What I Learned On My Spring Vacation (Part 1)

Last week, I was part of a delegation from the Association of Fundraising Professionals, visiting non-government organizations in Brazil as People to People citizen ambassadors. Our goal was to learn from our colleagues in Brazil, a country experiencing rapid economic development, about the fundraising challenges they are facing.
First, some background – our hosts frequently mentioned that the bulk of funding for Brazilian nonprofits comes from the government and corporations. Individuals generally do not give, viewing social programs as something that the government should fund. Some organizations are beginning to build a small cadre of individual partners, and others are able to get donations of needed materials, but this is a slow change in a country that has long been Socialist.

But a number of hard-working, scrappy organizations are bringing change to men, women and children in Brazil, and slowly but surely changing the nonprofit community at the same time. Here are some lessons to challenge your thinking.

Start where the people you want to serve already are
Samba is as much a part of the Brazilian culture as rock ‘n roll is for American baby boomers. This combination of dance and music is a source of civic pride, and part of the celebration of Carnival.

Escola de Samba Rosas de Ouro (Golden Roses Samba School) works in a low-income neighborhood of Sao Paulo. Young people and adults come to the Samba School to learn to play instruments and perform, and then to be part of Escola de Samba Rosas de Ouro’s entry in Carnival. Up to 4,000 other members of the community take part in what is often a major award winner in the parade.

But samba is also a “hook” to get people to come to the community center. Escola de Samba Rosas de Ouro also offers social projects, teaching skills to help community members earn an income as hairdressers or manicurists, or from the sale of handmade items in local markets. Additionally, the neediest families receive basics like rice, beans, flour, oil and milk. During the school holidays, younger children from the community can come to Samba School and experience field trips to museums and the theater, cooking lessons and craft time, as well as receive a nutritious meal.

Bottom line: the Escola de Samba Rosas de Ouro uses something that is beloved in the community – samba – to bring people to the center, and then offers them programs that respond to their physical needs.

Several of the organizations we met with are reliant on one major source of funding – and like organizations in North America, they are finding that a stool with only one leg can be very unstable.

For some, the main source of funding has been the government (“totally unsustainable,” in the words of one of our hosts), and for others it has been corporations. Projecto Guri, a nonprofit organization that provides musical education to children and teens, was heavily funded by the government. However, as the government has cut back on its donations, the organization has been forced to lay off staff and cut programs.

What can you add to your fundraising mix that has potential to grow and add additional stability to your funding base? There’s no perfect balance, but diversification can help prevent downsizing when one funding source diminishes for any reason.

If you want something to go viral, you may have to step out of your comfort zone
SOS Mata Atlantica (SOS Atlantic Rainforest) has a goal of planting 1 million trees a year in areas that have been deforested over the decades. It is the largest environmental organization in Brazil, and has four fundraisers on staff.

SOS Mata Atlantica decided it wanted to give a positive message to children and teens about the environment (not “don’t do this,” but instead, “here’s something you can do”). Its goal was to create something that would go viral and bring a lot of attention to their cause.

The agency it was working with came back with something that, frankly, was a bit “out there,” even for the edgy staff at SOS Mata Atlantica. But they decided to take a risk – and it worked. Take a minute to watch the advertisement; you may end up laughing or shaking your head – but I think it will be memorable either way.

Do you need to take a giant leap out of your comfort zone to capture the attention of your target audience?

Next week I’ll share a few more lessons from our colleagues in Brazil. But right now, I need to go practice my samba …

Originally published in NonProfit Pro.

Author: PJBarden

With a professional career in strategic fundraising that spans more than 35 years, Pamela brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to working with nonprofit organizations. She specializes in writing fundraising copy, grant proposals, P.R. materials, instructional articles and blog entries, as well as developing and executing fundraising strategy for her clients. Pamela is a Certified Fundraising Executive (CFRE); an instructor for UCLA Extension School’s Fundraising Certification Program and the University of La Verne, College of Business and Public Management; a frequent webinar speaker; and author of two online courses for UCLA Extension. Pamela earned a Doctorate of Business Administration in 2015; her doctoral project (dissertation) was entitled “Nonprofit Organizations’ Awareness of and Preparation for Legislation, Regulation, and Increasing Scrutiny.” She is a past winner of a Gold Award for Fundraising Excellence and an ECHO Award from DMA; recipient of a Distinguished Instructors Award from UCLA Extension; a weekly columnist for NonprofitPRO (formerly Fundraising Success); and a monthly contributor to Blackbaud’s blog, npEngage.

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