Fundraising in the Middle East: How, Why and What?

People give.

Wherever you are, at whatever time in history, you will see people giving to help others. Poor people give, rich people give, young and old give.

Our role as professionals in fundraising is to mediate the giving, to help people find the cause that best fits their vision of how the world should be. We help people to structure and organise their giving, show how they are making a change to the lives of others, and stand as guarantors for the honesty and impact of our organisations.

That is what is happening in the Middle East and across the Arabic-speaking world. Ancient traditions of personal philanthropy – a cultural norm and a religious requirement – are evolving rapidly thanks to the work of philanthropists, governments and rulers…and fundraisers.

I’m giving a Masterclass with UNHCR’s Reem Abdelhamid on fundraising in the Middle East, at the International Fundraising Congress, 18-21 October, Noordwijkerhout, Netherlands


The total population of the Arabic-speaking world – the 22 nations of the League of Arab States – is 392m people (5% of the world’s population), of whom one-third are under 15 years old. Despite the horrors of war and of the forced movements of people – the stuff we see in our news media – the region is developing the social and cultural infrastructures that allow fundraising to evolve; education, taxation, financial systems, the legal and fiscal formalisation of charities and foundations, and personal wealth.

Fundraisers get a rush of blood to the head at the phrase ‘personal wealth.’ We have stereotype pictures of fabulously rich individuals dropping millions into the hands of eager fundraisers in Europe’s leading universities and museums. But that is only a small part of the story. Because personal wealth is spreading outward into a growing middle class, who are becoming the day-to-day donors of national and international organisations.


This is the third consecutive year when we have had IFC workshops or Masterclasses on fundraising in the Arabic-speaking world. Each time, we have learned a little more about how to operate in the region – and what not to do.


Reem Abdelhamid, UNHCR Advisor for Private Sector Partnerships in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, warned early in the series that the region is not a cash-machine. No-one should be planning to hit the streets of Jeddah or Dubai, raise lots of money, and head off.

As UNHCR and other INGOs have found, the Arabic-speaking world requires – just like any other region – careful research, planning, long-term investment and clear links between the donor and the social or environmental problem they are solving.


You would not treat Europe, Latin America, or Asia as one homogeneous region. The same is true of the Arabic-speaking world, where the fundraising that you might do in Kuwait is different from that you would do in Egypt. In part this is because a significant part of the region is a historic area of transit between Europe and Asia – so there are different mixtures of cultures, religions, languages, and thus of philanthropy in different states, and even in different cities. To get a clearer idea of the variation across the region, read the publications from The John D. Gerhart Center for Philanthropy & Civic Engagement at the American University of Cairo.


To make sense of the region you are going to need local help. Houssam Chahin, who has years of experience in the region first with Greenpeace then with UNHCR, stresses the importance of recruiting and developing local teams. This is no different from opening a branch in Germany or Japan; you need people who not only speak the language but who understand the culture and know the market. People who know why this Sheikha is important, and who understand why she might not want to meet you but would meet a female colleague instead. People who can cope with the contradictions that emerge in any developing market, and who can help your organisation steer its way around the legal restrictions that may appear.


In Western Europe we are used to the idea that NGOs challenge governments – campaigning for freedoms, rights and the environment. You are not going to get a warm welcome if you enter the Arabic-speaking region on a campaign ticket. Just reverse the situation and imagine a Kuwaiti foundation opening an office in Europe to campaign against – to pick a ridiculous example – vegetarianism, and you will see why. The developing states of the region have national plans and priorities, and philanthropy, especially strategic philanthropy or ‘major donors’ is often aligned to these priorities, so your fundraising is going to be aligned that way too.


The Arabic-speaking world and within that, the Middle East, is a fascinating, fast-changing, challenging environment for fundraising, with huge potential. Come and join Reem Abdelhamid and me for our Masterclass on ‘Fundraising in the Middle East: How, Why and What?’ at IFC 2016, or one of our workshops that will focus on key issues in fundraising in the region.

But do it now; there are only two places left on the Masterclass!

