Fundraising as a unique, Dutch export product

‘Now is the time to invest in emerging economies!’ argued Marjolein de Rooij in a previously published article on this website. De Rooij, an expert in the field of international fundraising, sees ample fundraising opportunities that are not made use of in practice. In the context of the Change the Game debate the plea De Rooij makes is still relevant.

In addition to water management and human rights there is another area of ​​expertise concerning international development in which the Netherlands could make a valuable contribution: fundraising. In emerging economies such as India, Brazil, but also in countries like Nigeria, the opportunities for fundraising are unprecedented and yet untapped. Let’s use the unique Dutch knowledge of fundraising to find donors for development in these countries.

A billion dollar business

What started small once has now become a billion-dollar business. Annually, we donate nearly 2.5 billion euro to charity. The knowledge that we have gained the past decades on fundraising is extremely valuable in this regard. In the 80’s the immensely popular television charity shows made us all support Foster Parents Kids.  In the years thereafter, direct marketing was the new thing and development organisations called us for a monthly contribution.

In the late 1990’s donors were recruited on the streets with accessible stories. At the turn of the century fundraising was all about events. Every year, we cycle across de Alp D’Huez against cancer, we walk and ice skate for water in Africa and even our Queen Maxima takes swims in the canals to raise awareness for the muscle disease ALS. In sum, the Dutch have been involved in supporting development organisations in various ways for years. There is great support for the work of these organisations and although there have been some scandals; the overall trust in charities remains stable.

The experience we have gained through all of these fundraising strategies is incredibly useful. We know how to address people and which message has the most effect. All this knowledge can and should be used in developing countries. There are three important reasons I believe that support this claim:

1.     Self-Interest

Firstly, it is in our own interest to maintain the support for international development in the Netherlands. How can we explain to people that we have to pay for orphans in India if there are enough rich Indians to contribute to this issue themselves? Why do we have to pay for the fight against AIDS in Brazil if the country is rich enough to host both the Olympics and the World Cup? These are legitimate questions that need to be addressed. By mobilising domestic resources you show that the population is very much involved with development issues in their own country and that they are also prepared to make a financial contribution themselves.

 2.     Income

The second reason to raise funds locally is simple: raising more funds. As long as there are still children dying of hunger, there is still work to be done. As the Dutch development budget is slowly shrinking, new sources of revenue are to be found in the middle-class of emerging economies. Currently, 20 percent of the Indian population is middle-class, which adds up to 200 million people. Wouldn’t it be great if they used their own money to address development issues in their country?

3.      Independence

The third and perhaps the most important reason is financial independence. Currently, many local development organisations mainly implement policies that others have devised. When local organisations operate independently from their rich, Western counterparts, they can decide for themselves which projects they want to carry out and why.

Subsidies from Western donors often flow though Western organisations first and subsequently to local partners. These flows are often theme specific and decided by the Dutch government. If the Netherlands wants to focus on women’s right, funding becomes available for organisations which are committed to improving those rights. The same applies to maternal health, gay rights, female genital mutilation, etcetera. The actual needs of a country, region or community often does not play a role in these decisions. If local organisations would learn how to raise their own funds,  address the needs of their country and mobilize their followers, only then they can build a strong civil society. And only then there is sustainable development.

Exporting this ​​knowledge

The Dutch government would benefit if they would export their knowledge of fundraising to emerging economies. For many years now, capacity building and transfer of knowledge are central conditions for receiving subsidy. In the 70’s, the Dutch government sent engineers and agricultural experts to Africa and Asia, often as volunteers, to build the capacity of local people in this field. The transfer of knowledge later became a key component of all major development programmes. Water, sanitation, health and education, are all areas where capacity building is essential. At the beginning of this century, this was extended to management and organisational skills. Local organizations now also learn how to prepare financial reports and get training in the field of management and organisation.

Isn’t it about time that local organisations learn how to inform their own supporters and involve them in their work? How do they ask for funds to support local projects? What is the best way to raise funds and which method is the most promising?

In order to achieve sustainable development, countries have to operate as independently as possible. There are three elements which are essential: government, business and civil society organizations. It would be great if the new Minister for Foreign Trade and Internal Development would offer civil society organizations the opportunity to become independent and learned to stand on their own two feet. With a unique, Dutch export product, it is possible!

Marjolein de Rooij

11 augustus 2014