As an economist with an interest in the nonprofit issues, I am always very keen to figure out how donated money and volunteer services that flow into the economy tell us something about the communities we live in. As an economics student I was told that it was the State, through the tax system, the one in charge of the redistributive task in a society. But increasingly we see that the nonprofit world is playing an ever significant role in this, in an increasing number of places, although not always in the most visible way.

I guess that is why I am always curious as to how fundraising and philanthropy evolve in a country like Colombia. And the annual fundraising campaign of TECHO that took place last July was just the perfect occasion to prove that once more.

A few days ago, I had the chance to know a bit more about this fundraising campaign, led by Lina Uribe, Country Director of TECHO in Colombia, and learn how challenging, but at the same time how rewarding such an effort can be, and how just as any learning process it has imitative, constructive, trial-and-error stages that in the end add up more than the sum of the parts.

I think it is fair to say that other than Teleton, large fundraising campaigns are not widely known to the public and are not very high-profile in the nonprofit landscape in this country. So far. That is a reason why I was so interested in the experience of TECHO with its campaign this year. TECHO is an organization founded in Chile in 1997, and since then it has expanded to 19 countries in the region. In Colombia, it started operating in 2006, and in 2009 it launched its national fundraising campaign, known as “Gran Colecta Nacional”. However, in 2012 TECHO underwent an organizational re-branding that had some impact in the results of the campaign that year. The timing was probably not the best one and many potential donors did not have much time to adapt to the new brand.

At the same time, this is still a very young campaign with new lessons to be learned every day. Not all the strategies of the campaign are equally successful and TECHO has understood that while trying to replicate some schemes that have worked elsewhere, actual implementation is the acid test that will confirm how well those schemes go with local culture and long-held habits, norms and ways of thinking.

But being a member of an international network is something that definitely plays in favor of TECHO’s work in Colombia. As Lina put it, in some respects Colombia’s experience resembles that of Central American countries, while in other areas, it is more similar to Chile or Argentina. Hopefully when the work is better consolidated here, there will be room –and resources- to evaluate and research in depth the performance of the programs in Colombia and compare it with that of other countries in the network. So far, this research component is present mostly in Chile.

Over the years, TECHO’s campaign has broadened in scope and has reached cities other than Bogota. One aspect that amazed me was how people in different cities has perceived and responded to TECHO’s yearly plea. This is probably one of the most telling insights that Lina shared with me. People in Bogota tend to respond to the campaign with a “rational” approach, looking for tangible, measurable results. In Cali, on the other hand, people tend to be very distrustful and suspicious when volunteers approach them to get a donation. In the Northern Coast, especially in Barranquilla, people like the kind of gala dinners and social events linked to fundraising, where they can strengthen social contacts; and in Cartagena, fundraising efforts resound better with tourists than with locals. Here is where I confirm that, as said before, successful fundraising strategies tell us something about the communities we live in and we want to serve.

*Special thanks to Lina Uribe, Country Director of TECHO – Colombia, for the personal interview that served as the basis for this post.

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