We had the immense pleasure of speaking with Anna Shepherd, Partnerships Manager at ILGA-Europe, about the journey that her organization has undertaken over the past few years to move the fundraising capacity of the LGBTI movement in Europe from institutional to small donors.
What is ILGA-Europe’s mission?
ILGA-Europe is the European umbrella organization for LGBTI rights and equality. We work with and on behalf of activists in 54 countries across Europe and Central Asia. Our work is defined by two major pillars:
Advocacy and policy- we push for more LGBTI-inclusive laws and policies at the European level and amplify the voices of our member organizations.
Supporting the LGBTI movement- we provide financial support to LGBTI activists through various granting and regranting programs as well as through capacity building, including online and in-person training, study visits for activists, coaching, and peer learning.
We play a big role in connecting the LGBTI movement and creating spaces where activists can share challenges and strategize together.
Can you describe the organizations that make up ILGA-Europe?
Our membership is large – more than 700 member organisations - and diverse, ranging from big national advocacy organizations that are well-staffed and well-funded to grassroots groups that are volunteer-led on regional and local levels. It is important to note that many of our members are working in hostile contexts where it is very difficult operationally to exist. The work can be challenging, but we are stronger when we work together as a coherent movement with shared values and in solidarity with each other. It is ILGA-Europe’s role as a movement-based organization to build collective strength and help the movement as a whole to grow stronger.
When did ILGA-Europe begin to implement small-donor fundraising?
Our own journey started 6-7 years ago in a big way. Like many other Brussels-based NGOs, we traditionally relied on institutional funding and grants from big philanthropic foundations. The organization saw the need to diversify, increase our own capacity, and be more flexible. This was the background to start building fundraising from individual donors. My job was to focus specifically on non-institutional fundraising from individual donors and gain support from the private sector.
What were some of the challenges that you faced?
The communication aspect was a challenge. When you are used to communicating in a very institutional way by writing grant applications, there is a process of learning how to communicate in a very different way. There was a need to communicate about what it is that we do, what our impact is, and learn how to speak to community members who are not involved in the work that we do in an in-depth way. We also had to develop communication that was accessible and emotional.
Another challenge was building our network and finding out who our audience was. We had to build this network and community of supporters for our work on a European level.
What were the effects of starting a program based on small-donor fundraising?
All the work to implement the program strengthened ILGA-Europe, beyond just bringing in the income. Working on the messaging, elevator pitches, and building a database of supporters greatly strengthened our organization.
We also realized that donating was something very personal to people. We can talk about the work that we do to change law and policy, but the very simple idea of having an open comment field in the donation form and looking at what messages were submitted, it was clear to us that the motivation to give and support is something very personal.
What did you learn about the motivations of individual donors?
Donating can be done in solidarity with friends and family who are LGBTI or in response to some kind of crisis situation like an attack on Pride or the LGBTI community somewhere in the region. It can also be a response to something joyous such as the victory of a marriage equality legislation or legal gender recognition passing somewhere. These are all moments where we see people support.
Individuals want to contribute to a better future for LGBTI people. That’s the motivation for people to give. Our role is to understand that and be able to communicate our work in a way that people see the connection, the impact concretely to LGBTI people [through donors].
How do you communicate with donors?
Regular communication is important as are the basic points of communications like thanking donors in a personal way and sending regular updates to people who have donated. These provide an update on what we’ve been working on, what the impact of the donors has been, as well as what we’ll be focusing on next.
It is also important for the full team within the organization to be on board, as all of our work is fundraising work. It is not only concrete fundraising asks that turn people into donors. In all our communications, supporters should feel they are on a journey with us and understand how they contribute to our goals.
What changes did you see once you started asking donors to give?
It’s been a change of culture both internally and with supporters. We’re now more comfortable talking about money. In some cultures, there is a strong tradition of giving, such as in the Anglo-Saxon culture, while in other countries there is a strong discomfort around talking about or asking for money.
When we initially started asking for money, there was a bit of resistance even from some supporters who wanted to know why we were asking. There was a process of building awareness of why we were raising money, why a European Commission grant isn’t enough, and what we can do when we have flexible resources. We had to create a culture for the people who wanted to support our organization, showing how they fuel the movement and have an important role to play.
What advice do you have for an organization that needs to enact small-donor fundraising?
Many community members are not activists or involved in activism, as not everybody has to be. Donating is a role that they can play. Fundraising is about making that opportunity available.
The most important thing to do is to give it a try and overcome the fear of talking about money. All of the steps that you take to enact small-donor fundraising will help to strengthen your organization, regardless of the money you raise. Thinking of how you frame your messages, and map out contacts, networks, and audiences is all groundwork that strengthens your organization.
For more information on the work that ILGA-Europe does, please check out these resources:
ILGA-Europe hub of fundraising resources for LGBTI organizations: link
Report and guide on individual donor fundraising in the European LGBTI movement, including some case studies: link
Report on the funding situation of LGBTI organizations across the region: link
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