Fundraising is not about money but about who you are as an organization, about why you should be trusted and supported, – American fundraiser Ken Phillips

Ken Phillips is an American fundraiser, guest lecturer at the UCU Institute of Leadership and Management, former Head of Organizational Development for the International Federation of Red Cross Societies, founder of Save the Children US and other international organizations. He started advising NGOs in Ukraine in the 1990s and has been witnessing changes in the public sector. About fundraising, leadership and Ken's experience – read in the interview.


You have been working in the non-profit sector for more than 50 years. What major changes have you noticed over this time?

– I have two answers to this question – about what changes I have seen in the USA and what changes I have seen in Eastern Europe, including Ukraine. Most importantly, this is an extraordinary growth of competence and professionalism. Today I am looking at large organizations that have become leaders in their spheres. They are better than many businesses. They have impeccable management; they have Vice Presidents of strategic planning. I remember how 40-50 years ago, only 5 out of 100 best NGOs had their own development strategy. To date, there are 95 such organizations. Business should learn a lot from NGOs – about motivation, culture, passion for work. At the same time, NGOs should pay attention to management, fundraising, work with finances, and strategy development. In the 1990s and 15 years after Ukraine’s gaining independence, most NGOs were founded by foreign countries, foundations or donors. They created a place where people could get professional help. Public activists were professional in promoting programs, writing financial statements, reviews, but they were weak in strategizing, searching for funding and fundraising.

When you take money from foreign donors – it's the money from another country. Donors say, "We want to save children in this exact way," or "We want to do something for the environment and you have to offer us an action plan." NGOs created action plans, received money, but the strategy was proposed by the donor.

Organizations did not think about themselves. In the 1990s, they implemented quality projects but did not think about the future development of the organizations. That is why part of the donors left Ukraine and started providing help to Afghanistan, Africa or any other place whose situation was worse than the one here. Some Ukrainian and foreign NGOs have disappeared because they did not have development strategies and could not survive without foreign funds.

Today, non-profit organizations have to create their own development strategies. We must think about the organization of the working process, implementation of our plan, search for donors. The more donors we find and keep in touch with, the more donors will come to us from within our own country.

I read about decentralization in Ukraine and its implementation. Now cities, districts, villages have got money and local authorities can decide how to spend it – on road repairs, on social initiatives, or to give to a local NGO that has a professional environment and qualitatively performs its duties. More and more middle-income people are emerging in the country. They are the ones who can become benefactors, and the NGOs can find a way to get their support.


You were the Vice President of Development at "Save the Children" organization. You developed a new strategy, which resulted in doubling the profits. Tell us about it.

– This is about strategizing the entire organization, not just holding a fundraising campaign. The previous strategy was based on the collection of funds from individuals to help one particular child. It had some resource constraints. We realized that community development could be much more effective and therefore changed the assistance strategy. Instead of helping one child, we tried to help everyone. We faced a question: what will happen to the brother or sister of the child we helped? What to do with the road the child takes to go to school? How to ensure healthcare for everyone living in the region? Having adopted the new approach, we said that we were doing everything necessary for children living in the environment. An individual child was a representative for the donor, but funding was allocated to the family, infrastructure, and community development.

We used to say that a donor could save a particular child and the whole world along with this child. Now we say that you can save a child through a better support program that helps everyone in the community. And in such a way you can save the world – at least one village at a time. Donors respond: "That's great, even better than I thought." These were the big changes in strategizing that we and other organizations are using today.


 – Donor funding is just one of the ways to find money for an organization. What about crowdfunding?

– This is a quite successful way to raise funds. I know examples of organizations that work like this. They are happy with their achievements. This method of raising funds is especially popular among new, little-known NGOs that lack connections and experience in fundraising. Networking is a very important part of each organization's work. Even a small, little-known NGO can find funding and collect the necessary funds if it has a network of connections and right people.


Ukraine and the USA have different foundations for the development of civic organizations. How can one country's experience be useful for the other?

– When HIV started to be a global problem, it did not matter where the doctor came from. You need a specialist who understands and knows how to treat the disease, how to prevent contamination. Fundraising and strategic development of an NGO is similar to the science of medicine – it is a comprehensive approach.

For example, you have to love your donors. This applies to all countries. If you receive money and then say that you no longer need the donors, they will never come back. This is for sure. Donors also care about the results of the work. It is important to show what the organization has achieved after the end of the work, what has changed in someone's life or in the environment.

Fundraising is not about money but about who you are as an organization, about why you should be trusted and supported. After 20 years of work in the US, I can say that you have begun the same story as ours. You have your own corporate fundraising history, a history of local support, many stories that are so similar to ours.


What does "leadership in fundraising" mean for you?

– This is a complex and multidimensional question. A fundraiser is an NGO's representative before the donor. The fundraiser has to go to the donor and say that all work of the organization is impeccable. What happens if your finance department cannot prepare quality financial reports? You will not succeed. Therefore, the fundraiser has to inform the executive director about this problem, has to help the finance department improve their work. In this case, leadership is the ability to make changes. And the fundraiser should see what changes are needed within the organization.

Leadership is the ability to change the attitude to work. Sometimes NGOs have to say no to certain conditions and methods of cooperation. For example, the Red Cross said that they would never take money from the companies producing tobacco, alcohol, or weapons. This is obvious – if you aim at saving lives, you cannot take money from those who kill people in one way or another. Each organization must have its own list of companies from which they will never take money.


Is there a need to create a fundraising strategy for the entire non-profit sector. Is it possible?

– Of course, this is possible. The most important thing done by NGOs is the provision of various services to people in order to improve the quality of education, control of state authorities, etc. Their actions play an important role in building civil society. Recently, one international study has shown that people need to have a permanent income to be happy – to be able to purchase quality food, housing, education, entertainment, etc. The results of the study said that a lot of money did not guarantee more happiness. Other studies show that people in poorer countries are happier much more often. When in the course of another study wealthy people were asked what made them happy, they mainly answered about money. The task of NGOs is to make the rich be humane and make them help others. One can become happy by helping others, and NGOs are the ones finding and fulfilling people's dreams and desires. Volunteering and donating let us feel better.


Interviewer Liudmyla Levcheniuk


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