Balancing fundraising needs with program work in the developing world
From ANIMAL PEOPLE, June 2008:
Last year after forwarding our annual accounts to Animal
People for inclusion in your annual Watchdog Report on Animal
Charities, I received a stinging e-mail from editor Merritt Clifton
pointing out that if we wished to survive we simply had to invest
more money in fundraising and marketing. He pointed out that
successful charities usually reinvest between 20% and 30% of their
income on such activities.
Whilst accepting the validity of this statement, I pointed
out that as a small foundation working in the third world, we like
many others depend almost entirely on a few volunteers to do the
work, and with increasing demands on our resources, every cent we
raise goes directly to assisting the animals we help. Working in a
poor community, we are almost entirely reliant on overseas donors.
Although there are many wealthy expatriates living in our region,
most are interested only in making money, not in helping animals.
We would love to employ a high-powered marketing manager on a
six-figure salary, but unfortunately if he did not deliver, that
would be the end of the foundation.
Clifton pointed out that most major donors would never
consider donating to charities that operate in such a fashion. My
question is why not?
Every organization must start somewhere. In our case it was
three concerned individuals who under five years ago decided, with
no funding and at their own expense, to try to do something about
the suffering street dogs and cats in Phuket, Thailand.
Today, having spent virtually nothing on advertising and
fundraising, but through the sheer hard work of a few committed
people, one of whom was recently named an Asian of the Year, often
working seven days per week and 14 hours per day, we have now
sterilized over 18,000 dogs and cats on Phuket alone, producing a
reduction in the street animal numbers here.
We employ two full-time vets, run one of the best animal
shelters and hospitals in Southeast Asia, have an education program
where local children are taught how to care for animals and the
importance of sterilization, and are now expanding our clinics into
other areas of southern Thailand, where previously dogs in particular
were simply culled through poisoning and drowning.
Yes we still operate on a hand to mouth basis, but we are
recently getting support from individuals who have told us they have
lost faith with large societies. One told me that the organization
she helped had refused to send promotional material because the
trash-and-treasure market where she planned to raise funds was not in
keeping with their image!
Getting any financial assistance from the big boys is
virtually impossible. Most don’t even reply to requests for
assistance. What I find hard to accept is that whilst they will not
give financial assistance to our education program, because it does
not fit their criteria, and insist on expenses being covered before
sending someone to provide training, we often receive invitations to
attend conferences in exotic locations at expensive prices.
Sorry, but I do not feel our donors would be happy about us
spending thousands of dollars on flights and accommodation to attend
a conference at the expense of helping the animals here.
I can hear people now saying “Yes, but that is how you
network and maybe get donations.” Sorry; I am not prepared to
gamble the lives of what would be the equivalent of hundreds of dogs
on the chance somebody may donate some money at one of these events.
My conscience would not allow it.
Our ambition is to expand throughout Thailand and I accept
that this is unlikely to happen unless some wealthy individuals
donate enough for us to be able to appoint skilled marketing people.
But at least I can sleep at night knowing that the old lady in the
U.K. who sends us a ten-pound check every year from her Christmas
pension bonus need have no fear that her money is not actually going
to help an animal, and instead paying for a fancy hotel room on an
expense-paid visit to the other side of the world, that often
results in little or no action.
Soi Dog Foundation
c/o 57/61 Laguna Golf Villas
Moo 4, Srisoonthorn Road,
Phuket 83110, Thailand
Merritt Clifton replies:
Most charities in every nation and every field “depend almost
entirely on a few volunteers to do the work.” This does not exempt
them from the need to dedicate 20% to 30% of their budget–both in
time and money –to raising the resources necessary to continuing
their mission. The need to raise funds to sustain a charity is as
much a reality as the need of an animal to find food.
The affluence of the location or abundance of the habitat is
a factor in survival, but so are resourcefulness and adaptability.
Proudly proclaiming that “every cent we raise goes directly
to assisting the animals we help” is like proudly proclaiming that
one eats every scrap from one’s field, without either saving any
seeds or selling enough produce to buy seeds. Parables and
admonitions about the necessity of reinvestment are incorporated into
the teachings about charity in every major religious tradition, for
example the story Jesus told about the rich man who gave each of his
servants a sum to invest, and religion is the oldest and still
largest branch of charity, often thriving in even the poorest
Every church or temple–and Phuket is famous for temples–is
a monument to successful fundraising. Fundraising for animal
charities is much like raising funds for religion, especially in
that the major motivations for giving include seeking peace of mind
and benefits to self-image, with the reward often envisioned but
As in religious fundraising, one may build on local myth and
tradition, or on current events, but either way, success depends
on convincing people that donating will making them feel better about
themselves and the future, whether the goal is going to heaven,
escaping hell, or simply walking down the street without seeing
hungry animals suffering from untreated injuries and mange.
The problem of potential donors being “interested only in
making money, not in helping animals” is just a matter of developing
stronger persuasive ability. Globally, being seen as
animal-friendly is a money-making strategy, visible in television
advertising in almost every nation, even where there are few
functional humane societies and is little charitable tradition. Many
highly materialistic and self-interested people are major animal
protection donors, along with many of the most altruistic, because
someone has convinced them that becoming known as a donor is to their
This does not take a “high powered marketing manager on a six
figure salary.” Indeed, the most successful fundraisers I know are
dogs, some of whom successfully work people for handouts who never
give a thing to anyone else–and some of those dog are among the
ugliest mutts in creation, who have nonetheless mastered winning
My standard conference address about fundraising is titled,
“Learn from your dog,” because the average dog is born knowing more
about fundraising than most fundraisers will ever learn. Dogs will
eagerly teach what they know, if one only pays attention. They will
approach anyone, at least for a sniff, and are rarely deterred by
Major donors of either the self-interested or highly
altruistic sort will usually expect a charity to practice effective
re-investment in fundraising because major donors are people who have
earned lots of money, and earning lots of money requires appropriate
investment in promotion.
“Consider the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither
do they spin, yet even Solomon on his throne was never arrayed in
their splendor,” because flowering plants evolved as a demonstration
of the importance of successful advertising.
Concerning conferences, the animal charities in the
developing world which have experienced the most rapid growth in
recent years, building the most successful programs, are almost
without exception those whose founders attend at least one major
conference per year. Few actually obtain donations or grants at such
events. What they do is learn tactics and techniques, make
contacts, and give potential sources of assistance a sense of who
they are. This becomes the basis for developing the confidence in a
mission or program to later win funding, material aid, publicity,
and useful introductions, which are often the most useful help of