Collaboration the key to increasing effectiveness of fundraising in Latin America

Daniel Yoffe and Brad Henderson

According to the Johns Hopkins Comparative Nonprofit Sector Project, CSOs in Latin America rely on income from fees and services more than in any other region of the world, with 75 per cent of their funding coming from services, 10 per cent from philanthropy and a mere 15 per cent from government. Under these circumstances, the role of fundraisers is becoming increasingly important. But are they equipped to deliver what is expected of them? Despite the high expectations of staff hired to raise money, there is a limited understanding of fundraising and the barriers that fundraising professionals face in Latin America.
The challenges
In a special workshop at the Congress, a diverse group of around 90 fundraisers from many sectors including health, housing and education from throughout Latin America discussed the challenges faced by fundraisers in the region. Although the participants' national situations were different, fundraisers in different countries clearly faced some common challenges and were able to identify some common responses to them.
Participants identified the following needs:
to develop an adequate regulatory framework for the sector;
to establish the fundraiser as a professional;
to strengthen the sector by networking and improving information flow;
to stimulate a change in organizational culture in order to create the conditions under which fundraising can flourish.
A key linking theme was the importance of fundraisers working both collectively among themselves and in collaboration with other organizations to overcome the challenges they face.
Legal framework
Problems here include the lack of tax incentives for donations, regulatory reporting requirements and the registration process for CSOs. In some areas of the region, national or regional governments provide a more agile and responsive framework for CSOs, but these examples are not promoted throughout the region. There is a need for coordinating and sharing such good practice as exists so that fundraisers can present the tested alternatives and options to their representatives.
A culture of responsibility
There is a widespread belief that it is the responsibility of the state and the church, rather than individual citizens, to tackle the problems of communities. This belief has hindered efforts to involve people in volunteer activities and increase individual and corporate giving to social causes. Furthermore, this attitude is reinforced by governments, which seek to control CSOs rather than enabling them to respond to society's needs. The promotion of civic responsibility is an important first step in building a culture of philanthropy and fundraisers need to partner with other like-minded organizations to promote this cultural change.
Accountability and transparency

The government's lack of trust in the sector has led to a reduction in public trust. There is a commonly held belief that neither governments nor CSOs exercise adequate stewardship of public resources, which discourages individuals from supporting CSOs more generously. Proof of accountability, as well as a gradual building of trust, must come from the sector.
Corporate social responsibility (CSR)
Although CSR is fashionable, so far there has not been a significant difference in the relationship of businesses to the sector or in the amount of funds raised from them.
Organizational culture resistant to change
Board members and senior executives are not providing strong examples of philanthropic leadership. Few donate money to their organizations or 'open doors' for staff to request donations. Fundraisers are under pressure to produce short-term results, and when they try to convince leadership to invest time and financial and human resources to generate greater results, they have limited success.
The scarcity of professional fundraisers, coupled with generally weak CSO management capabilities, creates poorly managed fundraising campaigns that in turn reinforce a conception that fundraising 'doesn't work' in Latin America.
There is also a general lack of information about what reasonable performance expectations are for a fundraiser. Since development activity is relatively new for CSOs, many lack the benchmarks to measure the success of their programmes. There is a perception that the larger, well-known CSOs are unwilling to share best practices with colleagues in other organizations, since competition rather than cooperation between organizations is the order of the day, with organizations competing for limited resources instead of working to increase the opportunities for everyone.
Fundraisers themselves must work from within their organizations to change this culture and enlist the help of funding organizations, associations and other agencies to support the transformation of fundraising in the CSO sector.
There is an important role for regional organizations such as AFP in promoting ethical fundraising and providing a forum where these concepts can be applied to practice. At this stage, there are more questions than answers: What kind of behaviour is or is not ethical? What are the rights of donors, and what is the responsibility of the organizations that receive public support? How can an ethical code for fundraisers strengthen all CSOs and the public's trust of the sector?
Professional development

Low wages and demanding working conditions contribute to high turnover in fundraising positions, and they are often held by people with limited experience in fundraising, which creates the conditions for potentially damaging, unethical behaviour. At the same time, philanthropic activities are not considered professional. In order for fundraising to be considered a profession, there needs to a standard body of knowledge, sector research and respect for such work.

All this suggests a need for ongoing education programmes, such as a Latin American fundraising diploma, which would ensure that development staff members have a basic understanding of the key concepts of fundraising. AFP, Resource Alliance and other capacity-building organizations that specialize in fundraising training are well positioned to offer this type of training. Coordination among these education providers could result in an essential curriculum for people new to the profession and advancement opportunities for more experienced fundraisers. Similarly, a cadre of fundraisers demanding more and better training will motivate the sector's providers to respond with appropriate products and services. Professional, affordable services would encourage the sector to flourish. Co-funded pilot projects, which would promote investment by commercial entities, could encourage the development of a suitable market for these services. One example is donor-management software in Spanish and Portuguese which can be adapted to fundraising needs in each country.
Equally crucial - and again something that underlined the need for collaboration - is that there are few opportunities for practitioners to share experiences and learn from one another. More opportunities need to be created for increased information flow among practitioners both within their countries and across borders. Fundraisers, whose interests are often similar, can participate as individuals in associations or work to strengthen their profession through already established organizations to which they belong.

While strengthening the profession of fundraising is important, it is critical to research and track successful fundraising practices and develop a knowledge base for the profession. This should be shared throughout the region to support and develop the profession as uniformly as possible.
Fundraisers and society cannot afford to concentrate on only some of the solutions. They must address all of these areas simultaneously to create the needed societal environment, organizational culture and human resources necessary for their work. Latin America has much to gain if they are successful: a civil society with greater and more dependable funding that can respond more proactively to the needs of communities in the various countries of the region.
Daniel Yoffe is director of Yoffe Castañeda Consultants in Mexico. He can be contacted at
Brad Henderson is AFP manager for Latin America. He can be contacted at

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