i

A Tree and Coins in a Hand 

Credit: Kadek Bonit Permadi

Responsible fundraising: moving from discussion to action

3 August 2022
Author: Zoe Abrahamson

Late last year, Bond hosted an exploratory discussion with INGOs and their partners on how organisations can fundraise more responsibly, in a way that supports locally led development and both local and community-based organisations.  

The appetite and need for change were apparent and led to us launching our Responsible Fundraising series, which brought together a group of fundraisers wanting to change how they raise funds but not feeling entirely sure about the “how”.  

Having now reached the end of the series of workshops, we are keen to ensure the conversation and evolution of our sector’s approach to fundraising doesn’t stop here.   

What we did: building a group of willing participants and inspiring speakers

We knew that we wanted to run the series differently from our normal webinars. It was not about saying “this is how you become a responsible fundraiser”, but rather providing the spaces for the participants to have conversations, ask questions and then guide them to work it out themselves. We realised quite quickly that it was going to be a personal journey, and though some participants enjoyed this style, others struggled with it. They wanted to know the answers immediately and we could not give it to them.  

We brought together a range of inspirational speakers who were all doing things differently in their own right, from Farida Makame and Corina Pickering from Restless Development who spoke about how they are making changes to their fundraising and not waiting for funders to change, to Yessenia Soto from Civicus and a social activist who spoke about how we can be better partners and allies to grassroots activists when fundraising. Finally, we heard from Maureen Cherongis, Patrick Malachi and Rachel Erskine who spoke about a recent Amref project that piloted a new approach to fundraising, putting local communities in the lead, which proved to be both the right thing to do and improved their fundraising results.   

The participants were put into groups, and these were the groups that they stayed in for the entire journey. They built strong relationships which allowed them to challenge, support and learn from each other throughout the series and beyond.  

During the final session, we brought everyone back together to unpack and share the conversations they had had in their groups and offer space for them to support each other, reflect and develop their own action plan and next steps.  

What did we learn?

The feedback from our Responsible Fundraising series was overwhelmingly positive. People felt they had been taken on a valuable learning journey and had the power to change how they fundraise. In the final session, the participants made commitments on what they would do next, which included supporting high-value fundraising with colleagues and partners based outside the UK, delving into unfair cost recovery practices by INGOs, devolving reporting to partners and country offices, co-designing communications and making the funding sign-off process more locally led.  

At the start of the session, we asked the participants to rate how much power they felt they had to change how they fundraise. We had asked the same question at the start of the series, and by the end, they said that they felt like they had more power to change fundraising practices. We encouraged the participants to go back to their organisations, have the necessarily and potentially challenging conversations needed and make changes to how they and their organisations fundraise.  

There were also things that we learnt.  We had challenges with maintaining the number of participants, especially those based in lower- and middle-income countries. We suspect this is because there may be other priorities that take over. We wanted to make sure that the conversation was inclusive, but it may have been because they felt the content of each session was not obviously relevant. It may also be the case that the people who did not complete the journey simply did not see these conversations and discussions as an essential part of their job. We understand that often fundraisers move from bid to bid, or campaign to campaign, always trying to reach their fundraising targets, so they may not see these challenges as part of their role. But as one participant said: “If you don’t make the time, then you are not going to make the change.”  

One of the objectives of the series was to debunk the myth that we need to wait for funders to change, however, we still received feedback from participants that their main challenges were with the funders. Promisingly, some participants said that they wanted to run “donor dialogues” with their funders, similar to what Restless Development spoke about in their session, where they wanted to work with funders to help them understand the best way to fund. However, there were still some participants who could not see a way past funder practices. This just shows how entrenched their perception of funders being the barriers to responsible fundraising really are, and the challenge that we face as we try and shift the funding system.  

What we are going to do next

We were really pleased with how the series progressed, and the diverse group of people and organisations that we brought together. It was clear that after the series the participants felt they had the authority to return to their organisations and work to transform cultures and fundraising practices. We are going to keep in touch with participants, and we have connected them so that they can support each other. The plan is to meet again in six months' time to find out how they are progressing.  

We had originally planned to run the Responsible Fundraising series a few years ago but for a variety of reasons, it did not go ahead – which, on reflection, was a good thing. I don’t think that the sector was ready to have these conversations, but now, given the work taking place across the sector to decolonise our work and practices and shift power to communities, the time is right to have conversations about how we change fundraising. There is still a lot of work to do, but we can see there are people who really want to change and shift power and resources to those based in the countries that we aim to support.  

If you are interested in finding out more about the series and what we learned, then you can attend our session at the Power in Development Conference in September.

About the author

Zoe Abrahamson
Bond

Zoe Abrahamson is Bond’s senior funding adviser. She coordinates Bond’s funding stream, acting as conduit between funders and NGOs.