Cultivating local donors: how can experienced ping pong player become new Novak Djokovic?

In November 2010 group of representatives from nonprofit organizations that support local philanthropy development from Western Balkan countries has met to discuss the strategies for further development of the philanthropy in our countries. Trying to describe the obstacles that nonprofit organizations have while organizing local fundraising activities, I used analogy – person with very good ping-pong playing skills that is trying to play tennis. Being quite good and experienced in playing ping-pong – as nonprofits are in writing proposals, maintaining good donor relations and implementing projects funded by the international donor agencies – does not qualify us much in becoming new Nole in tennis – that is being good in local fundraising strategies and tactics.

There are great challenges for any player that wants to win the game on the bigger and wider space – similar to challenges one faces when exchanging ping-pong table with tennis playing court. And it is a great challenge to shift into the new game after almost two decades of playing ping-pong. How’s that similar to our challenges? Well, until now we maintained relationships with few international development programs and donors (which was enough for large budgets for all activities in our annual plans); however, now, in order to be successful in local fundraising, we have to communicate with hundreds if not thousands of potential individual or corporate donors in order to get donations for our activities. And considering how much energy and resources we need to invest, the funds raised in first few attempts are often very disappointing!

It is the same analogy talking about the needs of being accountable towards the donors – if we were focused on preparation of the program and financial reports to one or few international donors (and always complaining about different formats, and hard administrative requirements), it is obvious that we need to develop quite different skills, capacities, approaches and patience if we want to report back effectively to those that supported our cause/s with donations and to open the windows of opportunity for their next (hopefully bigger) donations.

Of course, reality of maintaining good relations with local donors is not as technical as it can be concluded from descriptions above. We have to be aware that we have to move from mechanistic approaches forced by the international donor agencies and, to more human and individual relationships and approaches in communication with citizens and companies!    

Any organization that wants to be successful in local fundraising needs to work on establishing contacts with potential individual donors and carefully to work on cultivation of those relationships. In the text that follows, I’ll present some of the communication and cultivation practices of 10 local civil society organizations (CSOs) that have agreed to participate in e-survey last week. All of them have organized different local fundraising activities in Macedonia (i.e. organizing Humanitarian Concert, Humanitarian Fair, Telethon, Raffle, Silent Auction, Direct Mail Campaign, selling New Year cards or asking for donations at one-on-one meetings with local business) and are pioneers in mobilization of the local resources. 

The most frequently used communication methods (by 80% of the organizations) are those that do not cost much (publishing information on their Internet sites, or sending e-mails to individuals) or those that are available to particular organization (i.e. presenting the fundraising events at local TV stations). Only one organization has used billboards as information tool and only two were publishing ads in the national newspapers. It is indicative that only one organization has used social media (Facebook, Twitter, etc) as communication tool in their fundraising efforts.

70 % of the civil society organizations use above mentioned communication methods for follow up after the fundraising campaigns (presenting results from fundraising events on internet sites, TV stations, or sending e-mails). Between 70 and 90% of CSOs recognize given donations thorough publishing the names of the biggest donors in their annual reports, sending thank you letters or organizing individual meetings and giving acknowledgments plaques to the donors. Only one organization has published add in the national newspapers, in order to inform public about the results and to thank the donors.

We might see that while organizing local fundraising nonprofits are using well known communication activities that are being used in every day work, fragmentized approach in implementation of activities typical for the projects funded by international donors might be recognized in implementation of the local fundraising activities, too. Only 20 % from the organizations believe that involvement of the local donors in direct implementation of the activities of the organization is good cultivation strategy. There is a still very low awareness about the need of development of commitment of the potential local donors towards our own CSOs.

But there are also some promising practices of several organizations that are organizing local fundraising activities. 40 % of the organizations maintains data base of individual supporters (with up to 30 individuals) and companies (i.e. Local SOS Kinderdorf Children Village has 450 companies in their data base). 70% of CSOs have stressed that they need software for managing data-base of contacts and for support of their local fundraising activities. Several organizations are stressing that they have succeed to increase the amounts that are being given by local donors, as well as the number of people and companies that donate, in the cases when they were working closely with them, acknowledging and presenting the positive changes that their donations brought. Youth Cultural Center from Bitola in last 10 year organizes International Youth Art Festival “Bitola Open City” that is completely being supported by companies and individual donors.  

But there are also challenges for organizations that have proven to have results from their commitment and cultivation of the local donors in solving local issues. Example of the Community Foundation Focus from Veles is quite indicative. 8 years ago they started to organize traditional fundraising event – called Pitijada (Pita or Pastrmajilja is traditional Macedonian dish similar to pizza) through which they were raising funds for addressing urgent local needs. After several years, it became very popular with many donors and supporters and the municipality decided to include Pitijada as a one of the key events that promote the region around Veles. Two years ago organization of this traditional event was completely overtaken from Community Foundation Focus, and now the Povardarie Region with municipality of Veles as administrative center is organizing it as their event.

Working on cultivation of local donors as well as local fundraising has many challenges for any local nonprofit organization. Decision to start the process of addressing these challenges is definitely wise – the sooner, the better.   

Zoran Stojkovski is Executive Director of Center for Institutional Development (CIRa) which is among first organizations in Macedonia that has started to work on philanthropy development as one of its three strategic goals.. More on CIRa you can find on

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Zoran Stojkovski