In­no­vate, strate­gize

Le­banon’s squeezed non­prof­its’ hunt for fund­ing

Executive Magazine - - Economics & Policy -

The abil­ity to at­tract do­na­tions and spon­sors is a vi­tal fac­tor in an or­ga­ni­za­tion’s sur­vival and is gen­er­ally re­garded as a full-time com­mit­ment in the non­profit sec­tor. Le­banese non­profit or­ga­ni­za­tions (NPOs) suc­ceed in this en­deavor only when they un­der­stand their au­di­ence and can en­gage them cre­atively—de­spite the many chal­lenges.

The NPO man­age­ment that Ex­ec­u­tive spoke with in Au­gust all agreed that the present eco­nomic down­turn has made it in­creas­ingly chal­leng­ing to raise funds, as char­ity spend­ing is of­ten the first thing to go when belts are tight­ened and bud­gets cut. Fady Ge­brane, pres­i­dent of road safety aware­ness non­profit Kun­hadi, says that his lat­est bi-an­nual Taxi Night—a ma­jor fundrais­ing and aware­ness event for the or­ga­ni­za­tion, held most re­cently on Au­gust 6—was only able to ac­quire two spon­sors will­ing to fork over the full amount of $10,000 each, whereas pre­vi­ously the or­ga­ni­za­tion av­er­aged five spon­sors per Taxi Night.

To main­tain their fundrais­ing tar­gets, NPOs are be­ing forced to put in much more ef­fort than was nec­es­sary a few years ago. “If we have a spe­cific cam­paign that re­quires get­ting spon­sors, in­stead of tar­get­ing, for ex­am­ple, 10 [po­ten­tial spon­sors] to get two, we’re tar­get­ing 50 or 60 to get two,” says Nis­rine Tan­nous, the fundrais­ing man­ager of the Chil­dren’s Can­cer Cen­ter of Le­banon (CCCL).

An­other chal­lenge is the in­creas­ing num­ber of NPOs vy­ing for fund­ing from the same lim­ited num­ber of cor­po­rate spon­sors, mak­ing it harder to se­cure the nec­es­sary funds for projects and op­er­a­tional ex­penses. Marie Mu­rac­ci­ole, direc­tor of the non­profit Beirut Art Cen­ter (BAC), ar­gues that the sit­u­a­tion has changed since the cen­ter first opened its doors in 2009: “[Spon­sors] don’t give only to the arts, and also there are many [more] places now.”

There was a be­lief among some of those in­ter­viewed by Ex­ec­u­tive that the mar­ket for do­na­tions and NPO spon­sor­ships was tight due to the eco­nomic sit­u­a­tion, and get­ting even tighter due to new NPOs en­ter­ing the fundrais­ing fray. This, how­ever, was not a uni­form be­lief. As an early player in the sec­tor, CCCL has 16 years of fundrais­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and, ac­cord­ing to Tan­nous, con­fi­dently see it­self as a pi­o­neer and a model for other NPOs. More­over, more NPOs does not au­to­mat­i­cally trans­late into greater com­pe­ti­tion for the same donors. Board mem­ber and trea­surer of men­tal health NPO Em­brace, Omar Ghosn, ar­gues that, thanks to the broad di­ver­sity of needs that are not met by the state, there is room to launch a va­ri­ety of fundrais­ing ini­tia­tives. In­stead of hav­ing to face di­rect com­pe­ti­tion from larger, more es­tab­lished NPOs, Em­brace, which was launched in 2017, is able to at­tract spon­sors in­ter­ested in its niche area of work—there are only two or three other NGOs in Le­banon fo­cused on men­tal health, he says.

Sev­eral of those work­ing in the non­profit sec­tor al­lo­cate some blame to the gov­ern­ment, ei­ther for the lack of sup­port for the sec­tor from the Min­istry of So­cial Af­fairs, or for the gen­eral mis­man­age­ment of funds due to cor­rup­tion. For those with­out con­nec­tions or wasta, any reg­is­tra­tions or re­quests are pro­cessed at a frus­trat­ingly slow pace. Re­lat­ing the ex­pe­ri­ence of the sui­cide pre­ven­tion helpline that Em­brace es­tab­lished in Septem­ber 2017, Ghosn says that ev­ery­thing takes so much time, and that the launch was

de­layed by as much as nine months “be­cause of pa­per­work that doesn’t re­ally make sense.”

KNOW YOUR MAR­KET

As Le­banon is a small mar­ket, there are not many large lo­cal cor­po­ra­tions that of­fer spon­sor­ships, which is an ad­di­tional chal­lenge for those on the hunt for fi­nan­cial as­sis­tance. More­over, sev­eral of those Ex­ec­u­tive spoke with were skep­ti­cal of the phil­an­thropic na­ture of such spon­sor­ships, as they be­lieved that Cor­po­rate So­cial Re­spon­si­bil­ity (CSR) was of­ten used as a mar­ket­ing ploy. Ge­brane of­fers one ex­am­ple of this, in which Kun­hadi ap­proached a potato chip man­u­fac­turer to spon­sor ed­u­ca­tional con­fer­ences in schools. The man­u­fac­turer agreed, on the con­di­tion that his prod­ucts be taken into the schools. He ended up fund­ing the con­fer­ences once Ge­brane was able to prom­ise his prod­ucts would be taken to 80 per­cent of the schools.