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Trusting Prospects

The UK has had a strange fundraising summer. It started in May with the suicide of an elderly lady in Bristol. That sparked a tabloid newspaper storm led by the Daily Mail. The newspapers claimed that the lady had jumped to her death as the result of pressure from telephone and direct mail appeals from charities. The inquest held in Bristol in September was told by the family that this was not the case.

But the media were not to be restrained by the mere facts of the case. They continued to ride rough-shod over charities and fundraising. And then the Government – led by the party that had espoused “Big Society” – waded in. In July the House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee announced an enquiry into fundraising. NCVO was asked to report, a Fundraising Preference Service was hurriedly assembled and even the normally sanguine Information Commissioner leapt into the fray with new rules on the use of the telephone.

This has not ended yet. There is to be a NCVO Summit on the future of fundraising regulation in December, and we can expect the tabloids to continue their fundraising feeding frenzy as Christmas approaches.

How should prospect researchers react? What is the best we can do for our colleagues and, above all, the people, places or causes we work for?

We know them

We prospect researchers know our donors better than almost anyone else in our organisation. We have spent time learning about their motivations and the stuff they don’t like – their objections. These may include objections to the way we manage our relationship with them. It is time to apply that knowledge answer objections that may have been inflamed by the media firestorm.

Relationship Management

We are members of the team that is managing our relationship with our donor. Right now some of our donors will be feeling a little bruised, so it is more important than ever to engage the skills of prospect researchers in cautious relationship management. Time too to remember a primary skill in research – listening to the donor.

Institutional Memory

Researchers stay longer in post then their fundraising colleagues. So we often become the repository of our organisation’s memory. Old Mrs Smith who does not want to hear ever again from our boss – they fell out 5 years ago. Or John who is having an affair with Peter who is married to Rachel in Accounts. We can’t keep that stuff in a database but we ain’t going to forget it either.

You are a Protocologist

Prospect researchers are above all people of systems. Now is the time to ensure that our systems work… for everyone. Time to review protocols and policies to make sure that they are clear to all of our stakeholders, donors included. We can be proud of our protocols because now – in the difficult moments – is when they really will make a difference, for the good.

Just About Managing

This is a new more challenging fundraising environment. It is a time for critical decisions by management, for the creation of new strategies and new models. Those big decisions have one basic need – information. Who is best placed in the organisation to uncover, analyse and transmit that information?

Yes, the prospect researcher.

Ethical Thinking

Prospect research has always been a place for ethical debate. We have to live in the grey, foggy frontier between the donor and our organisation, a place where personal values, organisational values and sometimes the law can easily be lost. That’s why we have codes of practice, and full, frank debate in our online forums and meetings. We are decent honest people doing good and we are right to question our ethics all of the time. We can apply this careful, thoughtful process of developing ethics to help our colleagues.

Data Guardian

Data rules are probably the slipperiest part of our job. They are not evolving as fast as the Internet, and so the net is full of contradictions. Prospect researchers have a clear guardian duty on behalf of the donors and supporters whose data we hold. Now, when the use of data is being questioned (ironically, by a media that survives by selling personal data…) the steady hand of the prospect research guardian is more vital than ever.

Risk and Reputation Savers

These media and Westminster attacks on our sector represent a risk. Adrian Sargeant, in a paper published this month[1], quantifies that as £2 billion in lost income by 2020. Charity reputations are on the line. These themes of risk and reputation are central to prospect research. We know how to do reputational research. We measure risk whenever we assess a prospect. Now we have to apply those skills to help our own organisations to reduce risk and safeguard reputation.

And Research, Of Course

In these shifting sands – it is not at all clear that there is a policy behind any of these rushed reforms – your colleagues need your research skills more than ever. Not to write another profile – although that as well – but to track what is happening in the sector, in the media, and in the Government so that your organisations can be ahead of the curve. Or at least ahead of the Mail.

