What is fundraising?

Every civil society organization (or “NGO”, in the most popular) needs resources to maintain itself. Apart from corporate institutes, or family foundations, which have their own guaranteed budget, the vast majority of other NGOs effectively need to develop a specific strategy to bring in resources – mainly money – so that it is able to fulfill its mission and have a real impact on society. And it is this strategy that we call fundraising.

In theory, fundraising is the structured process developed by an organization to ask for the voluntary contributions it needs, whether financial or other resources, seeking donations from individuals, companies, governments, other organizations, etc.

In practice, fundraising means having a team dedicated to thinking up creative ideas to bring in donations, bringing the organization closer to the community, advocating that it be as transparent as possible, etc. Raising funds is, above all, having people in the organization who understand that their work is essential to obtain the resources that are so important for the NGO to have an impact and be transformative in its performance, fully fulfilling its mission.

Making a very common parallel, fundraising represents for civil society organizations what the tax area represents for the public administration (bringing the money through taxes and fees) and the commercial area for companies (bringing the money from the sale of products and provision of services).

It is, therefore, a strategic and fundamental competence for the financial sustainability of NGOs and, at least in theory, there should not be a single civil society organization without a fundraising plan and at least one professional responsible for prioritizing the subject ( except, as mentioned above, in the case of corporate institutes and family foundations, which do not need third-party resources to maintain themselves).

An area and a strategy with this specific profile, of thinking exclusively about how to bring in donations to ensure financial sustainability, only exists in civil society organizations, in what we call the Third Sector. Out there, in English, it's called “fundraising”, or “raising funds”.

As a result of the existence of this sector, there is also a specific profession, that of the “fundraiser”. The fundraiser (or resource mobilizer, or institutional development professional) is responsible for ensuring the sustainability of organizations, precisely because he works to bring in their income, their donations.

Funding, however, is not a term exclusive to civil society organizations, and there are countless other cases in which it is carried out: cultural producers raise funds for their projects (sponsorships), politicians raise funds for their campaigns voters and even companies raise financial resources to leverage themselves (in this case, they are loans).

The big difference is that only civil society organizations have fundraising as their main strategy to maintain themselves financially over time, making it something permanent, and specializing in asking for donations from individuals, companies and whoever else believes in work they do.

Raising funds for NGOs – and therefore asking for donations – is part of their raison d'être, part of their structure and what keeps them going. Capturing resources in a permanent and strategic way, bringing together donors who believe in the work they do, makes organizations have much more impact and legitimacy, and a greater possibility of achieving financial sustainability. In this way, they will always be working for a better country for everyone.

João Paulo Vergueiro, executive director of ABCR – Brazilian Association of Fundraisers, administrator, master in administration and professor at FECAP. (text published on February 2, 2016)
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