International fundraising can complement an organization’s traditional efforts and greatly benefit an organization’s work – though it is essential to note that international fundraising is not appropriate or beneficial for every organization. Taking fundraising efforts beyond our borders must be done thoughtfully and systematically.
First things first: how does one know if an organization is ready to take its fundraising overseas?
This is a question that often arises in development team conversations, most often after hearing recent announcements of a large gift to an institution from an overseas donor or following the annual release of the Sunday Times “Rich List.” Upon hearing the success of other organizations, it is natural to wonder why their own wouldn’t find prospects, host events, and fundraise in China, Hong Kong, India, or Europe (or the US, depending on where the institution is located), or anywhere that pockets of wealthy philanthropists are located.
Beyond “should we or shouldn’t we,” here are a few key conversation starters an organization’s leadership must consider as they question whether international fundraising is the right decision:
- Staffing. How much time are you willing to have each person spend on this project? Who needs to make the time commitment – staff, volunteers, CEO, president or vice chancellor, everyone? How do you deploy or add staffing resources to support this effort?
- Storytelling. What is your mission, and how will you articulate it to an international audience? Is it the same as the story and case for support deployed locally, or does it need to be adapted?
- Fundraising. What is your fundraising plan? How do you make the effort successful financially for the organization? How will you go from building a network to securing gifts?
- Committing. Is there enough of a donor base in the countries, regions, or cities you want to target? Has leadership made trips to the area? How have initial outreach efforts gone? Have you done the research and due diligence to be confident to jump all-in?
If these questions have already come up and the answers have been discussed, that’s great – your organization is thinking strategically about the possibility of taking fundraising international. Below are four additional questions we think you need to consider. They should sound familiar, but are meant to encourage every organization to look at the situation from all sides.
- Does what we do matter to and resonate with international prospects?
This gets to the core of the case for support. You must explore in further depth whether your mission translates to an international donor or, if not, how it can be adapted. This is where you should work with program staff, academics, and other stakeholders at the core of what your organization funds to understand how your case for support might be attractive to international donors.
In addition to the case for support, consider what the proposition might be. What exactly are you asking for from these donors? In most cases, this should be kept at the major and principal gift level in order to gain the largest financial return.
- What is the best geography for us to focus on?
The answer can’t be everywhere. Organizations with international alumni should look where the largest groupings of alumni live. If no built-in alumni constituency exists, prospect research can provide support to understand the prospect base, where they are, how engaged they are, and where your international focus should be. You can also look into areas where your programs are based; annual foreign conferences that program or leadership staff attend; and the impact that your organization has on specific countries. Obviously, choose regions that have the closest affinity to your organization.
We recommend starting with one or two foreign locations. It may be that focusing on a key city– as opposed to entire countries or regions– is best for your organization, so explore all possibilities.
Your organization must also consider the culture of giving in each prospective country, their charitable tax laws, banking systems, and currency exchange needs.
- Is there support from board members and local volunteers to engage in international fundraising?
Look at your board, trustees, and volunteer groups (alumni or otherwise) to see who is located in or has links to countries or cities where you are interested in fundraising.
A lack of support from local volunteers may affect or sever their relationship with core local fundraising. If there are no current or potential volunteer links in the geographic area you hope to expand to, it will be difficult to build a basic network, let alone establish relationships strong enough to secure gifts.
- How will we deploy our resources and invest our time?
This will be one of the most difficult questions to answer. Your organization will need a staffing plan, informed by the selection of foreign countries in which you have decided to fundraise.
Based on your current staffing and budget, consider whether you need a dedicated staff person; whether you need someone based locally in your office who agrees to travel or someone based in the country or region of interest; where you deploy an existing staffing position or use budget to add a new one; whether you need staff members with particular language skills or cultural fluencies.
Lastly, no matter what the conversations around these topics yield, do not forget the time and energy this will require from your organization’s leadership. They will need to dedicate the necessary resources to this effort, so make sure they are completely on board in order to make the necessary commitment.
There is a lot to discuss and consider around such a significant decision for your organization. Remember this will be a substantial investment of both time and money, but it might be the right decision if you are able to align staffing, prospects, and appropriate philanthropic opportunities. If you have any questions about the points we’ve made or the questions we’ve posed, please do not hesitate to contact me.