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It’s a Small World: Customizing Fundraising Strategies for Global Audiences

April 19, 2017

Over the past five years, Kiwanis Children’s Fund, Lions Clubs International, and Rotary International combined have raised more than a billion dollars in nearly 30 currencies from donors in over 200 countries. So, together they have more than a few good ideas for customizing fundraising strategy to appeal to diverse domestic and international audiences.

Ann Updegraff Spleth, chief operating officer for the Kiwanis Children’s Fund; Rebecca Teel Daou, executive administrator for the Lions Clubs International Foundation; and Eric Schmelling, chief philanthropy officer for The Rotary Foundation of Rotary International will discuss their organizations’ fundraising during a presentation at the upcoming AFP International Conference Fundraising Conference in San Francisco: It’s a Small World: Customizing Fundraising Strategies for Global Audiences. With Bernadette Lane and Lindsay Marciniak, both from CCS, co-hosting the session, the panel of global leaders will answer questions and share lessons learned from their fundraising efforts around the world.

AFP got a chance to chat with each of them about their organizations, their fundraising and connecting with so many donors in different countries.

AFP: Tell us a little about your organization.

Rebecca: As the official charitable organization of Lions Clubs International, a leading humanitarian organization, Lions Clubs International Foundation (LCIF) supports Lions’ compassionate works by providing grant funding for their local and global humanitarian efforts. LCIF helps Lions improve peoples’ lives around the world, from combating vision problems to responding to major catastrophes to providing valuable life skills to youth. Since its founding in 1968, LCIF has awarded more than 13,000 grants totaling over US$1 billion. LCIF will continue to work every day to support humanitarian service projects all over the world and give hope to those who need it.

Ann: Kiwanis International has rebranded as the Kiwanis Children’s Fund. The foundation was founded 77 years ago to increase Kiwanis’ capacity to serve the children of the world. We see ourselves as a kind of community foundation with Kiwanis as our community. But research showed us that the term “foundation” did not test as well as the “Children’s Fund” language. We chose Kiwanis Children’s Fund because it describes what we do – serve children – and how we do it – by raising funds. The grants we make support Kiwanis club projects that serve children and Kiwanis family organizations like Key Club International, our high school-aged group, and Circle K International, our college-aged group.

Eric: The Rotary Foundation was established 100 years ago with just $26.50 and today, enables Rotary members to advance world understanding, goodwill and peace through the improvement of health, the support of education and the alleviation of poverty.  We make grants in excess of over $200 million per year.

AFP: Each of your organizations are raising funds in many different countries. What’s your general approach? Is it different in different countries, all based on a common message? Do you find specific techniques work better in different countries?

Rebecca: The Lions do have a common message or theme, but understand the motivations and messaging will be different based on the region.  We have “LCIF Ambassadors” in each geographic region working to educate and promote the foundation at all levels of the organization.  Our team at headquarters works with these leaders to provide a message with focus on a cause or program, but that is culturally appropriate for the members.  In Europe, we may focus the message toward a club making the gift, while in Asia it is focused on the individual and the recognition opportunities. 

We rely a great deal on the local knowledge of our leaders.  The techniques are based on the interest we have seen from our members.  For example, Europeans respond to disaster relief much more than some other regions, so that message might be pushed harder at the country or regional level.  Members in the USA sometimes make a gift at the end of the calendar year for tax reasons.  Local customization helps the message resonate with the member who is greatly focused on his or her own community.  As technology evolves, this will only help us segment our audience toward the individual’s interest. 

Ann: We depend on our local volunteers a great deal in this area. I just returned from Korea where we held a training for our fundraising volunteers in the Asia Pacific region of Kiwanis. In January one of my colleagues held a similar training for our European volunteers. We prepare them with stories about how we have supported projects in their regions, and they work with clubs and districts to raise funds. In many European countries, there is less of an emphasis on individual giving. Clubs are more likely to hold fundraising events to reach their goals. On the other hand, we have seen significant personal giving grow dramatically in Asia. A system of recognition is very important there.

Eric: Our approach, of course, varies by regional differences but common messages and programs exist. Sharing our story and its reception varies by country, culture and language. Approximately 70 percent of our members live outside North America.  We also focus strongly on volunteerism. Rotary members not only fund projects, they donate countless hours of their personal time towards projects that better communities worldwide. One example is our effort to eradicate polio, which is Rotary’s top priority. Rotary members have volunteered their time and donated over $1.6 billion since we launched our PolioPlus initiative in 1985.

AFP: What do you see as the big, new trends in global fundraising?

Rebecca: Donors have always been selective about the causes they choose to support.  Trends focus on how to provide the information needed in today’s technology platforms that are relevant to the donor.  Outcomes and outputs are common terms at every nonprofit.  Even with Lions Clubs who hold a pancake breakfast to support a cause, the decision on what to support with those dollars are well researched and competition is great.  Using technology, we need to adapt to the desire for more information about the impact we are having.  If the trend is demand for stories, metrics, data and impact, we need to use technology to provide this information in a relevant manner that resonates with the cultural norms or our global donors.

Ann: There is increasing charitable interest coming from large corporations in Asia, especially in Malaysia and Taiwan. Both of those countries are booming economically, and the generosity of individuals and corporations is inspiring.