In the end this summer’s discontent with fundraising is about trust, as is so much in our non-profit sector. We prospect researchers can rebuild trust one donor at a time by explaining our systems and our methods with honesty and transparency. In the end that transparency and honesty will win over the sensationalism of the press and the knee-jerk tabloid policies of Westminster. Remember that according to Mori[2] research only one person in five trusts a journalist to tell the truth and just one in six trust a politician.

Prospect researchers are central in rebuilding trust in non-profits. We are a central link in the chain between a donor who wants to do good and a beneficiary who needs that help. We’ve got a job to do. Let’s do it.

[This blog is based on the talk I gave, 23rd November 2015, to the Researchers in Fundraising annual conference. My presentation is at ]


1. Fundraisers’ perceptions of fundraising regulation reform and the Fundraising Preference Service, Results of a survey conducted by the Plymouth Charity Lab, Prof Adrian Sargeant, Rogare/Plymouth University, Nov 2015.
2. Ipsos Mori, Trust in the Professions, 2015.

Philanthropy in the Gulf – Reporting from Takaful 2015

I am at Takaful 2015 in Abu Dhabi, the conference on philanthropy organised annually by the Gerhart Center, American University of Cairo. It is a fascinating insight into how philanthropy functions in societies in transition – a single frame in a long movie whose end we cannot see.

The big theme on day one of the conference was youth. Defined here as anyone under 35, youth were the focus of the keynote speech by Sheika Al Zain Al Sabah, the head of the Ministry of Youth Affairs in Kuwait. She described how the ministry is working as a lightning conductor for the views of young people in the country. It was the educated younger people of these societies in transition who led the demonstrations and protests of the Arab Spring, and Kuwait has responded by creating a Government department, led by a young member of the Royal Family, to channel their views into policy. Young people were also the focus of a presentation by Lina Hourani, Director of CSR at Al Ahly Group (, who run 10 day training courses for young social entrepreneurs – next year they run the course at the University of Bristol.

Venture philanthropy is present in the region, and Khulood El Nawas, Chief Officer for Sustainability, Emirates Foundation ( described their four-stage Incubate – Pilot – Scale – Spinoff model for developing programmes. The big gap for them and other speakers was the lack of data – baseline data on young people was absent or unreliable, so measuring impact was difficult or impossible.

The traditional forms of giving are evolving rapidly in these societies, and Omar Bortolazzi of the University of Bologna ( described the ways in which awqaf (endowed foundations) are changing in Muslim countries in South East Asia, where donors can give through the internet to “e-waqf” set up for a variety of charitable purposes. Dr Youcef Benyza from the University of Batna, Algeria ( tackled the governance of Zakat funds. Zakat (, the third pillar of Islam, is a form of religious giving based on income and assets such as savings that are not being circulated. In Algeria each mosque collects zakat and passes the money up to a regional zakat office, who report to a government sponsored zakat agency. The process lacks transparency (there is no auditing, and no public reporting) and as a consequence there are regular newspaper reports of corruption in the system. But there is also strong resistance to reform because the funds are regarded as sacred and thus outwith the realm of government or auditors.

I ran a workshop on building partnerships with philanthropic foundations, where we talked about some of the barriers in the region to partnering with outside agencies. In some parts of the region there is suspicion of external funding partners (from Europe or the USA) and there is also a strong sense that regional nonprofits should be raising funds in their own countries, not depending on outsiders. There are legal constraints too – sometimes not clearly defined – that make it hard for organisations here to accept financial support from external partners. But there is a real interest in sharing expertise and knowledge, so we focused on building partnerships at the technician (specialist, expert) level; nonprofits here have developed clever ways of dealing with social problems, and I am looking forward to hearing today (Thursday) about the Wataneya Society for the Development of Orphans (, who developed a quality standards scheme as a way of improving the conditions for the thousands of children in Egyptian orphanages.

8th Festival del Fundraising – Italy

In Italy there is no fundraising “conference” – no dull meeting of people saying the same old, same old.

