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Fundraising as a facilitator of philanthropy


Shelagh Gastrow provides advisory services to the philanthropy sector, higher education advancement and non-profit sustainability. She works with individuals and families on how to integrate their wealth and their values into meaningful and effective philanthropy. From 2002-2015 she was founder and executive director of Inyathelo and focused her efforts on strengthening civil society and universities through programmes to develop their financial sustainability whilst promoting philanthropy in SA. Her work has gained public recognition locally and internationally.

The best fundraisers are intuitive, with a natural understanding that the building and maintenance of relationships with donors is critical to success and long-term support.

I recently received a copy of the Palgrave Handbook of Global Philanthropy edited by Professor Pamala Wiepking of Erasmus University, The Netherlands, and Professor Femida Handy of the University of Pennsylvania,US. This lengthy book focuses on philanthropy in 25 countries and one region (but omitting Africa other than Egypt).

Of interest to me in particular was one chapter on the “Practice and Organisation of Fundraising across Nations” which pointed out how much research is undertaken on philanthropists, and how little is focused on the askers, or the fundraisers, whose status in the continuum of funding from philanthropy to recipient organisations appears to be almost invisible.

The history of fundraising is linked to various faiths where money was raised for buildings such as churches or temples, but in the last few hundred years it has also been associated with universities, orphanages and health facilities. However, modern fundraising has become a profession and our philanthropic sector has made increasing demands relating to accountability, which often includes substantial documentation, the capacity not just to articulate a cause or a need because it exists, but to develop “theories of change”, impact evaluations and complicated log frames to show philanthropic return on investment.

The handbook outlines various forms of fundraising and it was interesting to see that special events were the most widely used mechanisms to raise money in the countries that formed part of the research. Events are expensive, both financially and in terms of human resources. They require at least a year’s work to ensure full attendance, along with all the razzmatazz that goes with a successful event.

From the perspective of sustainability, events are one of the least effective mechanisms as attendees might pay an amount to attend, and may add something extra if there is an appeal, but then they go home and have little or no connection with the organisation again. The book points out that events sometimes depend on the “social ties” of the organisers, rather than professional fundraising skills.

Next in line were “one-on-one approaches” where “personal contacts to identify new supporters” were used. This is a standard tool in fundraising, including in South Africa, and organisational board members in particular can play a role in door-opening and championing organisations in their own networks.

A face-to-face meeting is one of the most successful ways to raise funds, but it cannot be in isolation. The important element is the building of a relationship and access to an individual involves more than a telephone call requesting a meeting. Savvy organisations know that their researched and targeted potential donors need to be aware of who they are and that there is a mutual interest in the cause before a meeting actually takes place.

The book points out that one of the key drivers of philanthropic giving is “awareness of need”. Without such awareness, people are unlikely to respond. How an organisation builds public awareness of the need it meets, its activities and its leadership is part of good “advancement” practice, and generally fundraising cannot be successful without those issues being addressed.

Many organisations are still dependent on direct marketing appeals. Years ago this was done through the post with thousands of request letters being delivered to a target group of individuals. This has now shifted to online fundraising including emails, SMS fundraising, crowd funding and the establishment of various charitable websites where people can search for a cause. The key to such appeals is that they open doors to potential longer-term supporters. If the givers receive ongoing attention, opportunities arise for larger donations and even bequests. Most non-profit organisations have a website and some kind of social media presence. Fundraising through Facebook or Twitter is likely to grow.

The book also explores “community fundraising” whereby specific communities, such as in a geographic area, or those who have a common cause, raise small amounts of money from numbers of individuals and the funds then benefit the community as a whole. The book points out that the “time-honoured doorknock” continues to be a successful fundraising method, involving volunteers from that community to undertake the asking. In addition, cash is often king in this type of fundraising. In South Africa we have entities that describe themselves as community foundations, but few are actually not supported financially by the communities in which they exist. Rather, funds are sought elsewhere.

However, community entities such as ratepayers’ associations or community-based organisations are frequently supported by the neighbourhood.

Many countries report that charitable bequests are one of their key fundraising methodologies. In South Africa some organisations have a bequest programme, particularly universities with alumni and some of the larger, well established non-profits. At a fundraising training session in Nigeria, however, I was advised clearly that any bequest to a university was likely to be contested in court by the family as it was not a generally supported cultural practice. This, therefore, depends on how different communities and countries deal with inheritance and it would be interesting to know how many South Africans, as an example, even have a written will.

Regular giving or annual funds form the basis of giving for many non-profits. Many South African non-profits, particularly in the welfare sector, rely heavily on ongoing monthly contributions from their supporters, especially in the form of debit orders. If the organisation nurtures their donors, the monthly amount can increase and, once again, a bequest may become a possibility. Monthly giving assists with organisational sustainability as the organisation can plan financially and the funds are generally undesignated and can therefore be used to cover overheads. More important, if the organisation raises other funding for its programmes, some of these contributions can be used to build a reserve or endowment to ensure the long-term viability of the organisation itself.

Fundraising from the corporate sector in South Africa is generally a major strategic focus for many organisations. While not that effective in the US and other countries where individual giving is more pronounced, in South Africa it has been a core support for non-profits. Engaging with the corporate sector also requires relationship building and ensuring that there is a good “match” with the objectives of the corporate giving programme and the non-profit itself. Recognition also has to be given to publicity and marketing requirements of the corporate.

Another key source of funding internationally and in South Africa are charitable trusts and philanthropic foundations. Most of these are based on an initial investment by an individual or family and they have a clear mandate from the founder/s as to what the principal object of the fund would be. Foundations, therefore, are not a generic source of funding, and good fundraisers know that they have to find common ground with the focus of the foundation as well as build trust so that the foundation staff or founders are confident that the outcomes are aligned. In South Africa we have a foundation sector that funds a wide variety of causes and there are also international foundations functioning in the country.

The question therefore arises – where does fundraising training take place? How is fundraising being professionalised? Generally this is a skill that develops on the job. Transferable skills from marketing and communications are helpful, but the best fundraisers I have met are intuitive with a natural understanding that the building and maintenance of relationships with donors is critical to success and long-term support.

The how-to of fundraising and the tactics used can be learnt, but the bottom line is building the awareness, interest and commitment of individuals and companies through understanding mutual objectives; fostering relationships; negotiating fairly and honestly, and making the donor’s experience as pleasant as possible, ensuring that all obligations such as reporting on progress are met. It is also important to understand that fundraising is a team effort and although one person may be driving that effort, success is dependent on good governance, organisational leadership, effective marketing, financial planning and delivery by the organisation’s team of the programmes and projects that the funding is for. DM


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