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

July 22, 2015

     By Duncan Green     

There are an extraordinary number of ‘without borders’ organizations (see here, or an even longer list here) – every possible 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.’

That 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 between 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:

‘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 (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?’