Why is there no ‘Fundraisers Without Borders’? Big missing piece in development.

There are an extraordinary number of ‘without borders’ organizations (see here, or an even longer list here) – every clowns without borderspossible activity is catered for, from chemists to clowns (and that’s just the c’s). But one seems to be missing, and it may well be the most useful – why is there no ‘fundraisers without borders’?

Mike Edwards argues that ‘we should focus as much attention as possible on strengthening the financial independence of voluntary associations, since dependence on government contracts, foundations or foreign aid is the Achilles’ heel of authentic civic action.’

accountants without bordersThat is true both because no-one in their right mind would prefer national organizations to be aid dependent, when they could raise funds from their own societies, but also because many of the increasing attacks on ‘civil society space’ are justified by governments on the grounds that CSOs are pawns of foreign funders.

It would be unrealistic (and probably disastrous) to just try and export today’s northern fundraising techniques to CSOs in developing countries. Like everything else, fundraising is highly context specific both in terms of culture and history, so helping people identify what works locally and encouraging south-south exchanges of ideas might be better. One such example is Zakat, which has massive potential in any country with a significant Muslim population. Fundraisers without Borders could help by collecting and publicising Zakat-compatible fundraising drives from around the world.

Another is taking advantage of ‘critical junctures’, aka fundraising windows of opportunity. When India passed a law in 2013 obliging corporates to spend 2% of company profits on social responsibility, Fundraisers Without Borders would have scrambled the troops to go and help CSOs and others make sure the law actually got implemented (always a problem in India), and benefited the poor (ditto).

That India example would also involve swapping notes on the politics of fundraising – how to police the fine line Muslims without bordersbetween accepting cash from a corporate, and being coopted onto other people’s agendas.

INGOs are always keen to recognize and celebrate the long-term rise of the South. We’re adapting our advocacy and other areas of work to that new reality. For example  at the recent Addis Financing for Development conference, Oxfam and many others stressed the importance of ‘domestic resource mobilization’, including taxation. Wouldn’t it be a shame if, inadvertently, we failed to support national organizations to raise their own domestic resources?

I ran this past Tom Winslow, Oxfam’s chief cash Hoover, Head of Programme Funding and Partnerships, who cut his teeth raising money for South African CSOs in the 1990s. Here are some of his thoughts:

elephants_without_bord‘The last thing we need is fundraisers from the north parachuting into southern countries with some idea of “converting the heathen” to best fundraising practice. Instead, we should focus on the incipient movements to build the right enabling environment for civil society fundraising:

Trends wise, the rise of mobile telephones and the internet have created all sorts of exciting new possibilities for fundraising. Mobile telephone donations are more prevalent in parts of East and Southern Africa than direct debit giving. This is surely going to be a growth area for resource mobilisation in many African countries – provided that the cellular communications companies do not retain the lion’s share of charitable donations (sometimes as high as 50-60%) as their fee.

There are new movements towards indigenous philanthropy that are being spearheaded by groups like Trust Africa

Definitely my favourite
And inevitably…..

(based in Dakar and seed funded by the Ford Foundation) and Inyathelo in South Africa. These organisations have a strong ethos of self help solutions for African problems.

Enlightened donors have made strategic investments in building the fundraising capability of civil society organisations. For many years in South Africa, the late Gerald Kraak of Atlantic Philanthropies provided strategic investments in fund leverage for key civil society organisations in the early years of that country’s democracy – in civil society organisations (like the Legal Resources Centre) and universities (University of Cape Town, Wits, and others) in a conscious attempt to build their capacity to raise funds.

Lawyers have an important part to play in creating the right enabling legal and tax environment for fundraising to flourish. In South Africa, the Legal Resources Centre set up a non-profit organisations law project that worked to create the right statutory environment, including the right tax incentives to encourage public donations towards non-profits. Their work in South Africa spread throughout the region, and is now replicated across the continent by legal practitioners defending, protecting, and carving out space for civil society.