Eric: There are quite a few new trends emerging in global fundraising. A more sophisticated and results-driven philanthropy is on the rise with donors focusing on ethics and impact. It also seems like people value being hands-on with projects more than ever. This is what continues to make Rotary relevant. Our model has always centered around volunteerism, and with more people willing to get physically involved in issues that will change the world, Rotary membership is a viable option.

AFP: Ann, the Kiwanis just finished up The Eliminate Project? What was that for, and how did you collaborate with UNICEF?

The Eliminate Project was a partnership with UNICEF to eliminate Maternal and Neonatal Tetanus (MNT) from the face of the earth. MNT is a disease that is almost unknown in the developed world, but kills babies and mothers regularly in the developing world. It is remarkable to realize that for US $1.80, three 60-cent injections can protect a woman and all her future children from dying of MNT! Kiwanis committed to raising US$110 million to eliminate the disease, and we were successful in raising the funds. As individuals and clubs pay their pledges, we send the funds to UNICEF. UNICEF in turn uses the funds to purchase and distribute the Tetanus Toxoid Vaccine to women of childbearing age in countries where MNT still exists. There are 18 countries remaining where MNT still kills. A baby dies every 15 minutes from MNT. It was every 9 minutes when our project started!

AFP: And now the Kiwanis have a new name and case support. How did that come about, and how is that affecting your fundraising approach?

Research conducted towards the close of The Eliminate Project fundraising campaign showed us that many Kiwanians didn’t understand what we do. We needed to narrow our fundraising and grantmaking focus so that we could clearly communicate to everyone where their funds would go. In contrast to The Eliminate Project, which was very precise in its case, our overall non-campaign fundraising lacked precision and focus.

 So, we reviewed the causes that Kiwanis clubs engage in the most, and built our case for support around them. Our new case for support is HELP: Healthy Children, Educated Children, Leadership Development (support for Key Club, etc.) and Priority Projects (like The Eliminate Project.) Those are the areas we will fund with our grantmaking. It is interesting that these concepts tested well with Kiwanians all over the world. As one of our volunteers from Europe told me, “Everyone knows what HELP means.”

AFP: Rebecca, SightFirst is one of your big programs. How did eyesight come to be a Lions Club priority? What are your plans going forward?

In 1925, Helen Keller addressed the Lions during an international convention in Ohio. In her remarks, she challenged Lions to “be knights of the blind in the crusade against darkness.” Since that time, clubs around the world have shared this service area. 

For 65 years, clubs engaged in local activities like eye screenings in their communities.  In the late 1980s, the association leadership sought to bring the strength of the 46,000 clubs together by developing a program to address the leading causes of preventable blindness. The foundation recruited a committee of leading experts in the field to assist and raised nearly $150 million to fund the initiatives. The campaign and service around one specific cause brought enthusiasm to the organization. From 2005 - 2008, a second campaign took place to continue our work in this field and raised $205 million more.

As we celebrate our 100th anniversary, the association and foundation are developing plans to address a new area of service that is impacting millions around the world: diabetes.  Lions will still work on sight initiatives, but recognize the many areas we can serve, as the needs throughout the world are many. 

AFP: Speaking of recognition, what’s it like trying to consistently recognize and highlight donors in so many different countries?

Rebecca: As a global organization, we try to make it easy for our donors in any country to donate in their country.   Our foundation has a team dedicated exclusively to recognition processing and fulfillment.  Members of this team handle data entry of recognition orders, conduct quality assurance on vendor orders, work with our couriers to resolve shipping issues, and communicate with our vendors daily on order statuses and inventory management.  Additionally, LCIF has spent a considerable amount of time and resources on modifying our technical applications to allow for automation of fulfillment business rules and selecting the correct recognition level based on donations criteria.  LCIF also relies on affiliate offices throughout the world to ship recognitions from local inventory in areas that have traditionally higher volume.

We recognize our donors in a variety of ways: certificates, pins, publications and permanent recognition at our international headquarters.  The most meaningful recognition seems to be when they are recognized in front of their peers, whether at a local event or our international convention.  We also recognize our volunteer leadership for achieving their fundraising goals.

AFP: Eric, how is Rotary approaching major gifts, with so many donors in different countries? Has that been challenging? What has worked well for you?

Eric: Having donors in different countries has worked very well. Last year, Rotary received over 1,100 major gifts worth $107.6 million. In addition, we received over 600 legacy type commitments with a projected future value of $58 million. The development of a strong culture of peer-to-peer fundraising model supported by a professional staff in different regions including, India, Taiwan, Japan and Korea, over the past 20 years has taken time, but is delivering the critical financial support to help accomplish Rotary’s mission.

AFP: And we’d be remiss if we didn’t congratulate The Rotary Foundation on being recognized as AFP’s Outstanding Foundation!

Eric: Thank you so much. We are honored to have received the Outstanding Foundation Award from AFP. To be recognized by such a respected organization during our Foundation’s Centennial means a lot to the organization and is a testament to our dedicated members. Rotary members are some of the hardest working people I know, and this award is for them and an acknowledgement of their selflessness, perseverance and success in making the world a better place.


It’s a Small World: Customizing Fundraising Strategies for Global Audiences will take place on Monday, May 1, from 1:45 – 3:00 p.m. during AFP’s International Fundraising Conference in San Francisco. To learn more and register, go to

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