But there is a Festival. The Festival del Fundraising took place this year on the shores of Lake Garda, near Verona. With 650 participants it was bigger this year than ever before, and it launched the festival mood with “Fundraiser’s Got Talent” an opening session in full Italian TV-show style. This is a young and growing fundraising market with a strong backbone of training, thanks to the Masters in Fundraising offered by the University of Bologna. This year there was an invited group of students from the Columbia University MSc in Fundraising Management, so the conversations in class and around the bar were cross-cultural: everyone learned from each other.

Italy’s NGOs, universities, arts and cultural organisations are increasingly looking to fundraising for growth. The Italian state is cutting back, and there is a hunger for doing more and better. Leading NGOs have focused in the past on direct mail marketing but many are developing DRTV and new media methods, and a few are focusing on strategic (major) donors.

I gave a master class on foundations in Europe. The Italian foundation sector is significant – the largest in Europe by assets. [See figure]

Assets and Spending by European Foundations
Assets and Spending by European Foundations

Why so large? Principally thanks to a handful of mega-foundations created when the Italian Government split the huge regional savings banks which had previously carried out a mixed banking and social role, into banks, and foundations. Thus the Fondazione Cariplo has €7.7 billion in assets, while Fondazione CRT, built from the old savings bank of Turin has €2.2 billion. These huge foundations are relatively easy to find but the rest of the sector remains a mystery. There are thousands of foundations in Italy including family and church foundations which are almost completely invisible, and certainly do not have the type of glass pockets that would be expected amongst US or UK foundations.

The lack of transparency amongst strategic donors was a common theme in the conference – many donors do not want their name published nor their gift known. There are many reasons for this including, according to one speaker, the Catholic culture of separating philanthropy from the rest of one’s public life. This tendency to secrecy has been exacerbated by a new tool being used by the Italian tax authorities for measuring individual wealth: part of the measure is how much you give to charity. If you give a lot it is assumed that you have a lot, and people of wealth are concerned that this will mean they end up paying a lot more tax.

There are also problems of recruitment in this young and growing market. In the strategic donor area there are very few fundraisers with experience of strategic donor or foundation work, and almost none with prospect research experience. Setting up a team involves difficult choices between waiting to recruit someone experienced or training a newcomer. Salaries in the sector are still modest and so it is especially hard to recruit people with experience from relevant commercial sectors such as finance and banking.

The strong foundation of the Master in Fundraising at Bologna combined with a sector that wants to grow and the enthusiasm of hundreds of Italian fundraisers means that this is an exciting development market for fundraising. It is now time for the philanthropic sector to respond by moving toward a modern, transparent, accountable style of giving. Then we can have a real festival of fundraising.

Thanks to Columbia University and Valerio Melandri at the Festival del Fundraising / University of Bologna for the opportunity to speak at this event.

Factary is active in Italy, where we have carried out research, training and consultancy assignments for leading NGOs.

Training Researchers and Fundraisers from Barcelona to Boston

This week there are two significant training events for Factary. Today, Tuesday 8th October, Factary’s Chris Carnie is helping to launch the new Postgraduate Certificate in Fundraising at the University of Barcelona.


Launch of the Postgraduate Cert in Fundraising, University Barcelona


The course runs over an academic year (November to June) and covers the skills and techniques required to be a fundraiser, with a focus on practical tasks and actions. We’ve got a range of great speakers and trainers taking part, from NGOs, cultural and arts organisations, campaigning organisations, the health and foundation sectors. Find out more, and register, here.

And on Thursday, Will Whitefield and Chris Carnie are giving a webinar with APRA on prospect research in the UK.An Island of Information is aimed at researchers and fundraisers outside the UK who want to understand the market here. Find out more, and register, here.

Due Diligence for Major Donors

Is your donor clean? Meaning – would you accept a donation from them? We are used to carrying out due diligence research on companies, but now there is the challenge of how to do this for individual philanthropists. I’ve written a piece on this for Reinier Spruit’s 101Fundraising blog, and will be giving a workshop on Due Diligence and Major Donor’s at IFC later this month.

We hate to boast…

…but can’t resist including comments from the evaluation forms at this year’s Institute of Fundraising Conference:

  • “Very interesting and engaging – thank you”
  • “Brilliant session from someone who is clearly an expert. Very professional and friendly.”
  • “Best presentation I have been to in ages”
  • “Relevant, thought provoking and delivered by an expert”

Thanks to all the participants who gave this lovely feedback!

