By Elizabeth Ngonzi, Adjunct Faculty at New York University Center for Global Affairs and Former CEO of Afrika Tikkun USA

Please follow Ms. Ngonzi on Twitter and LinkedIn and register for her upcoming on March 24, How NGOs Worldwide Can Use Digital Storytelling to Access, Attract and Activate U.S. Donors


International organizations planning their fundraising strategies for the new decade and looking for new funding sources may be wondering how to maximize their success in attracting U.S. donors.  According to the 2019 Giving USA Report, American donors gave an estimated $427.71 billion to charities in 2018, with $22.88 billion going overseas. But many international nonprofits/NGOs are unaware of the extent of the available funding, and many do not know how to effectively access, attract and activate U.S.-based donors. It’s a challenge for many international organizations to engage with (and navigate the complexities of) what many consider to be the world’s most generous market.

Presented here is a roadmap for differentiating your international organization – in a competitive U.S. philanthropic market with more than 1.5 million nonprofits – and increasing its likelihood of success in securing U.S. donations, by following these steps:

  1. Understand U.S. donors’ needs and interests and why they give.
  2. Learn how to research and connect with them.
  3. Select one of four legal paths for raising funds in the U.S.
  4. Communicate your organization’s unique value proposition clearly, transparently, authentically, and relevantly.

A fundamental part of any international organization’s U.S. fundraising strategy is determining the types of funders from which it seeks to raise funds.  For the sake of simplicity, this post looks only at individual donors, foundations and corporations. International organizations interested in obtaining grants from the U.S. government can access information at grants.gov.

After determining which categories of donors to approach, an international organization must select from among four different legal paths for accessing those donors:

  1. Fiscal Sponsorship
  2. Establishment of a 501(c) 3 organization
  3. Equivalency Determination
  4. Expenditure Responsibility

Having selected an appropriate legal path, the organization should perform research to determine where their chosen categories of U.S. donors can be found and which platforms those kinds of donors use when they prepare to make overseas donations.

Where U.S. Donors Can Be Found Online:

Foundation Directory Online by Candid

1) High Net Worth Individuals:
DonorSearch

2) Individuals (through ads targeted to individuals):
Social Media Platforms (e.g., Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Twitter)

3) Foundations / Corporations:

Where U.S. Donors Find International Organizations Online:

The next step is for the organization to craft and disseminate a story through the “digital storytelling ecosystem:”

The story should be consistent, cohesive and compelling, and readily accessible by a simple Google search of the organization’s name.

Also, every story told through the digital ecosystem, irrespective of audience, should include the following four elements:

In telling its story, an organization should:

  • Express what makes it unique and worthy of attention / support.
  • Enable the audience to identify with it.
  • Make its case for the response that is desired from this audience.

When engaging with donors online, organizations will encounter various challenges inherent in geographic distance from those donors, including:

  • Prevalence of fraud
  • Worldwide competition
  • Lack of visibility online (limited digital presence)
  • Physical distance from donors
  • Shifting attitudes in the U.S. towards international organizations

To overcome those challenges, organizations will have to reassure prospective donors through effective storytelling, emphasizing:

  • Authenticity
  • Clarity
  • Relevance
  • Transparency

A video from Charity: Water entitled Water Changes Everything is an excellent example effective storytelling.


The Global NGO Technology Report is a biennial research project that seeks to gain a better understanding of how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) worldwide use web and email communications, online fundraising tools, social media, mobile technology, and productivity software. Now in its fourth edition, this year’s report provides technology benchmarks for Africa, Asia, Australia and New Zealand, Europe, Latin America and the Caribbean, and the United States and Canada.

How NGOs Worldwide Can Use Digital Storytelling to Access, Attract and Activate U.S. Donors