Domestic resource mobilisation strategies should include an agenda for tax exemption for non-profit organisations and tax deductibility on donations to qualified non-profits.

Maybe we should take a leaf out of the Little Red Book and create a generation of barefoot fundraisers instead of fundraisers without borders?’



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6 Responses to “Why is there no ‘Fundraisers Without Borders’? Big missing piece in development.”
  1. Tony Dykes

    Hi, not a comment on the article but technical query.
    I am a subscriber to the email. I was receiving it until 22 June then it stopped. Our IT support have checked and it is not blocked or quarantined. Yesterday I unsubcribed and then subcribed and got confirmation I was subscribed but today no email. Our IT support think the problem may be at your end.
    best wishes

    • Duncan Green

      Thanks Tony (and hi!), we’re having a few probs with the email subs – will talk to the tech-elves and see how they’re getting on. Anyone else having this problem?

  2. Marc DuBois

    Two quick thoughts. Great idea for an NGO. I imagine that if we look closely there are some interesting reasons why we haven’t seen this yet. Certainly it doesn’t conform well with the “we save them” model. And a linked idea: an organization whose sole purpose is to help local organizations set up direct fundraising appeals in Western publics, such as after a highly mediatized disaster. I remember seeing the Philippines Red Cross in the British press after Typhoon Haiyan, essentially asking for money to go directly to them. Need more of that. Need more access, but designing/buying successful press ads and setting up internet bank transfers require skills and contacts.

  3. Ken Smith

    Hi Marc -Really intrigued to learn more about the Philippines Red Cross appealing in the UK press. Have you any more info ? , maybe any readers of this blog at Red Cross could supply more details ?

  4. Enrique Mendizabal

    Good article and an important issue to address. One thing to ask is why Aid Funding agencies do not do more to leverage domestic funds? And aid implementing agencies (think tanks, NGOs, consultancies) do not care? Or way many NGOs in developing countries are not doing more to seek out new domestic funding sources

    This is not in their best interests. The idea of dependency suggests that the ones at the bottom of the chain are dependent on the big funders. But the reality is often the opposite. DFID, with its inflated budget, has more and more incentives to spend. And it has to do it through low risk means -meaning: organisations they know well. They are not willing to try new actors or to encourage their existing subcontractors to look for new funders or else they would be left with millions (billions?) unspent.

    This is of course encouraged by UK based consultancies and think tanks (and others) in the “development sector” who act as the managers of these funds. They work in the same way. Based in the UK or in regional hubs they work with the same organisations time and time again. They prefer the devil known. And want to keep them close and discourage them of seeking alternative funds.

    But in the “field” NGOs are also quite happy with the arrangement. Their Aid clients (donors and their intermediaries) are much more profitable than domestic foundations, corporations, charitable individuals or the state. They require a new language and a new kind of ‘value’ if they will be convinced to support them. They prefer, instead, to work with the funders they know well and who, for the most part, are begging them to take their money.

    Donors need to start building ‘exit strategies’ into their programmes. Real ones, in which they lock themselves out of long term funding unless real efforts are made to leverage domestic funds.

    Here are some ideas for research funders: http://onthinktanks.org/2015/02/23/domestic-think-tank-funding-what-can-foreign-donors-do/

  5. Shamsa

    This is a very interesting, thank you for exploring and writing this. I am thinking if we are to go with importance of culture, history, specificity and context in funding development projects, this could be a major solution that can help see change is done. Am just wondering how do we factor in issue of accountability and monitoring considering that this money will be given probably to individual projects? and excluding the fact that most NGOs despite their numbers have not been able to deliver. I am assuming funding individual/community projects could be more effective than giving to NGOs however my question how can we monitor/track these funds ensure they get implemented for what they are being funded on? another question will ‘fundraisers without borders’ work as a nonprofit or a crowdsourcing platform? I think we need further debate on this. I am quite interested in starting something similar in my country Kenya/Somalia, need help though in ideas or people to work with on this project