A little help here!

Dear Kim,

I have been charged with fundraising for our program in a community in which 80% of the population live in abject poverty, and which is not on the radar screen of international funders. Our whole country suffers from persistent poverty and everyone can make a good cause for their non-governmental organization. The environment, schools, people of all ages–all are in terrible need. What can I do to raise money for my organization under these circumstances?
—Stuck for Ideas

Dear Stuck,

Your situation is the most confounding for fundraisers, and I will not offer any magic answers or pretend that there is any easy fundraising solution. It will not be news to you that the problem that must eventually be addressed is the profound (and rising) inequality between rich and poor, and the structures that promote that inequality. I do have a few suggestions that have worked in situations like yours. They depend for success on persistence and some luck.

First, identify any people you know (that is, they know you and you could contact them) who have moved away from your community and done well. Ask all these people for a donation and for their help identifying other possible donors in their new circle of friends. For example, there are more Jamaicans in New York City than in Jamaica. Many Jamaicans send money back to their families and are in contact with people in the places where they grew up. One nonprofit organization in Jamaica built a small donor base by asking people from their community to add them to their remittance payment: “Will you consider sending an extra $10 to us the next time you send money to your family?” Families began to ask relatives in the USA for donations for this local organization. Although the total amount they were able to raise is small, it is a continuing and growing source of money. In another instance, a man from Kenya sponsors a dance party once a year with proceeds going to his old school in Nairobi. Remember that people are more likely to give when they are asked, and rarely give when they are not.

Second, consider the concept of “Sister City” projects. Many cities in the world have sister cities in the United States. Now some nonprofits are taking up this concept-I know of an environmental organization here that has a sister environmental organization in Belize. The organizations have values and goals in common, and once a year the organization in the United States writes to its donors on behalf of their “sister” organization for an extra donation for that group. Or, on a larger scale, an organization here could sponsor a speaking tour for someone from the sister city to talk about the issues they face. Sometimes organizations share the proceeds from such an effort, and many organizations have found that they can increase their own visibility and donor loyalty while also raising money for their “sister” nonprofit.

These relationships can also be promoted virtually on a website. Perhaps I can “visit” the rhino sanctuary or the nursing home online from the website of an organization I already support. When I do, I would be invited to make a special donation to this very important cause in addition to the support I am already giving the local organization.

My final suggestion, though by no means the end of all possibleideas, is to think about working together with other non-governmental organizations in your community. I know it seems strange for poor organizations to team up for small available funds, but the energy and thoughts of three or four organizations working together can create many fundraising opportunities. For example, I know of an organization working with disabled youth that found out that the hospital serving their area buys its sheets, curtains, gowns and the like from a company far away. This organization offered to make the needed items for less money if the hospital would front them the money for sewing machines and fabric. Although this group knew nothing about sewing, they recruited some knowledgeable seniors from a local organization serving seniors to teach the kids in their organization how to sew. As business grew, single mothers were also employed; to care for these women’s children, a local school provided childcare as a service they offer to make money.

Ultimately, these grassroots fundraising strategies can raise money, but more importantly, they can arouse people who then begin to organize to address the root causes of their own poverty, environmental destruction, lack of health care, or poor public schools. From this organizing will come the structural changes that need to be made.