A beginner’s guide to fundraising in international markets

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A beginner’s guide to fundraising in international markets

If your charity has the drive, direction and ambition to make an impact beyond the UK, then now is the time to take the leap, says Daryl Upsall


In the last 30 years there has been a seismic shift in the fundraising market. Professional fundraising and philanthropy is moving from North America and the UK to encompass the entire globe. UK charities, international non-profit organisations (INPOs) and UN agencies such as UNICEF and UNHCR have successfully established fundraising operations in markets such as Taiwan, Brazil, South Korea and South Africa.

Having worked in fundraising for 29 years, in over 49 countries, I have been both a witness and an active protagonist in this movement. As international fundraising director for Greenpeace International in the 1990s, my team opened up fundraising in Thailand, Chile, India, Hong Kong and Argentina among other nations, and I continue to work with organisations in new market entry strategies.

The reasons for global expansion can be manifold: overcrowded core fundraising markets; increasing attrition rates; declining ROI; interference with face-to-face by local authorities; board pressure to be in the BRICS or BRICSAM because everyone else seems to be… or simply a desire to help overseas programmes to be self-sufficient, or have operational legitimacy in a country for advocacy.

For Amnesty International, the motivation for extending its international reach was pretty straightforward, according to its director of international fundraising Alison Wallace: “We want to realise our vision of a world where everyone’s human rights are respected and upheld. To do that, we need a large, diverse and active supporter base, with people joining and supporting Amnesty International around the world.

“Amnesty International is already strong and well established in Europe, North America and Australasia. In the future, supporters in countries like Brazil and India will play a key role in creating and sustaining positive human rights both in their own countries and globally.”


Continental drift

Today the tectonic plates are moving faster than ever. From carrying out fundraising evaluations in Mongolia, to training fundraisers in telephone fundraising in Sarajevo, to recruiting HIV/AIDS fundraisers across China, INPOs are constantly exploring and exploiting new markets.

Given the attention that world leaders, the media and business gives to the BRIC and now BRICSAM countries, it is not surprising that many national and international fundraising directors are under pressure from their chief executives and boards to focus on these markets first. It is often the case that their international commercial accounting/consulting agencies will fixate on so called ‘key indicators’ such as GDP and its growth and the presence of multinational corporations in a market as drivers for new market entry – while failing to look at more important factors such as the laws governing philanthropy, banking systems, cultural preferences for giving (especially those of the middle classes) and critically the availability of fundraising suppliers and trained fundraising staff.

Once these factors are taken into account, BRIC countries such as Russia and China suddenly slip down the league and nations such as Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, South Korea and the Czech Republic start to look more attractive. And if it is mega and major donors you are looking for, all eyes today are on the Gulf states.

Penelope Cagney, fundraising and non-profit management consultant and co-editor of the soon to be published book Global Giving: How the World is Changing the Rules of Philanthropy, explains: “Whatever your assumptions about donors in the rest of the world, set them aside. Individual giving is exploding in South Korea. European foundations have largely untapped potential. And Brazil is leading the way in corporate fundraising.”

But, she warns, it’s essential that all organisations do their homework – very carefully – before entering a new market. “Some countries are more welcoming to non-profits from the outside, others much less so. Infrastructure can be quite sophisticated in some places, and in others can be quite sketchy. The legal structure of charitable organisations varies from GONGOs in China to PICs in Japan to DGRs in Australia and others, and the variety of registration requirements can be bewildering.”

For me, the first rule for an NPO considering entering a new market entry is: take nothing for granted. You must undertake proper due diligence and a full market analysis of the laws, best practice, challenges and supplier availability. Be thorough in your competitor analysis – but better still speak to them directly. I have yet to come across a market where NPOs and INPOs won’t give some time and the benefit of their knowledge and experience to potential new entrants.


Brits abroad

It is not only the large INPOs that are looking to test new markets for fundraising. In recent years, UK charities have got in on the game. For example, WaterAid has established itself in Sweden and the USA; Christian Aid and HelpAge international have set up operations in Spain; VSO is looking at its international options; Oxfam UK and its federation of members are looking at how to be more active further afield. No doubt there are more UK charities considering such a move as I write.

Bernard Ross, director of The Management Centre, has advised many such charities on international entry. He outlines the ‘Five ‘C’s’ of new market entry for fundraising:

Cash: do you have enough money to enter the market and to sustain the entry?

Competence: do you have the skills and knowledge to make successful entry?

Competition: who’s the competition and are they strong or weak?

Context: what else is happening in the market?

Commitment: do you really want to do this and are your board and CEO behind you?

