I have presented fund-raising workshops in many countries outside North America during a professional career of more than 35 years. I have also presented fund-raising workshops to numerous foreign visitors in the United States who were representing charities in their respective countries. In every case, the people who attended my workshops came from nations in which there was neither a tradition nor an established process of individual or corporate philanthropy toward charitable and cultural agencies or non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Yet despite such challenges, people from around the world sought advice and guidance regarding the U.S. philanthropic-style of fund-raising. They did so because they recognized that government support of charities, cultural bodies and NGOs in their countries was rapidly eroding and in danger of disappearing altogether. As a result, they were both willing and eager to learn how to fund-raise in the American style.
“Just show us how to do it,” they told me. “We will find a way to make the process work for us.”
Many of them succeeded in dramatic fashion. And this article is intended to convey the message that you can make it work, too.
A Heritage of Giving
The United States, Canada and the United Kingdom share a long-standing tradition of philanthropy. Fund-raising for charitable organizations that promote human welfare — as well as for such cultural entities as art museums and orchestras, and for NGOs that do good works — is, therefore, both accepted and encouraged in our societies.
While the U.S. and some other countries enjoy a long heritage of private support for charitable organizations, individuals in other countries are just as caring and supportive as Americans, Canadians and Britons. Until now, however, the philanthropic process of raising money has been entirely unknown to them or, at best, only recently introduced.
But the fund-raising process should be the same no matter where it is practiced. The only element missing in countries with young or newly emerging non-profit and NGO charitable organizations is the philanthropic system itself and the habit of fund-raising. These are, of course, formidable challenges. But I know from experience that they can be overcome.
Where Do You Stand?
First, let’s determine exactly what challenges you may face by reviewing the following questions:
1. Is there little or no tradition or habit of fund-raising in your country?
2. Are there few, if any, favorable tax provisions or other incentives in place to encourage charitable giving by individuals and corporations?
3. Is there a long-standing tradition of parents bequeathing all, or most, of their assets to their children?
4. When government funding of non-profit organizations and NGOs is cut, do non-profit organizations in your country turn first to the international community for support, rather than developing fund-raising capabilities at home?
5. Regarding the seeking of funds from the international community, on the other hand, does your government inhibit foreign funding from coming into your country?
6. Do some in your government discourage the work of charities for selfish gain? Do they themselves secure funding which they directly apply to the public’s needs so they can make their constituents beholden to them, thus helping those officials retain their positions in the government?
7. Are your government’s laws, regulations, and its general oversight of charities operated through a maze of bureaucracy whose red tape makes it harder for charitable organizations to be established in the first place and to freely function later?
If you answered “Yes” to even one of these questions, you already know that change will be difficult to initiate. But the charitable impulse is alive in everyone, no matter where they live. And it is your job as a fund-raiser to introduce in your country or to your charitable organization the successful philanthropic fund-raising system we use in the U.S.
Growing the Philanthropic “Habit” in Your Country
It is likely that you will need to start a new philanthropic “habit” where none exists. This can be accomplished by patiently and politely introducing people to the process of fund-raising and explaining why it is necessary. You should also explain that such expressions of charity and compassion can be just as rewarding to the individual as helping a neighbor in need.
To assist non-profit organizations in building the philanthropic spirit and the habit of giving in your country, you must show potential donors that all contributions will be used in exactly the way each organization promises. Openness, honesty and reliability are key issues if you wish to build trust among potential donors, so you must prove not only the value of an organization’s work, but also the efficiency and honesty with which it delivers its programs and services. Only then are you ready to begin real fund-raising.
Understanding the Fundamentals of Fund-Raising
I can tell you from my own experience that the American process of fund-raising will work as well for your non-profits and NGOs as it does in the United States. First, however, you need to understand the process yourself before you can convey it to others.
Many people think of fund-raising as the essence of myth and magic: What mere mortal can expect to succeed? But this is merely an excuse for a failed fund-raising effort. The truth is that successful fund-raising is simply the product of hard work by dedicated people who are thoroughly prepared for the job.
A successful fund-raising campaign is not magic. It is a straightforward process of executing well-defined tasks that are arranged in a step-by-step progression. I know this to be so because I have seen it done over and over again. In fact, I have never found a fund-raising campaign to be an impossible task — inside or outside the United States — if it is well-planned and well-executed.
The best way for you to begin your fund-raising campaign is to explain each of its components individually and in their proper order to your organization and to prospective donors. Taking these early steps helps you to establish your overall goals, divide responsibilities for tasks and gain a measure of acceptance from people who may later be asked to provide you with funding.
The very first task you should undertake is to lead the organization itself through an evaluation of its own capability to raise money. To that end, I suggest you follow the link below to my Web site, where you will find a checklist that can be used to evaluate your organization’s fund-raising readiness: Check Out Your Organization’s Fund-Raising Readiness And Learn The Secret Of Fund-Raising Success
On the list, check each statement that you can honestly claim to be true for your organization. When you have gone through the entire list, I suggest that you reread it to make sure you understand each affirmation. Don’t let their brevity get in the way of developing a full understanding of what they represent. You should evaluate their relevance to your particular situation, look for ways to maximize their effectiveness and value for you, and consider adaptations and adjustments that better tune them to your organization.
