How to do fundraising in a real crisis.

downloadFundraisers have a bit of a tendency to think that the grass is greener for other charities. It must be easier for them, right?

I think dogs eat children’s homework more frequently than this particular fundraising excuse proves to be true.

But if you worked for ActionAid Greece and suggested that fundraising might be a tad less challenging elsewhere, you’d have a point.

To say that the Greek economy and society has gone through a difficult time of late is a statement akin to suggesting that the Titanic had a bit of a buoyancy problem.  Since 2010, the economy has shrunk by over a third and unemployment has risen to levels higher than in Germany during the Great Depression. A fifth of Greeks don’t have enough money to pay for basic food essentials.

And now Greece is in the front line of the European refugee crisis with thousands of desperate people fleeing war stranded in the country as other EU member states shut their borders.

So how does a charity that raises money to support poor communities in Africa (mostly) deal with a situation like that? How can you fundraise at all in that context?

ActionAid Greece have of course been hit by the crisis. They’ve lost supporters and income. But while other international NGOs have seen dramatic income declines, ActionAid have fallen back only very modestly. Last year they raised more money from individuals than every other charity in the country, over €8m.  Their average supporter gave them over €250 a year. In Greece. Now.

When I visited them last week, they explained how they had achieved this nearly miraculous performance. Critically, they are a child sponsorship charity and supporters have stayed primarily because they don’t want to let their sponsored children down (the money goes to the community not the child but it is this one on one connection that makes child sponsorship such a powerful fundraising proposition).  But ActionAid have also taken engaging with their supporters extremely seriously. Each year, they take dozens of supporters to see the projects they are supporting and these trips focus on real engagement between sponsors and communities. Child sponsors work alongside locals, building schools or planting crops, learning as much as they can how the others live. These donors come back from the trip as evangelists for ActionAid’s work. A third of new child sponsors are recruited by existing sponsors, many by those who have experienced field trips.

I was also impressed by the way ActionAid Greece works. Where other charities are bedevilled by silos and different teams pulling in different direction, ActionAid have programmes, fundraising, communications and advocacy in one integrated team with common objectives. United by shared passion and commitment to the mission.

So, next time you are complaining about how hard fundraising is for your organisation, consider Greece. And remember that even under the toughest conditions a donor-focussed approach with strong, compelling and integrated messaging will still work. It’s good fundraising that makes a difference between success and failure. Always.

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