There are many challenges international development organizations face. Often, they work in a context where poverty and oppression are commonplace for most members of the community, and where the lack of infrastructure, good governance, and human resources creates even more difficulties. However, for most nonprofits and NGOs, having adequate funding is still the biggest challenge of them all. For small grassroot, community-led programs like the ones our trainees are leading, it is harder still. Most communities in the developing world do not have adequate financial resources to fully fund their own social good programs, so these organizations must look outside the community for donations and other financial support. This is no easy task, and we want to invite you to spend a few minutes and put yourself in the shoes of a community leader trying desperately to fund their small, startup organization. 

What is it like?

Imagine you are from a small community in rural Togo. You already have the knowledge necessary to start fundraising, thanks to the training you received through Cultivate. This program, which was offered completely free to you (but you still hustled to find the time, and pay for internet data), gave you some great tools you needed to learn how to fundraise. Now, you must start. 

You have lived in Togo your entire life, and you have never had the opportunity to travel outside your own country and because of this, you only know about half a dozen people who live in the USA. You know you must ask your own community for support, but what the people in this community can contribute is very slim. So, you are left to pursue international funding. You write to the six contacts you have in the USA  asking for their support, but only two people respond. One person says he cannot help at this time, and another person says she can donate $250 towards your program. 

Of course, you are extremely grateful for the $250 donation, but must first find a fiscal sponsor in the USA (an organization who can accept the donation on your behalf), so that the donor can receive a tax-deduction for the donation. Most fiscal sponsors do not accept small organizations who do not have guaranteed funding, and with a budget of only $12,500 for the first year, your organization is too small to be accepted by most. Graciously, your friend offers to transfer the money nonetheless, but you know eventually you must find a better way to receive donations and keep pursuing a fiscal sponsor. 

Launching a website is too expensive for you right now, and setting it up to accept donations is too difficult anyway. You try to meet new people on Facebook and LinkedIn, but so far, it has not been very successful. To start your program, you know you must try to get a grant. Through your training and research, you have learned that donors in the USA give a lot of money to international development, but became disappointed to learn that only 2% of the $2.113 trillion given to nonprofits each year leaves the country. This 2% is distributed to about 9800 organizations, most of which are American-led organizations.  It seems like a drop in the bucket since there are an estimated 10 million nonprofits that exist around the world. But you have to try nonetheless, because while 2% seems like nothing, that is $44 billion still leaving the country to go toward nonprofits. 

Now, you start to research foundations, but find Google searches are not very effective. Your internet signal is often lost because of power outages, poor coverage, and sometimes the inability to pay for internet data, and you must start the process over and over again. Eventually, you find a handful of foundations that are a potential match for your work, but quickly learn that most of these foundations do not give startup grants or seed funding, preferring to fund well-established and large NGOs who have American-based leadership teams. Sadly, of the 113,000+ grantmakers in the USA, only a small percentage are open to funding small-scale, international programs with small budgets. So even though you spend dozens of hours crafting each grant application, wait 6-12 months for a response, you soon realize it is likely going to be a “no”. 

In the meantime, you contact various religious communities, rotary clubs, and businesses with ties to your country to see if they are willing to donate. The response rate is discouraging. You keep trying month after month, year after year, but soon, the hope and energy you started with begins to dwindle, and your project is still nowhere near getting launched. 

What You Can Do to Help

This is the reality for many of our trainees. It is discouraging to say the least. Compared to American-based international NGOs and nonprofits working in the USA with similar capacity and budgets, locally-led international programs have a significantly harder time getting launched for lack of funds. Domestic nonprofits have access to more seed grants, support from community foundations, and opportunities to network and attend events to meet individual donors or business donors. In addition, they have access to countless funding opportunities from religious institutions, rotary clubs and other civic groups, individual donors, family trusts, donors advised funds, businesses and corporations, employee match programs, and so much more. It is just not the same reality for leaders in countries that lack this type of infrastructure.

We share this with you for multiple reasons:

  • When it is within your sphere of influence, remember to facilitate funding opportunities for international development work for small, grassroots, community-led programs. Instead of focusing on what is closest to you or most familiar to you, fight the human tendency to to pick the easiest, closest, familiar choice and look much further out. The suffering of people far away is easy to dismiss, yet we should hold just as much responsibility in caring for our neighbors far away as we do for those in our own communities. We are a global, human race first and foremost, and that which separates us is secondary. To support a leader with a passion to serve and change their community, donate to our scholarship fund.
  • When asked to support an international small-scale program, recognize that your support is likely much more vital to a small organization, and consider how they likely do not have the same networks and resources of people to ask for donations as a larger, more established organization may already have. If you aren’t yet signed up, click here to receive more ideas on how to support small organizations in the future.
  • Push through your fears and hesitations, and offer to help small-scale international development programs to fundraise. Introduce them to your employer, church leader, book club, or any other group you are a part of that could donate. Create an online fundraiser and invite your friends and family to donate. If you have the experience, help the organization research grants and prepare the applications that need to be sent. If you don’t know where to start or do not yet have any connections, we have a lot of trainees who are always looking for support: find some here (the $ image below a trainee’s name links to their giving page).

We know your communities have many challenges and there is no shortage of opportunities for you to be generous locally. We are not telling you to stop. In fact, keep doing the good work of changing lives within the USA. But we also have the capacity to support international social good. Take the opportunity now to evaluate where the resources you have can be best used and create the most good, and let’s make our vision of a better world truly that – a more accessible, just, equitable global community.

-Elaine, Founder and Executive Director