Tobin Aldrich: It's a small world in fundraising

The culture of giving might differ from country to country but there is usually some common ground, says the fundraising consultant

Tobin Aldrich
Tobin Aldrich

If you are dismayed by the referendum result, you might be contemplating taking your fundraising experience abroad for a while. Or forever.

Fundraising is a skillset that is exportable and there are many UK fundraisers working in lots of different markets worldwide. I've been fortunate enough to have had experience of fundraising in quite a few different countries. It is always interesting to see what's the same and what changes from country to country.

Recently, I've been to some countries where fundraising as it is recognised in the UK is just starting. With different projects I've travelled to Nigeria and Georgia (the country) and seen the early days of fundraising programmes in countries with no tradition of charitable giving outside religious contexts. What's fascinating is to see how general fundraising principles apply in such markets, what is the same everywhere and what can be completely different.

A common feature, everywhere, is that charities are convinced that their cause is uniquely difficult and unattractive to their country folk. "People in Nigeria/Georgia/Narnia will never give to children/old people/environment/talking animals." But then you find someone, somewhere in Narnia, actually is raising money for talking animals and doing pretty well. Not all causes are equally popular and every cultural context is different but it is striking how often a fundraising approach that works in one country is also effective elsewhere.

In Nigeria, a country that would not normally be regarded as a place where funds are raised rather than spent, ActionAid is pioneering face-to-face fundraising and direct response TV. The results are very interesting: there are not a lot of donors but the average gift is remarkably high. Georgia is starting to develop a fundraising sector led by SOS Children's Villages and local charities have been quick to follow.

Some techniques work in a very similar way in most countries they've been tried. Face-to-face fundraising is now commonplace in emerging fundraising markets such as India, Brazil and Indonesia. DRTV campaigns run by major international NGOs such as Save the Children work successfully in lots of countries with essentially the same creative approaches and formats. Digital fundraising also seems to be an area where broadly the same elements are successful in many different places.

But there are always differences and nuances in individual countries whatever the outward similarities in approach. So DRTV works in a very similar way across Europe except that celebrity endorsements are much more important in countries like Italy and Greece than in northern Europe. And Italians prefer to respond to ads by phone whereas Swedes prefer to give by text message. Indian fundraising is complicated by the idiosyncrasies of the banks so charities employ a host of men on scooters to go and collect cheques from individuals who have pledged over the phone. In every country the local cultures and context determine the messages and mechanisms that work.

Successful fundraising everywhere is based on asking for money appropriately. That's very different in Chinese culture, for example, than in Europe. But everywhere, the fundraising fundamentals are the same. The compelling and emotive proposition, a clear call to action and good stewardship and reporting back are what makes the difference between fundraising success and failure.

Probably even in Narnia.

Tobin Aldrich is a fundraising consultant and chief executive of the direct giving charity the Misfit Foundation

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