One ob­vi­ous tar­get for any NPO is to ob­tain spon­sor­ship from a well­re­puted fi­nan­cial in­sti­tu­tion, which in Le­banon pri­mar­ily means a bank. The banks typ­i­cally ap­pear to value the vis­i­bil­ity they can ob­tain and the good they can do with CSR, but nev­er­the­less have lim­ited bud­gets for their CSR ini­tia­tives. This means that NPOs need to ap­ply early in or­der to get a slice of the pie. “[Banks] have a bud­get that starts at the be­gin­ning of the month, or [for a] cer­tain time limit, and the bud­get for so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity [runs out] very quickly. So when you ap­ply they are like, ‘We are out of funds, we’re sorry,’” ex­plains Ghosn.

Know­ing your au­di­ence is key, and Le­banese NPOs that fundraise lo­cally re­al­ize this. So­cial events such as gala din­ners and night gath­er­ings tend to bring in the most funds for these or­ga­ni­za­tions—such as Kun­hadi’s Taxi Nights or the gala din­ners of CCCL. Tan­nous notes that, on the whole, the Le­banese are more re­spon­sive to res- tau­rants and cam­paigns in­volv­ing eat­ing out than to sports events, which are a much harder sell.

Art is an­other field that of­ten finds it dif­fi­cult to at­tract a large Le­banese au­di­ence. Mu­rac­ci­ole ex­plains that, when it comes to ac­quir­ing fund­ing, the BAC is not the most ob­vi­ous thing that comes to mind—so the cen­ter must put in ex­tra ef­fort to at­tract spon­sors. One way to do so, she says, is through fam­ily con­nec­tions, as peo­ple in Le­banon grav­i­tate more to­ward fam­ily and so­cial gath­er­ings and may take an in­ter­est in art if rel­a­tives or friends are in­volved.

Le­banon is blessed with tal­ented and creative hu­man cap­i­tal, and fun- drais­ers are no ex­cep­tion. In keep­ing with the cur­rent trend to use smart­phone apps for any­thing and ev­ery­thing, CCCL part­nered with mo­bile op­er­a­tor touch in 2015 to cre­ate the Light a Can­dle cam­paign. Users of the touch app are prompted to light a vir­tual can­dle and do­nate to the cen­ter; the amount is then added to their phone bill or—if it is a pre­paid line—sub­tracted from their credit. Af­ter 30 days, the flame is ex­tin­guished and users can re­light it and do­nate again. Tan­nous heaps praise on this project: “We are con­tin­u­ously work­ing on pro­mot­ing this, be­cause it’s a pi­o­neer­ing and new idea, glob­ally, even.”

Em­brace has been try­ing out sev­eral new fundrais­ing ideas this year, one of which was their first char­ity run­way show, and Ghosn ar­gues that cre­ativ­ity is nec­es­sary: “You can’t keep do­ing [the same] fundrais­ing events, be­cause peo­ple get fa­tigued do­ing the same thing. That’s why we tried to get creative and did the run­way fash­ion show.” To help them come up with ideas, the or­ga­ni­za­tion makes use of their vol­un­teers’ per­sonal in­ter­ests and hob­bies; a hik­ing event, for in­stance, is cur­rently in the works.

How­ever, cre­ativ­ity alone will not cut it. The ex­am­ple of CCCL shows how a strate­gic ap­proach to fundrais­ing— the NPO has a ded­i­cated fundrais­ing man­ager lead­ing a team of seven full­time fundrais­ers—can yield im­pres­sive re­sults. Ac­cord­ing to Tan­nous, CCCL’s cost of op­er­a­tions re­quires them to raise $15 mil­lion an­nu­ally, of which 75 per­cent comes from lo­cal donors and spon­sors. Other or­ga­ni­za­tions are ap­par­ently catch­ing on to the fact that suc­cess­ful fundrais­ing means more than just ask­ing the se­nior mem­bers of the NPO if they have good ideas for a fundrais­ing cam­paign and then play­ing things by ear. In an ef­fort to ex­pand and pro­fes­sion­al­ize the reach of his NPO, Kun­hadi’s Ge­brane es­tab­lished a board of trustees for the or­ga­ni­za­tion this year, with the pur­pose of in­creas­ing fi­nances. These board mem­bers, he says, have proved valu­able due to their so­cial net­works and wealthy friends.

The an­i­mal wel­fare or­ga­ni­za­tion Beirut for the Eth­i­cal Treat­ment of An­i­mals (BETA) con­stantly strug­gles to come up with the $45,000 they need monthly in or­der to con­tin­u­ously feed and treat the hun­dreds of an­i­mals in their care, ex­plains board mem­ber Sevine Fakhoury. To im­prove the fundrais­ing en­vi­ron­ment in Le­banon, she notes: “I would say that it’s all about ed­u­ca­tion. Peo­ple need to know about civic en­gage­ment. Ev­ery­where in the world, civic en­gage­ment is on your CV even; it’s a plus and it’s some­thing that you can help out the whole coun­try with and ben­e­fit your­self as well.”

While it is never an easy task for NPOs to ac­quire fund­ing and still have enough time to fo­cus on achiev­ing their mis­sion, the cur­rent eco­nomic en­vi­ron­ment in Le­banon has made it an even greater chal­lenge. As NPOs try out new meth­ods and are stretched to the lim­its of their cre­ativ­ity, it may be in their best in­ter­est to spend some more re­sources on hir­ing pro­fes­sional fundrais­ers in or­der to be­come more cost ef­fi­cient in the long-run.

Know­ing your au­di­ence is key, and Le­banese NPOs that fundraise lo­cally re­al­ize this.

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