Amanda Seller from UNHCR also has some valuable insight to share: “Any decision about which countries you fundraise in and what techniques you use always have to come back to those commonsense drivers that all sensible fundraisers apply, whether working in Scotland, Germany, Brazil or India. But you do have to double-check for things you may take for granted in Europe. The biggest show-stopper for fundraising is without question the banking systems that make committed giving hard.”


Gold standard

If there were Olympic medals awarded to the nation that is making the biggest contribution to the globalisation of fundraising and leading the investment in new markets, Team GB would top the medals table, with the Netherlands doing considerably better than it did in the actual Olympics. That may come as a surprise to some readers, but perhaps not those that have attended the fantastic International Fundraising Congress (IFC) in the Netherlands over the last 32 years, with some 900 participants from over 60 countries attending.

UK- and Geneva-headquartered INPOs and UN agencies such as Save the Children International, WWF International, World Vision International, Sightsavers International, United Bible Societies, WSPA, Amnesty International, UNHCR and UNICEF as well as Greenpeace International (headquartered in Amsterdam) and SOS Children’s Villages (Innsbruck), have been the driving forces in establishing fundraising in new markets. They have established international investment funds to front-finance new market entry, and have almost entirely focused their new market entry models on recruiting monthly, committed donors using the Austrian invention face-to-face, along with DRTV, new media and other integrated fundraising tools.

Notably, almost all INPOs and fundraising UN agencies have a very senior, very experienced Brit in the top international fundraising post. The British also tend to be over-represented in the senior levels below. Dutch and Canadian fundraisers make up the second-largest largest chunk, and only then do US fundraisers start to make a showing.


Learning the lingo

My recommendation to any fundraiser looking to work globally and to recruit senior international fundraising staff is simple: make sure you follow international fundraising trends online via SOFII, The Agitator, 101 Fundraising etc; attend the IFC, even if it means using some holiday time and paying towards it yourself; volunteer as fundraiser in a project overseas; learn another language such as Spanish or French; and finally, apply for international jobs where believe you really can make a difference, and have the skillset to do so.

The best international fundraisers also have a great understanding of different cultures and the effective application of fundraising techniques within each. As Bernard Ross rightly warns: “we need to get away from the Euro/Ameri-centric view of fundraising. The largest fundraising events in the world – marathons – take place in Kenya. The biggest online-giving nation in the world is Argentina. India has invented a whole new hybrid of fundraising involving telephone and door-to-door, called telefacing. Meanwhile we spend our time here in the UK worrying about face-to-face regulations.”

Andrew Watt, formerly policy director at the UK Institute of Fundraising and now president & CEO of the US-based Association of Fundraising Professionals, tells of his first-hand experience of the need for great cultural understanding: “I viewed myself as culturally aware, sensitive to others, inclusive. That is, until I went to live and work in the United States. At which point I realised that I had been guilty of huge cultural assumptions, and had been patronising and ignorant. Working here for the last seven years has expanded my horizons massively, and has been the hardest work and the most professionally rewarding experience of my career. Importantly, I maintained an open mind – receptiveness to the experience of operating in a wholly different environment from that of the UK.”

These are exciting times for those of us involved in international fundraising and the tectonic plates will continue to shift with ever-greater momentum. As Amanda Seller says, “working in an international fundraising context is exciting and challenging stuff. There are so many options and choices to be made, and the professional advantages and opportunities are remarkable: you get to work in multiple cultures with an enormous diversity of colleagues, learn enormous amounts about fundraising globally, usually in organisations that have an ambition of changing the world as their mission, and have the limits of your understanding and skills constantly challenged.”


The world awaits

Some 12 years ago I was asked to make a presentation at a major fundraising convention along the theme of the ‘future of fundraising’; always a dangerous topic to address. I still have that presentation, in which I predicted that one day there would be a Charity Bank, there would be a globalisation of fundraising led by the mega brands and that NPOs from the south would look to establish themselves in the UK. CRY India is not only one of the biggest indigenous NPOs in India but is now well established in the USA and the UK.

Andrew Watt, president and CEO of the Association of Fundraising Professionals said: “Fundraising, traditional fundraising, won’t be with us much longer. I don't mean that it’s going away; just that it is one part of the essential mix and possibly a diminishing one.” And I concur. If you do not go out into the world, it will come to you before you know it.

New fundraising markets are opening up every few months. By introducing professional fundraising and philanthropy into emerging markets, while respecting their unique cultures, you can not only further your organisation’s cause but also become part of a creating a movement of global citizen participation in civil society.

Daryl Upsall is chief executive of Daryl Upsall Consulting International SL

Global Giving: How the World is Changing the Rules of Philanthropy, ed. Bernard Ross and Penelope Cagney, was published in January 2013 by Wiley. It contains 18 different contributors from 18 nations, and is the first-ever global guide to fundraising written by fundraisers.

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