‘Act on facts, not on feelings’ – the future of fundraising
The Public Good Centre, known as the Blagosphere, has hosted a series of discussions on the future of fundraising in Russia. Experts believe that many people are willing to donate to good causes but are reluctant to give if they feel the objectives of a given project are not clearly defined.
Speaking at the discussion ‘The future of Fundraising in Russia’, Executive Director of the Association of Fundraisers, Maria Dolgolenko, said, ‘Digital technology is not being properly used to serve the interests of the charity sector. Nowadays every service is data-driven, fundraising should be no different. We must provide more seminars and webinars to show NGOs the most effective ways of raising money.’
Chair of the Charitable Foundation We Need Help, Mitya Aleshkovsky, commented, ‘Only a few years ago many people were afraid to enter their bank details onto payment sites when buying online, nobody then imagined that we would soon be confident to make regular online payments to charities. These security issues are no longer a concern. We recently had a request from a donor to deduct money directly from his credit card on a monthly basis without him making out any formal instruction, just because he had once made a donation to one of our approved charities listed on our portal. We had to explain to him that we were technically unable to do that and that he would have to set up the transfer himself.’
Money from the Government
One of the criteria for assessing presidential grant applications is the element of co-financing for the project. If in 2017 the average proportion of co-financing for a project was just under 60%, by 2018, based on the results of two tenders, this figure had risen to 70%. Igor Sobolev, an advisor to the Presidential Grants Foundation, noted that the average amount of money requested is falling to a similar extent. He concluded, ‘Through a process of trial and error, NGOs are becoming increasingly successful with their grant applications. A quarter of applications are successful on their third attempt but they are usually rejected on the first or second attempt.
Igor Sobolev said that NGO leaders have come to realise that the more successful applications are the ones where the exact benefits of the projects are clearly defined. It is expected that over time NGOs will become less dependent on government money.
NGOs often rely on fundraising to raise money for their projects. They publish books, run educational programmes, support orphans or buy equipment to provide training for disadvantaged people. These kinds of initiatives are popular with the public and tend to generate support of one kind or another.
Mitya Aleshkovsky added, ‘Fundraising now belongs to the people and they are raising the money that is needed for good causes.’
However, as Yegor Yelchin, Head of the School of Crowdfunding Platforms Planeta.ru remarked, social welfare initiatives tend to dominate our platforms, even though the system does not favour them over other projects. We have analysed the data of the grant applications we approve and see that they fall into six broad categories: social welfare, cinema, video, animation, music, books and general charity projects. Most users of Planeta.ru turn to us after trying other platforms and tend to have a specific project in mind.
Yelchin stressed that crowdfunding projects are a product just like any other; they need to be properly planned and involve the right people. Unfortunately, in Russia there are not enough people who are expert in fundraising.
Shortage of experts
Chair of the Charitable Foundation We Need Help, Mitya Aleshkovsky, observed, ‘Many NGO leaders face the same obstacle – where can I find a good fundraiser? Nowhere! They offer salaries of 200,000 roubles. You can only learn from people who have already had success in fundraising. The market is shifting, so we need to study it!’
However, Igor Sobolev takes a different view, that the responsibility for raising money should fall to the people who run the NGOs. He believes it is their duty to ensure their organisation is properly funded.
Sobolev also observed, ‘Organisations in the UK receive four times more money from the government than from private donors, and yet 74% of the heads of small NGOs in the UK still have sleepless nights worrying about where they are going to find the money they need.’
The future of fundraising
In terms of the future prospects of fundraising, everyone involved in the Blagosphere discussions stressed the importance of raising awareness among donors. People no longer want to simply transfer money to charities, they need to understand the goals and objectives that the charity is trying to achieve.
Yegor Yelchin agreed, ‘I need to be sure that the thousand roubles I hand over is put to good use. For example, I need to know that the funds raised from a festival are spent on buying furniture for a children’s home. It is important to spell out the benefits. Action must be shown to have a positive impact.’
Maria Dolgolenko, Executive Director of the Association of Fundraisers, also highlighted the importance of public relations; charities need to ensure they maintain close contact with their partners and donors.
Mitya Aleshkovsky believes that fundraising will change in line with the changes that are being seen in the running of charities. She said, ‘People do not simply want to make a donation, they want to feel that they are contributing to a proper solution, having the greatest possible impact on a particular problem. At the same time, the decisions charities make will need to be made on the basis of data, not just emotions.