Some of the most frequently asked questions (FAQs) to online forums for non-governmental organizations (NGOs) in developing countries, no matter what the subject of the forum is supposed to be (urban disasters, HIV/AIDS, maternal health, water and sanitation) , are regarding funding.
In 2004, frustrated at seeing fundraising questions from NGOs over and over and over again, and no INGOs nor UN agencies trying to answer them, I drafted a short list of basic tips for fund-raising for NGOs serving the developing world. I was an online volunteer with the Aid Workers Network then (the organization is long gone, unfortunately). Several other AWN volunteers revised the draft, and we finalized and published a version online for the AWN community. But I kept updating the document, and it grew from 15 pages to 30.
I have no idea how many people accessed the document. I tried to track it through various means, but was never successful.
I have updated the document for the first time since 2011, and instead of asking people to write me for it, so I could get an idea of how many people accessed it, I now have it ready for download from my web site. It’s now 29 pages.
But the big news is that I’ve updated it for the last time. I’m not updating it anymore.
Most of the information is timeless; the web sites in the document will change over time, the organizations cited will come and go, but the basic advice will always be valid, I hope. Also, there are so many more resources now to help NGOs with fundraising than there were 10 years ago, as any search on Google will show – this document isn’t filling an information gap like it was when it was first drafted and published.
Some things that have been surprising in the decade I’ve maintained this document, some of which are also reasons I will no longer be updating this document:
- I have regularly gotten funding solicitations via email from NGOs in the developing world because they’ve done exactly what this document says NOT to do: they’ve found my name in association with fundraising and sent me a grant proposal, unsolicited, despite the obvious fact that I am NOT a foundation. The emails aren’t even addressed to me by name; they are often addressed to “sir”, or they have 10 other emails listed in the “to” bar.
- I make it clear that this document is for NGOs serving the developing world, yet I frequently get requests for it from nonprofits in the USA. Sure, some of the advice is universal for mission-based organizations, but the document talks about funding sources that are available only to organizations working in, say, Africa or the poorest parts of Asia and South America, sources that are NOT available to organizations in North America.
- Several people and organizations have posted the document to their web sites without my permission, despite me asking on my web site and in the document for this not to be done. When I’ve written to ask them to remove it – they often are posting an old version, not the latest – they say they had no idea I wouldn’t allow the document to be posted. Which means they didn’t bother to read even the first two pages, or, they just don’t care.
- Several people and organizations have passed this document off as their own. That hurts most of all. All I’ve asked in return for this document is credit for it – I have never asked for payment. For someone to go through it and take my name off of it and then publish it as their own, including people from at least two NGOs – it’s shameful. It’s disheartening. It contributes to a negative image of NGOs working in and for the developing world.
- I’ve never received follow up from anyone saying how they have used the document. Has it been helpful? Did it result in funding? I’ll never know.
I sound bitter. Sorry. I’m frustrated that a decade-long effort didn’t seem to do any good. If this document does make a difference for your NGO, I hope you will tell me.
Survival Strategies for Nonprofits , a guide for nonprofits facing critical budget shortfalls.