On The Road Blog
Fundraising: How passion for change leads to change for passion
Sitting across from me at breakfast, Smriti Khadka, from GFC grassroots partner Asha Nepal, said, “I don’t know where to start! I’m not very good at asking for money.” I could relate to this sentiment and have often felt inadequate when told that fundraising is a skill that everyone who works in the nonprofit sector must have. I then remembered something I’d heard; fundraising is just a conversation, and conversations are stories.
I told Smriti, “Just start with you. Tell me your story.”
This scene had been set in motion 12 hours earlier, at the end of the first full day of The Global Fund for Children’s South Asia regional Knowledge Exchange—a convening of GFC partners that covered a range of topics, including fundraising strategies. Twenty-one leaders of grassroots organizations from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka were gathered in a hotel conference room in Kathmandu, Nepal.
Before concluding the day’s activities, the Knowledge Exchange facilitator held up a handful of rectangular pieces of paper and told the attendees that the paper represented currency from “the Bank of the GFC Knowledge Exchange.” He challenged the participants to raise as much money as they could with this artificial currency during their remaining time in Nepal. He then divided up the currency, creating a few large donors and several medium-sized donors. Everyone else received a small amount of money to give as individual donors. There were no rules, but the ultimate goal was to establish a strategy for raising money.
The exercise was a huge success. At the end of the Knowledge Exchange, the participants were counting the funds they had solicited, and were able to discuss what they had learned. Much of what had happened in the hypothetical fundraising scenario was an accurate reflection of what typically happens with grassroots organizations in reality—it was relatively easy to get a few people to give small amounts of money, but finding the time and opportunity to meet with the bigger donors proved to be a challenge.
Moreover, even after a promising conversation with an influential donor, it was necessary for the attendees to follow the funder’s process in order to receive funding. For many grassroots organizations, limited staffing makes it difficult to submit a final proposal on time or follow all of a donor’s instructions.
The grassroots leaders agreed that although this was a hypothetical scenario, the skills and knowledge they acquired were useful for their organization’s sustainability. The participants emphasized how important it was to follow instructions, follow up with donors, and invest in relationships. They also learned how to manage their limited time to pursue the funding strategy that best suited their organization’s goals.
Smriti, although a newer social entrepreneur in Nepal, excelled.
After the competition had been announced, Smriti had arranged a meeting with me to share an idea she had come up with. She was nervous, but as soon as she began explaining why and how her organization had been founded, her passion shone through.
It was difficult not to be drawn in when Smriti started telling her captivating story. She was training to be a nurse when she met many young women and girls who were working in the adult entertainment industry and were unaware of their rights. Many had also been shunned by their families for contracting HIV. These women and girls didn’t have a pathway out of poverty for many reasons, but primarily because of harsh societal stigmas and the lack of a formal education. Smriti explained that it was hard for her to stand by and watch these women and girls be barred from access to opportunities that would empower them, because they had the same rights, hopes, and dreams as she did for a better life.
Smriti’s story highlighted the plight of women and girls in the adult entertainment industry in Kathmandu. According to local estimates, 10,000 to 15,000 Nepalese women and girls are trafficked to India annually, while 7,500 Nepalese children are trafficked domestically. These victims are trafficked primarily for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor, and the majority come from disadvantaged communities. In the Kathmandu valley, there are approximately 11,000 workers in this industry, and over half of them are under the age of 18.
Even when girls are able to leave sexually exploitative situations, they are often shunned by their families, and it is difficult for them to reintegrate into society. Many of these girls have contracted HIV during their time in the adult entertainment industry, which leads to further stigmatization and challenges.
Founded in 2008 by a group of activists, one of whom was Smriti, Asha Nepal provides a transitional home, educational scholarships, reintegration workshops, employment support, and foster care programs to children and youth who have been trafficked. The organization works primarily with female Nepalese survivors of sex trafficking after they have left the industry, and helps to reintegrate them into society. Through its programs, Asha Nepal reduces the risk of revictimization and helps to secure a safe and prosperous future for the survivors.
Although Smriti had felt nervous asking for money and hadn’t known where to start, her personal story was compelling and her passion was evident. In addition, she submitted her proposal on time and followed up with me to see if I had any other questions.
Ultimately, I gave the majority of my funding to Smriti at the Knowledge Exchange, and I wasn’t the only one. Although Smriti didn’t have any previous experience with fundraising, she raised the most money of any individual at the Knowledge Exchange.
The stories she shared and the power of her on-the-ground experience were what brought funding to Smriti’s cause. All of the leaders of the grassroots groups who attended the South Asia Knowledge Exchange have similarly compelling stories and powerful visions for the way their work will change society. What we learned from each other, and Smriti, was that fundraising starts with a passionate individual story and ends with follow-up. And you’ll never get better at it unless you practice.