Gift Capacity, the debate continues

We’ve been having the regular debate on gift capacity. We are researching Mrs Philanthropist, and we ask ourselves, again, how much might she donate to The Good Charity?

Cecilia Hogan, in her excellent Prospect Research: A Primer for Growing Nonprofits (Jones and Bartlett, Mass, 2004) defines capacity as:

The financial measure of a prospect’s ability to give a major gift

and then reviews measures of wealth and interest.

Many prospect researchers use formulae to calculate gift capacity. The prospect research team at Southern Illinois University Foundation gathered a collection of these formulae in 2006. And there is a log-in site – AskAnalyzer – which uses a

sophisticated algorithm that estimates the total giving capacity of your donors and prospects over five years and provides an ask range for your organization specifically.

These formulae, as David Lamb points out on his blog

are passed from researcher to researcher like alchemical lore.

Elizabeth Crabtree and Joyce Newton gave a brilliant and thorough presentation on this topic in the September 2007 APRA conference – pointing out that there is a lot we simply cannot know about an individual (her tax filings, her debts and liabilities etc) and arguing for clearer terminology, and the use of estimates based on a range. They distinguished between gift capacity rating systems that are derived from combining known assets to estimate total wealth, and those that are derived from applying formulae to a specific wealth indicator (such as the value of a person’s home.) They sensibly suggest that researchers test formulae against recent major gifts to their own organisation, to find the most appropriate formulae for that specific organisation. They argue for measuring gift capacity, then discounting for affinity and inclination.

Jen Filla at Aspire Group, a prospect research company in the USA, wrote a useful paper on the topic of capacity formulas in 2009. She defined a ‘capacity rating’ as

a major gift dollar range for a gift over 5 years if only one gift was made.

She cautions that this is strictly based on wealth indicators and not affinity or inclination and that it does not consider unknown liabilities. Jen reminds us that a capacity rating is NOT a solicitation amount.

In the same year, 2009, I made a presentation to the Researchers in Fundraising meeting on this topic at the Natural History Museum, London. I argued that we needed two measures, a ‘Gift Rating’ measure estimated rapidly using formulae, near the start of the prospect research process, and a ‘Gift Capacity’ measure, estimated by reviewing all the data on a prospect, toward the end of the research process. The Gift Rating measure acts as a filter – if the initial, rapid, assessment indicates that the prospect has wealth then she passes on through the filter to further research.

Like Jen, I argued for Gift Capacity to be based on wealth indicators and NOT on affinity or inclination. In other words, Gift Capacity measures how much Mrs Philanthropist could give to her absolutely favourite cause, in absolutely perfect conditions. Gift Capacity, if you’ll excuse the tautology, is the person’s absolute capacity. Defined like this, Gift Capacity allows researchers to compare like with like, and to prioritise prospects. After we have an idea of absolute capacity we can discount from that amount by reviewing their motivations, connection and readiness, and on that basis come to a solicitation amount (the amount we will ask the person to donate.)

Reviewing my presentation I would now make one change. I had defined Gift Capacity as ‘The largest total gift that one person can give to any one cause, in ideal conditions, in one year.’ In hindsight, I prefer Jen’s measure over 5 years.

So, my definitions would be:

  • Gift Rating: a standardised formulae-based initial assessment of a prospect’s potential giving range
  • Gift Capacity: The largest total gift that one person could give to any one cause, in ideal conditions, over five years.

No, this is not the definitive text on this subject and yes, please, I’d like to debate this with you. Email me at, and let the discussion continue.

Major Donors – the Keys to Success

Martine Godefroid, Managing Director of Factary Europe, gave a seminar on major donor fundraising at the Belgian National Fundraising conference on 5th April 2011. Martine’s seminar focused on defining, understanding and approaching strategic donors, and included a valuable overview of the situation of individual philanthropy in Belgium.

Download a copy of the presentation here.