Setting up a fundraising association isn’t always easy, but it is essential to accelerate professional development and build public trust in not-for-profits, according to Ilja De Coster, a member of the initiative group behind the Fundraisers Alliance Belgium (due to launch in 2012).
FUNDRAISERS ALLIANCE BELGIUM
Contact: Ilja De Coster, initiative group member of the Fundraisers Alliance Belgium and fundraising consultant at EthiCom cvba.
The fundraising environment in Belgium is fairly small. Out of 120,000 not-for-profit organisations, about 2,000 are registered for tax relief on donations and there are an estimated 200 professional fundraisers.
FUNDRAISING INFRASTRUCTURE / REGULATION
Although there is little legislation for fundraising, Belgium boasts one of the most established self-regulatory schemes for fundraising. Run by the Association for Ethics in Fundraising (VEF-AERF) for around 15 years, 140 organisations have signed up as members. VEF-AERF is responsible for ethical standards and serves as a voice for the fundraising sector, lobbying government for change and defending the industry in the media.
VEF-AERF plays a key role in standard setting and building public confidence, but they do not cover the professional development of fundraisers themselves.
For many years, there was an informal fundraisers’ network in Belgium that met a few times a year, but a more formal, structured approach is needed to provide real professional support for fundraisers. When they start out, fundraisers might have a marketing background, but no practical knowledge of fundraising. They need real training on how to do it.
THE NEW ASSOCIATION
The chief task for the Fundraisers Alliance Belgium is professional development for fundraisers. The Alliance’s aim is to increase professionalism of fundraisers, contributing to the capacity of the not-for-profit sector.
As a membership body for individual fundraisers, its focus will be on developing and delivering training at the highest standard and providing opportunities for sharing professional knowledge. In order to do this cost-efficiently and as a small nation, the Alliance is working closely with professional bodies in neighbouring countries (France, the Netherlands and the UK), linked through EFA’s network. Eligible for mutual member discounts, our members will be encouraged to attend their conferences and events as well.
Speaking of the challenges in forming an association, Ilja De Coster said: “The lack of funds and time is a real challenge. Without a solid income base, we must all give our time voluntarily in the early years. Inevitably, this restricts the pace of development. Therefore, the whole initiative group, Anne-Lise Passelecq, Donatienne Baise, Erwin Reynaert, Frederick Rooseleir, Isabel Penne, Nicole Seeck, Wim Oscé do deserve a big thank you for their efforts.”
He continued “When it comes to our potential membership, the main difficulty is that fundraisers and consultants, large and small charities, all operate largely in isolation here in Belgium. The challenge of uniting these groups, encouraging them to exchange information and learn from each other remains. It won’t happen overnight and it is important that we understand there are sensitivities, if we are to resolve these issues”.
Although the Alliance is not due to launch until this Summer, we have already co-ordinated and hosted a conference on street fundraising. Not only did the event tackle one of the most challenging issues facing the industry, but it generated some income for us and raised our profile.
Over the coming months, we will formalise the Association, affirm our mission, vision, build the website and commence a promotional campaign.
TIPS FOR FORMING AN ASSOCIATION
“Take a structured approach, but be realistic and take small steps," adds Ilya. "It may take longer than you think to get started. So, start with small activities to test interest amongst your target group and little by little you can build up a potential membership base.
“A fundraisers’ association provides the infrastructure to strengthen and develop the industry, increasing the sector’s ability to generate income and building public trust.”