Pro Speak: Slow Going but Growing
Spasiba. That's Russian for "thank you." It's the one word I got really good at saying while walking around Moscow. I'm big on appreciation, and live my life in a grateful way, so it seemed fitting that I would be thanking people halfway across the world when I visited them.
In October 2009, I had the distinct privilege of being invited to speak at the annual gathering of the Master School for Fundraising in Moscow. The Master School is sort of the go-to organization right now for nonprofits in Russia. I was invited to speak there after Master School Director Tatiana Burmistrova attended one of my sessions at the Association of Fundraising Professionals conference in New Orleans last spring. Needless to say, I said, "Yes!"
To understand what a big deal this was, you need to understand a few things about me. First, I had never had a passport and, obviously, had never been out of the country before. Second, I don't speak Russian. Third, while I was very excited to visit Russia, I also was a bit nervous about being in a different country.
But I gathered my passport application and all my courage and set about making plans ?for the trip for my husband ?and me.
It was a 10-hour flight from Washington Dulles International Airport to Moscow. We arrived a bit bleary-eyed and were greeted at the airport by Tatiana. She was the most gracious hostess and spent two days showing us all around Moscow, including Red Square, the Kremlin and the first Soviet McDonald's. It was a dream visit — we had a native who spoke fluent English to show us around the city and give us all the inside scoop. She told us about how life had changed since the fall of the communist government and how the world of fundraising there is growing and evolving.
She also took us to visit several nonprofit organizations in Moscow, including one called The Basement, a theater group serving children. The thing that was most interesting to me was that we went on a Sunday morning, and the place was full of kids. She said kids are too busy during the week and on Saturdays, so Sunday mornings are one of the few times the theater could offer programming. Interesting. How many American nonprofits would consider offering programs on a Sunday morning?
In October, it was just starting to get cold, and I found my favorite drink in Moscow to be the hot chocolate. It wasn't like anything I've ever had. Imagine a dark chocolate candy bar melted and infused with steaming milk. That was about it! It was awesome!
We were amazed at all the history in the city. We saw buildings that were built in the 1500s. It was awe-inspiring to imagine all the activities that had taken place in them.
So, what's different about fundraising in Russia than in the United States?
? First, there's a lingering expectation among many peo-?ple that the government should "take care of things." Now that the country is no longer under communist ?rule, some services are being taken over by private nonprofits. It's a slow cultural shift ?that makes fundraising ?difficult for many.
? Second, there's no tax incentive for people to give like we have in the United States. I know it's a small consideration for many donors here in America, but it does encourage some gifts. They don't have that benefit in Russia.
? Finally, there are few middle-class people to give. In Russia, there is a large and growing number of wealthy people due to the new capitalist opportunities. There's also a large number of poor in the country. Middle-class people, who are the bulk of donors in the United States, make up only a small percent of the population in Russia. So, Russia simply doesn't have the sheer number of donor prospects that we do.
Fundraising is very young in Russia. The industry is very much in its infancy, and practitioners there are doing their best to learn everything they can — which isn't always easy. Consider the wide variety of books and other publications, webinars, and Web sites that we have available to us in English. There are precious few materials available in Russian. At the Master School this year, the first fundraising handbook written in Russian was distributed.
Individual organizations still are in the basic stages of building their cases and attracting donors. There are few (if any) capital campaigns or endowments ?being created.
One very exciting activity occurred at the end of the first day of the event. The group did some brainstorming about forming a professional association. I had the privilege of offering my input as attendees thought about what associations could do for them.
No doubt, it was an amazing trip for me. Here are the things I came home with:
1. I'm very grateful for what I have — my country, my community, my friends, my family. There's nothing like being without these things to make you appreciate them more!
2. Fundraising in the United States is not hard — we've just gotten lazy. It's a simple process, and we live in the land of plenty. We need to collectively get off our rumps and go out and tell our stories. Then ask for a gift. Simple as that.
3. We have tremendous resources available to us. If we aren't sure what to do, we have ample places to turn, such as:
? the Association of Fundraising Professionals and other groups;
? books, magazines, Web sites, audioconferences and more;
? consultants, coaches and ?mentors.
I came home and warned my friends and clients: Don't whine ?to me about fundraising! If you think it's hard here, go to Russia and try it!