Light bulb is located on soil. plants grow on stacked coins
Light bulb is located on soil. Plants grow on stacked coins

Fundraising: the challenges and opportunities of expanding our donor base

Caught in the wake of the perfect storm of Covid-19, the ensuing global economic downturn, cuts to aid funding, and rising costs, NGOs are facing increased pressure on income.

Fundraising has always been challenging, but these unprecedented times require many organisations to rethink their approach, Transparency International UK (TI-UK) included.

Part of a movement of 100+ independent chapters globally, TI-UK’s mission is to change the systems that allow corruption to happen, promote integrity and hold power to account for the common good. We work across sectors; with the British government and parliamentarians, civil society and the private sector to tackle corruption at home and to address the UK’s global corruption footprint. We also run two major global programmes, in the Defence and Security sector and in Global Health, that focus on transparency and accountability to tackle corruption and promote sustainable development.

Corruption is the root cause of many of the world’s most intractable problems. Annually, it is linked to the deaths of around 140,000 children under five and drains more than $560bn from global health systems, worsening issues like maternal mortality and hampering responses to emergencies like Covid-19. The devastating impact of February’s earthquake in Turkey, killing 31,000 people and wiping out the infrastructure of an entire region, was significantly worsened by years of corrupt planning and management practices. The UK and other western countries’ role in facilitating money laundering has helped to empower and line the pockets of kleptocrats and oligarchs, enabling situations such as the war in Ukraine while perpetuating poverty, conflict and inequity.

Despite obvious links to issues that donors are dedicated to, organisations such as TI-UK that work for long-term system change find themselves dependent on a small group of committed donors and can struggle to widen that pool.

Join our funding working group!

The funding working group is a space for Bond members to come together to learn and share experiences of relationships with funders. It is open to all Bond members and meets online for regular learning sessions.

Join the group

The causes (and solutions) are multiple:

While many donors focus on long-term system change, most funding cycles (often 1-3 years) favour short-term goals. It took TI-UK seven years of persistent advocacy – from publishing research spotlighting the impact of corruption, to working directly with civil servants to draft legislation, to publicly calling for change via the media and directly to MPs – in order to achieve significant UK legislation which helps to tackle Britain’s dirty money problem. We seek multi-year funding where we can, but we need more donors to be willing to go the distance with NGOs to enable this. Current funding cycles require short-termism, trapping NGOs on a resource-intensive hamster wheel of grant seeking, applications, and reporting.

The risks and impact of corruption are not widely understood or, worse, regarded as the ‘price of doing business’. With the wider Transparency International movement and a handful of enlightened donors and partners, we are shining a light on corruption and its risks, demonstrating not only that solutions are possible, but that they are essential to achieving global goals related to health, peace and stability, prosperity and climate change.

Increasingly, Trusts and Foundations prefer to approach their own grantees and do not permit unsolicited applications. This makes collaboration with trustees, staff, volunteers and donors to identify networks and proactive work to establish reputation vital – including time dedicated to advocacy, events, communications, and networking to raise the profile of our work and secure introductions to donors. At TI-UK, we are lucky to be working with two visionary, long-term donors who are seeking to attract new funding into UK anti-corruption and we aim to build on this approach nationally and globally.

Rightly, donors increasingly aim to directly fund organisations in the countries where they are seeking an impact. Complex global problems like corruption often require the combined specialisms and expertise of multiple organisations to deliver solutions. Partnerships are key. We seek cross-sectoral partnerships with investigative journalists, businesses, academics, policymakers, bilateral and multilateral institutions and a range of NGOs, forming coalitions to attract funding and bring about change. For example, we partnered with Open Contracting Partnerships and TI chapters in the Kyrgyz Republic, Kenya, UK, Mexico, Ukraine and Colombia to deliver an Open Societies Foundation funded project on Covid-19 related procurement.

The rapid pace of events today only intensifies these challenges. Conflict, natural disasters or destabilising political machinations can overturn the status quo all over the world virtually overnight.

Donors inevitably pivot to what they regard as the most pressing priority. This forces NGOs to be agile to remain relevant. As fundraisers, we need to constantly ask ourselves what role does our mission have to play in this new reality?