Sometimes even if multi-national banks are present in the country there will not necessarily be anything like the automated payment request systems we are so familiar with in the UK. Amnesty did not encounter problems of this nature in S. Korea, one of the Asian markets that are currently proving very receptive to the F2F programmes large INGOs have introduced. However, there is a heavy reliance on credit cards, which means that a F2F system will work, but there will be an impact on attrition rates. Because credit cards expire you may find the lifetime values of the supporter are affected when regular donations are set up by this payment method. There are also charges associated with the use of credit cards and as Waters points out, it is not as easy to negotiate terms with a credit card company as it is with banks. It’s clear then, that social and cultural norms in new markets inform both the application of programmes and the anticipated limitations of them.


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The UK is pretty widely regarded as the ‘home’ of fundraising. Daryl Upsall was international fundraising and marketing director for Greenpeace International for seven and a half years. He now runs an international agency from Spain which operates in more than 245 countries. Despite having spoken to fundraising audiences all over the world he says that the keynote speakers have almost always been British, Canadian or American, but overwhelming it’s definitely the Brits that are leading the sector globally.

So is the UK a hub of fundraising innovation? Upsall isn’t so sure. He ponders the question for a moment and then says, “I’m trying to think what the UK has actually invented? It wasn’t F2F, it wasn’t SMS, it wasn’t DM – that was brought in from the US in the 70s. I think the UK is good at taking stuff global and then making it work in its own market,” he concludes.

For example, British telephone fundraising has its roots in the US political system. Back in 1988 Simon Pell, who would go on to co-found the telephone fundraising agency Pell & Bales in 1990, was drafted in to raise money for the Labour Party’s election campaign. The Party had sent observers over to report back on the fundraising approaches being used in the presidential elections between George Bush Snr and Michael Dukakis. Fundraising on the phone, it seemed, had worked over there so the technique was exported to the UK.

Because of his existing relationship with the party, Pell was charged with setting up an in-house team to fundraise over the phone, an offer he initially turned down on the grounds that he had no idea how to go about it. When it turned out no-one else knew how either, they came back to him and he accepted. “We had heard about the method but effectively, we didn’t have any material or scripts”, Pell explains.

As a result, a thoroughly British strain of the technique developed. Under Pell’s guidance a letter was sent out, from a high-profile member of the party, to the supporters they intended to call with tear-off slip to return if they wanted to opt out. Once they had a list of people willing to receive a call they began calling and started to see results. It wasn’t until a US agency was drafted in as well, that the differences in the two approaches where highlighted. Pell recalls how his, far more deferential, team “were astounded by how direct they were in asking for very large amounts of money and that they asked three times in a sort of descending ladder”.

Pell admits that, stereotypically, it was what you might expect but there were more subtle differences that ultimately decided which variety would survive in the UK market. The uninhibited American approach was also indiscriminate; they used the same tone for each call and asked for the same thing. The Brits however, motivated by their own reserve, had chosen to carefully segment their databases from the outset. They knew how much a supporter had already given and what their relationship was with the Party.

Telephone fundraising had evolved, in Pell’s words his British model took the “whole person” into account and in doing so gave birth to mass regular giving, a concept that American fundraising is still not entirely au fait with. Ultimately, the American approach became unsustainable in the UK and they went out of business while Pell & Bales went from strength to strength. “We have an operation in Canada which also calls into American charities and they are starting to understand the concept of regular giving”, Brian Searle, the company’s managing director, explains.


Emerging markets

Further afield, India has also put its own mark on telephone fundraising with the emergence of a peculiar hybrid. Tele-facing, as you might have guessed, marries telephone fundraising and F2F to form an approach that is tailored to the needs of the Indian market. Anup Tiwari oversees tele-facing operations as fund development and communication director in Asia for SOS Children’s Villages International. Indians are still sceptical over the credibility of unsolicited calls explains Tiwari, so a F2F visit following the call reinforces the callers story. “Besides, a follow-up visit increases the conversion rates of phone calls as the direct debit form needs a signature, so sending someone in person completes the cycle efficiently”, he adds.

Despite sounding like an outlandish hybrid, Tiwari is adamant it could work outside of India. It has applications as an acquisition, conversion and retention tool in the same way direct mail does and in India is showing good results with low-mid value level committed giving. With online communication being added as a fulfilment medium in recent years, could tele-facing translate to regional charities in Europe? Tiwari wouldn’t rule it out but cites the developing world as the place it is most useful at present. “SOS Children’s Villages has successfully tested tele-facing in Sri Lanka and is expanding there now”, he explains.

As a technique particular to one of the BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) countries, it is little surprise to see tele-facing emerge. These markets, with their burgeoning middle classes and strong economies are well and truly on the map for INGOs looking to expand. According to John Baguley, former director of international fundraising at Amnesty and CEO of International Fundraising Consultancy, Russia’s self-made ‘minigarchs’ are a generation of willing philanthropists and charities are starting to tap into that. In recent years Russia’s charitable giving has been thwarted by President Vladimir Putin’s distrust of foreign agencies. Both Baguley and Upsall agree that, to vary degrees, corporate giving has remained strong and the country still represents opportunities to the fundraising community.

In Brazil and the rest of Latin America a cultural inclination towards open interpersonal relationships has created the perfect environment for social media to drive the third sector. “You can use social media in different ways, it’s not that you build a set of supporters around your organisation who are linked online and then ask them directly for money. Charities have done that and often damaged their social media”, Baguley warns. Rather, he explains, it is a case of engaging a large supporter base and letting them take the initiative to act. Arguably, the organic way in which this has grown up around a receptive culture in Latin America, that was not already very familiar with traditional fundraising, is why it has worked so well. In the UK, where social media is yet to make an impact across the board, it is perhaps too far removed from the fundraising that people are used to.

“I like the William Gibson quote that ‘the future is already here – it’s just not evenly distributed’”, says Baguley. When you look at the varying degrees to which fundraising has developed around the globe, you have to agree. It seems that every nation has something to learn or something to share; in many cases one might suggest both. The critical lesson though is never to assume that the actions of an INGO, because of its size, capacity or international reach do not have lessons to share with smaller, locally situated organisations.

Back at Amnesty, Waters explains how much more flexible and able to experiment her section offices are when they begin fundraising in new markets. “They haven’t got big campaigning teams on one side of the building and big fundraising teams on the other who are arch enemies and don’t understand they’re working towards the same goals”, she explains. Instead, the small country offices are free from silos and able to cooperate to build the most efficient fundraising strategy for that region. It is that flexibility and their pre-disposition to remain receptive to external influences that has inspired the innovations discussed here, from Pell’s very British telephone fundraising to the warm reception of social media in Latin America. All it takes is a few closed minds to shut down the potential rewards afforded to those who are willing to experiment.


This article first appeared in The Fundraiser magazine, Issue 12, December 2011

1 Comment on International fundraising: globalisation and charities

Active In Development Aid (ADA) (Charity) said at 11:24 on 17 June 2014

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