Of those forty-one campaign-readiness affirmations, you may find a number of them missing from your plan. You may have others in place, but not to the degree they should be working. What can you do to install the new components and improve the others? Below you will find links to my “Libraries” of fund-raising material. An examination of the table of contents of my “Fund-Raising Forum Library,” will point the way to articles which specifically address each of the affirmations in working detail for you to follow, step by step to meet your goal to develop, produce and implement the best fund-raising campaign possible to meet your needs.
You will be in position to plan and execute your fund-raising campaign with a command and control of each and every one of those components in their operating progression. For example, to touch on just a few of those steps in the fund-raising process, you will learn how to:
- develop a mission statement.
- be certain that you have effective and fully engaged leadership from a Board of Trustees.
- know how important it is for your organization to have a written and reliable long range strategic plan.
- identify potential donors who care about what you do, or who could care.
- ensure that you get your financial house in order to know exactly what it costs to operate your organization.
- develop and set fund-raising goals.
- write a compelling case for support of your mission.
- rate and evaluate your prospective donors in order to allow them to know what you would like from them.
- recruit the fund-raising campaign’s volunteer leadership and solicitation team.
- produce effective campaign communications and publicity plans.
- learn how to ask for the money
- manage and produce campaign progress reports.
- and much more.
At the same time, of course, you must ensure that the organization’s leaders embrace and will use the U.S.-style fund-raising process. Once those tasks are accomplished, you must introduce the process to your constituents and to the public with a campaign that accelerates their acceptance of the concept by increasing their awareness and building their trust.
Raising Money In The United States To Support Charities In Other Countries
The following are examples of often-asked questions regarding the raising of funds in the United States for use to directly support charities in other countries:
“A group of us here in the US care deeply about the plight of orphans in (Country). We know of a specific orphanage there in a village, and we want to raise funds in the US to directly support that organization. Can we start our own non-profit to do so? Or can we find an existing non-profit based in the US with a similar mission to ours, which could act as a “Sponsor” of sorts so we can raise funds which will go to the orphanage?
Conversely, many times those who operate charities in countries other than the United States, themselves inquire and search in the US for such “Friends” who would take their organization under their care and work to raise funds in the ways described above.
Unfortunately, neither option will work very well, and it is necessary to turn from the idealism of achieving such admirable humanitarian goals, to the realities of real and quite formidable laws and regulations. This is a complex area of tax law that should be reviewed with legal and tax counsel based on the foreign and US specific situations. Anyone seeking to work to either option, must consult the IRS.
While it is OK to form a 501(c)(3) charity to help foreign orphans, it is not OK to form a 501(c)(3) charity to support a named foreign orphanage. Thus, in the example above, tax-deductible funds could be raised in the US, but they would need to be distributed to orphanages in general. New rules have been put in place that will make supporting the operations of organizations based outside the US even more difficult. This in addition to the efforts by the Treasury and other federal agencies to prevent passing funds to terrorist organizations.
Although an organization formed in a foreign country can be recognized under section 501(c) (3), U. S. Federal tax law generally does not allow tax deductions for contributions to foreign charities. Sometimes donations are deductible, however, by reason of a specific treaty between the US and the foreign country. The fact that contributions are not tax deductible for U. S. donors may make it hard to find willing donors.
Regarding the question posed above for some to form a US affiliate, unfortunately, it is IRS policy to deny a 501(c)(3) application from a group formed to support a named charity in another country. Giving 501(c)(3) status to these organizations would make it too easy for taxpayers to skirt the law. If anyone decides to form a US group to make grants to foreign charitable organizations, they will have to show the IRS that the organization is not controlled by, or otherwise obligated, to transfer donations to any specific foreign entity.
All of these written materials are based on the hundreds of fund-raising workshops I have presented over the years and from my scores of consulting engagements. When you read them you will find that the experience is almost the same as if we were discussing your fund-raising questions, challenges and opportunities face-to-face.
I encourage you to review as many articles, exhibits and documents as you can. I hope that you will find them to be of value and support as you develop and conduct the successful fund-raising campaigns your organization needs and deserves to thrive in your country.
What are your comments and questions? I would be happy to hear from you.
Fund-Raising Forum Library other feature articles by Tony Poderis
Exhibit & Document Library free tools provided by Tony Poderis
Additional resources for fundraisers outside the US, listed by country and/or region.
Fundraising, Philanthropy Trends Around the World by Sandra Sims
Caveat: I am not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice. The broad picture presented is intended to help focus the desires of those in the US who are sympathetic with a charitable cause in another country, and those who are operating charitable organizations in foreign lands, to take great care to follow every legal and regulatory path to satisfy their intentions before they go about raising money.