The digital world holds great potential for MS Organisations to innovate and diversify their income. The COVID-19 pandemic certainly increased interest in online giving, as in-person fundraisers came to a stop, leaving many organisations in financial struggles. In response many charities are exploring new ways to generate income online, including MS Organisations in Latin America.

Through our Latin American Programme, MSIF is supporting MS organisations in the region to upskill in digital fundraising with specialised training, consultation services, and grant schemes. Last year our LATAM Small Grants programme funded four MS organisations to develop virtual fundraising campaigns. In this article, these organisations share their projects, experiences, challenges and tips for other MS communities interested in digital fundraising.

Colombia: Digital fundraising has been a lifeline

The Asociación de Lucha Contra La Esclerosis Múltiple (ALEM) has been supporting the MS community in Medellín, Colombia for over 25 years. The organisation applied to MSIF’s LATAM grant to kick-start its online fundraising activities. ALEM began with the consolidation of its contact database then set-up a permanent fundraising page to reach new donors. The new platform was used to run a digital sports fundraiser called ‘Cycling 30K for MS’. The virtual framework meant ALEM could connect digitally with cyclists in other cities.  The Cycling event reached 85 riders and raised around £3000 for the organisation. The new fundraising platforms now accommodates 45 regular donors called ‘Friends of ALEM’.

Setting up online giving has been a game-changer for the organisation. ALEM’s director Marta Sosa says:  ‘Digital fundraising for ALEM has been a lifeline in the face of contingencies such as the pandemic, as well as administrative and tax difficulties.’ Mrs Sosa encourages other small MS organisations to give digital fundraising a try.

‘For those organisations considering the path of digital fundraising, it is important to carry out good planning and overcome initial fears. Understand that it is a process and may not happen overnight, but will achieve staggered success. The barriers that we (small) organizations sometimes have to deal with should not lead us to abandon digital fundraising on the first try. We must listen to our newly engaged stakeholders and donors, to retain their interest in supporting us’ ALEM’s director Marta Sosa

Paraguay: We adapt digital fundraising learnings to our reality

The Asociación de Pacientes con Esclerosis Múltiple y Enfermedades Desmielinizantes (APEMED) has supported people affected by MS in Paraguay since 2007. The organisation used the MSIF LATAM grant to create the first-ever digital fundraiser for a patient organisation in Paraguay. The grant funded a refresh of the APEMED Website and set up a fundraising page. The new platforms were used to run an online food delivery service and engage corporate donors to become regular givers.  The food delivery service had the most success, however the organisation was also able to engage with new donors.

Through this project APEMED raised 25% of the resources needed to open a new MS centre. The president of APEMED, Lourdes Morales, reflects on the project.

‘Digital fundraising was a steep learning curve for our team. It was the first time we have done fundraising in this way but now we continue to do so based on our local context.’

There isn’t a big culture around fundraising in Paraguay, so the biggest lesson for APEMED was putting their learnings into context.

‘We adapted our learnings about digital fundraising to our reality. In our context the donation culture is non-existent, and those that are prepare to give then to choose appeals instead. Therefore, we had to work really hard to engage and achieve results. We invested time into donors, training them on how to do use the online platform to complete the transactions. To facilitate online giving, we learnt that we need a communication strategy and quite a bit of in-person work before we can capture new donors.’

Argentina: It’s not about copying and pasting other digital fundraising models

Esclerosis Multiple Argentina (EMA) was the first MS organisation in Latin America to try digital fundraising. It was the first organisation in the region to join The May 50K, a virtual event for MS where people around the world run or walk 50 kilometres throughout May. EMA used the LATAM grant to prepare for the May50K, laying the groundwork with the online campaign ‘No es lo que ves’ (It’s not what you see). This campaign aimed to boost EMA’s online profile by increasing engagement with content about the invisible symptoms of MS.

EMA’s ambition to increase the number of followers on social media was a success, with their online audience growing by 15%. Their digital campaign hashtag #Noesloqueves trended online. This helped EMA engage over 3000 people in The May50K and raise over £10,000. However, as in Paraguay there were significant challenges to online fundraising. Argentina does not have an established donation culture or easy ways to transfer money online.

EMA’s director Joanna Bauer describes the challenges further:

 ‘People are still afraid of paying online, and the country’s economic context isn’t supportive of online donations. There are also plenty of people without bank cards and many more without internet access. We cannot say that digital fundraising has made a big impact in EMA’s sustainability yet. However, from the communications point of view EMA has undoubtedly reached to a significant new pool of people’.

Despite the challenges, the experience was hugely rewarding and informative for the team. EMA hope to explore more digital fundraising opportunities in future. For now, the learnings they take forward are:

‘The giving culture in Latin America is different, so it is not about copying and pasting other digital fundraising models, but rethinking and adapting practises according to needs and possibilities.’

Dominican Republic: Know your audience

RENACER Fundación Dominicana de Esclerosis Múltiple (RENACER) applied to the LATAM grant to recruit potential donors and establish regular monthly donations. The MS organisation got the Project started by setting up a donation system with the support of an agency and running a social media campaign in parallel to engage supporters.

Like other MS organisations in the region, RENACER faced in-country barriers in their efforts to fundraise online. Public confusion about charitable giving online, led the founders of the organisation to launch a series of seminars about the campaign, and how online donations worked. The response to this personalised approach was very positive with donations arriving even from overseas. The digital fundraising campaign managed to raise over £500 and continues to get ad-hoc donations through their online platform. Beyond the money generated the project increased RENACER’s online profile to over 2,000 followers on Instagram.

Renacer’s Chair, Roberto Rodriguez, reflects on the project:

‘This experience was extremely beneficial for Renacer, since we are developing a platform that continues to grow organically. It has given a foundation from which we can update the contents and invest in advertising and promotion in a segmented way.’

To other organisations interested in digital fundraising Mr Rodriguez says

‘It is important that there is strategic planning before the launch of any campaign, where the audience segments to are well defined, so that we are about the language and media used to communicate with the target audience. It is helpful to consult an agency or person with experience in the subject, in order to minimize the loss of resources and valuable time.’

The move towards online giving isn’t always smooth. The experience of MS organisations in Latin America shows different local challenges. Some countries do not have an established donation culture or safe, easy ways to transfer funds online. Others may need to build the right technologies and platforms which facilitate online giving. That being said, MS organisations in Latin America continue to overcome barriers and pioneer digital fundraising, in the hope of a more sustainable future.

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