At AAW we seem to be doing ever more international fundraising consulting, as part of our work with the International Red Cross and Red Crescent Movement and with other clients.
For a long time I’ve been interested in how fundraising differs across the world. What is the same and what is different from market to market is always fascinating to me. This year we’ve done projects in places as diverse as Brazil, Switzerland, Bangladesh and Ukraine and have learnt a lot along the way.
I find it fascinating how effective fundraising is possible in a very wide range of countries. If it is legal to fundraise, if there is a functioning banking system and there is a decent sized middle class, then individual giving fundraising is possible. Even where these conditions don’t all apply, there is almost always some wealth in a country that can be accessed for some form of philanthropy. So even countries with enormous social and political problems, such as Ukraine or Nigeria are places where charities can and do effectively fundraise across a range of techniques and channels.
In today’s world there is no reason why any charity that doesn’t sorely have a local remit to look internationally for funding. Technology has made it easier than it ever has been to connect with international audiences to look for support for your cause.
We are often asked by our INGO clients to advise on which countries they should target for fundraising opportunities. Is France a better market than Germany? South Korea better than Thailand? Colombia or Mexico? Ghana or Nigeria?
Of course the answer is different for each charity and cause. The specifics of what works for an individual charity across different markets and approaches will vary markedly.
Some of the decisions INGOs make about entering fundraising markets can be pretty curious. There are definitely fashions in choices of countries to invest in, usually when a couple of INGOs have successfully entered a market, a number of others will follow on the coattails. There’s some logic to that, the trailblazers will typically have started to build market capacity and infrastructure in the form of agencies and people with fundraising skills. But its still a fairly random way of determining where to put your fundraising investment.
On the other extreme, there’s a little industry in carrying out market assessments for INGOs that can involve quite a lot of expense in detailed comparative studies of multiple potential markets with then some kind of complex selection methodology to choose between them.
I suspect neither approach is quite right.
Where I’ve looked at examples of successes and failures at fundraising market entry (ones I have done and those done by others), the difference between those that worked and those that didn’t was usually not primarily about the choice of country to invest in. What really made the difference between a great success and a miserable failure came down to three things. Strategy, investment and people.
Successful market entries were those where there was a clear strategy behind why the organisation was going into a market backed by an achievable fundraising plan. The strategy was appropriately resourced with sufficient, long-term investment to implement it. And all had individuals with the right skills and experience being given the autonomy by the organisation to make sensible choices about how that investment was utilised.
Of course having skilled people meant that INGOs were less likely to choose markets that were inappropriate for their brand or where there weren’t available fundraising channels or competition was too intense. But in general, in my experience it is more important to do market entry properly than the specific choice of fundraising market to do it in.
Choosing the right market to target is without doubt still important. The key is I think to be very pragmatic about this. Today it is possible to test pretty much any fundraising market without having any staff or offices in that country through search or Facebook advertising. Before anyone is hired or leases are signed, it should be possible to test how a charity’s cause works in that specific context. Then it’s all about having the right people in place with a properly resourced plan.
It’s fairly easy to test how different causes will work in different international market. Setting up a sustainable fundraising programme in any new country is a much more serious endeavour and not one to be undertaken likely. An approach which combines gathering as much evidence as you can on how your specific cause works in any market with a pragmatic approach to market entry led by experts is as close as you can get to a formula for success.