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Is Sahel Fundraising Gaining Momentum?

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The Sahel crisis continues and it seems like little good news makes its way out of the region. Sectarian violence continues in northern Nigeria, Islamist rebels in northern Mali have assumed control of the region and people are pouring into Chad and Mauritania as the result of fighting and the inability to access food.

All the while, attempts to raise money for the region, as the situation for millions of people worsens, have fallen short. As of last month, the relief needs for Chad were underfunded by over half. Refugee services had 22% of total requested funding according to OCHA.

Source: OCHA

Toss in WASH, health and education to the mix of areas with little funding and a clear picture of a crisis begins to form.

Major players, like Oxfam and UNICEF, have picked up their efforts to raise awareness and funds. UNICEF has tried to appeal to the younger set by using former Disney Channel star Selena Gomez to activate her some 11 million Twitter followers. "The situation is urgent and these children need our immediate help. I want people to know that together with UNICEF, we have the ability to prevent their deaths," she said this past April.

With PSAs (above), public events and many tweets Gomez appeared to get some buzz going within her community, but the numbers reflected in the OCHA report point towards little ability to move the needle in a significant way. By last month, UNICEF raised only half of its requested $120 million.

Despite these challenges, good news is now emerging. The World Food Programme announced today that its latest fundraising campaign exceeded its goal. WFP aimed to raise enough money to provide meals for 12,500 mothers and children. The outpouring of support, bolstered by a two to one matching partnership with the Dutch National Postcode Lottery, led to raising enough money to provide meals for 15,000 mothers and children. In total, the campaign raised $750,000.

The numbers are low given the great need, but exceeding a set goal is positive. It may in part be due to the noise being made by organizations who are trying to get attention and much needed funding for the response. Though too early to tell and only a single case, the momentum may be building for support in the Sahel at a critical point.

I asked Sarah Borchers about the recent success and what WFP did in the campaign. She said that WFP did not do anything "revolutionary," but boiled down the campaign to:
  • Positive messaging about the impact that donors' contributions have on WFP's work and on our clients is more effective, especially when trying to get people to donate for the first time. Focus on what's working and tell people how they can replicate that for other people.
  • When you're dealing with a crisis affecting 10 million people, for example, it's essential to scale the situation down to a more personal level. In our email communications, we're asking you to save one woman or child from hunger, not 10 million.
  • Segment and Test -- This might be getting into the weeds a bit too much, but prompting previous donors with a suggested gift amount that's just slightly above their previous largest donation (and other tactics relating to segmentation by donor level) really does work!
  • Thank EVERYONE! Sending a post-campaign thank you email to not just donors but our entire community is really key. This is something I personally feel we've gotten really good at. The email we sent out yesterday linked to a lovely video from Justin -- www.wfp.org/sahel-thanks. Worth noting that while the email went out less than 24 hours ago, we've already received enough additional funding to feed 30 more women and children for 100 days. And there was no call to action written into the email.

The overall effort remains severely underfunded. The most up to date numbers from the UNOCHA Financial Tracking Service indicates that the overall response is only 49% funded, coming in at just over $800 million short.

Source: OCHA

With all the talk of resilience, it seems difficult to imagine how such a poorly funded relief effort can not only meet the immediate needs of the people of the Sahel, but put into place structures that will help to place people in a better position to deal with future food crises. "Obviously no mention of the word 'famine' which inevitably causes people to take notice. The message here was equally powerful -- preventing serious malnutrition and its irreversible effects for new mothers and young children -- but it hasn't resonated as much externally. We haven't seen nearly as many individuals being driven to wfp.org looking to donate," explains Sarah.

WFP is hoping to reach more people by building its online community. Once someone joins the community, the goal is not to raise money but to provide information. Community members learn about various problems, the responses and the staff who are carrying out the interventions. All this then will hopefully prime the community to want to support WFP.

As Sarah explains, "If we're doing our jobs correctly, you're becoming invested in hunger as a cause and convinced that WFP is the best organization to fight it. If we're doing our jobs correctly, when a major campaign or emergency comes around, you will consider making a donation."

The recent success by WFP is some good news in what has been a disappointing campaign thus far. The approaches are not necessarily new, but the methods for reaching an audience are. While organizations try to build resilience for millions of people in the Sahel, they are also attempting to build a new and informed set of supporters.

I'd love to talk to more organizations about their fundraising efforts for the Sahel to fill out a more complete article on the state of fundraising efforts. Feel free to send along some tips and suggestions or get in direct contact with me.