Finding the Right Formula for Fundraising Success

By Hugh Doulton, Technical Specialist

Fundraising is always one of the most difficult challenges for any conservation organization. African organizations are confronted with even more constraints when it comes to successful fundraising, such as developing convincing grant proposals in a second or even third language, or nurturing relationships with potential funders who are often based far away and come from very different cultures. Local organizations can struggle to out-compete larger, western organizations that employ dedicated fundraisers and have much easier access to funders.

Over the past 18 months I have been working to support a number of Maliasili’s partners to develop effective strategies to overcome these constraints and to develop more durable funding streams. I have been able to lean on my experience attracting partners and funders to work in the remote Comoro Islands in support of the NGO Dahari (‘sustainable’), which I created and led over the past decade. However, the past year of work with Maliasili was largely a learning process about the fundraising challenges our partners face, and figuring out how best to support them.

A key milestone was a fundraising workshop Maliasili held in Arusha in November that brought together senior staff from several Tanzanian partners to reflect together on how to develop and improve their funding strategies. Those organizations enjoyed being able to meet and learn from each other, sometimes for the first time, and we plan on using more of these group trainings to improve our support to partners.  

From all of this work with partners in both Kenya and Tanzania, I think there are four key behaviour changes that our partners and similar organizations could absorb to become more effective in their fundraising:

  1. Develop fundraising strategy based on an objective assessment of skillsets. The key skills for fundraising are proposal development and relationship development. Organizations will waste effort and risk complete failure if they target funders based on a misunderstanding of their skills and relative strengths. Many very successful African NGOs get around weaknesses in either or both of these areas through key fundraising partnerships, and developing those partnerships should be a priority.

  2. Concentrate first on current funders. In many cases these are one’s most likely next funders, and if they are not, will serve as key business cards for new funders. Evaluating what one can do to improve relationships with these funders, and negotiating with those that could increase the duration and amount of their grants, will pay dividends and save the heavy time investment needed to find new funders.

  3. Relationships are just as important as proposals. Whilst competitive funding bids will form the basis of many organizations’ fundraising, it’s easy to get stuck in a mentality and comfort zone of sitting in an office and writing proposals. Getting out there and developing targeted relationships is just as important in winning new grants.

  4. Don’t chase the money- be willing to say ‘no’! Too often organizations put their medium-term financial security at risk by taking on too many or inappropriate funders that divert them from their goals and/or absorb too much management time. It is critical to carefully evaluate which funders to approach based on assessing the expected returns (eg funding amount and length) and the likelihood of winning the grant, in relation to the expected costs.

Going forward, Maliasili will continue to work with all its partners to develop the most appropriate and effective fundraising strategy for each individual organization, and invest more resources in connecting funders and local organizations. Look for our forthcoming 2019 publication on Strategic Fundraising with many of the ideas, tips and examples derived from our work over the past several years with our partners.

In sharing fundraising experiences with other conservation organisations I realised that diversifying our income source was very important, and a lot of fundraising is really about personal relationships and building networks and contacts with key people. We’ll be developing our fundraising strategy in the coming year and I’ll be remembering these key points as we start to plan.
— Lorna Slade, Executive Director and co-founder, Mwambao Coastal Community Network, reflecting on the partner fundraising workshop held in November 2018
Download: Fundraising Summary

Download: Fundraising Summary

Download: Management Fundamentals

Download: Management Fundamentals