The GFCF spoke to Bolor Legjeem, a board member of MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund, and asked her about their efforts to build a culture of organized giving for social causes.
GFCF: Could you tell us a bit more about the Philanthropy Day you organized in November?
Mongolian Women’s Fund (MONES), since its establishment in 2000, has celebrated Philanthropy Day every year on November 15th. For many years, our main goal was the promotion of the concept of philanthropy, with a focus on women’s rights and social justice, and raising funds was a secondary goal. Gradually, after we’d tried different ways of celebrating, from a week-long media campaign, to a big conference of non-profits, and then to a series of public lectures by prominent Mongolians, we came to realize that encouraging and supporting giving is actually the best way to talk about philanthropy.
In fact, the Mongolian language does not have a direct translation of the word “philanthropy.” The word we use, “buyan”, is closer to the English word “charity”, which is not what we do. So we decided to use the word “philanthropy,” which sounds a bit alien. Actually, the “fundraising for social causes” part of our work sounds alien too. Until 1990, under the socialist state, the communist party was the sole caretaker of social issues. This means that even today the majority of giving by people is channeled through and to personal networks. So you can see that giving for social causes is still novel in Mongolia.
This year, for the first time, MONES decided to extend the usual 1-2 weeks of our Philanthropy celebration to an entire month of a fundraising campaign. And, this year, we tried for the first time a new way of raising funds, a “100 Leaders Relay Campaign”, which we learnt about from our sister fund, the Korean Foundation for Women. The main purpose of this 1-month campaign was to extend the network of our individual donors by recruiting leaders. Each leader, besides making a donation herself, was to raise money from another 3-5 people from her network on behalf of MONES. In past campaigns, the donors who made donations to MONES were our end goal. This year, we made an effort to mobilize the donors and turn them into fundraisers.
On November 30th, we closed the 100 Leaders Relay campaign and on December 3rd we held a press conference and announced the results of our campaign to public. When we look at the actual results of our campaign, we know that we did not reach our goal of our campaign, as we were able to recruit only 80 leaders, not 100. But, when we look at the bigger picture we see that, although we may not have reached our goal of recruiting 100 leaders, but we were able to encourage our 80 Leaders to bring in additional 300 individual donors. If we’d organized this campaign our traditional way, we would’ve raised money from 80 donors only. By turning our 80 donors into MONES spokespeople and fundraisers we were able to reach out to 300 new donors who, otherwise, would not have been reached. Just to give something to compare, in 2013, the total number of our individual donors for the entire year was a little less than 300. And, with this campaign, we raised money from 380 people in one month. We are grateful and inspired.
GFCF: You say that your fundraising efforts are not solely concerned with raising money. What do you mean?
The fundraiser in me wants to talk extensively about how much more money we were able to raise, how many more dollars these additional 300 donors gave to MONES. As a feminist philanthropist, however, I recognize that we now have 300 more people who are willing to learn more about women’s rights and 300 more potential supporters who will raise their voices for women and girls. From our extensive experience, we’ve learnt that raising money in Mongolia is very closely linked to raising concern. Once you give your hard-earned money to something, you give your support. And, vice versa, if you do not support the issue, you wouldn’t give your money. Every dollar we raise is explicitly connected to the concept of empowerment of women and girls. So, every person who donates money to MONES has an understanding what his or her donation will go to. Extending our donor base is equal to increasing the support to women’s rights and equality.
GFCF: The Mongolian Women’s Fund has been involved in local fundraising for the last 15 years. What advice would you offer community philanthropy peers in terms of effective fundraising strategies – and what would you advise against?
We’ve come to realize that every person is a potential donor. People tend to give, but it is important for people to trust the person they give to. This is because in the traditional way of giving in Mongolia people usually know the person they extended their help to. So, going beyond the personal network is important, but it is more effective when they know and trust the person who represents the cause. The person could be their family member, their friend, or a public persona they respect and love. So, our big lesson is to build on the existing culture of giving, to extend it and improve it. It took us years to learn this lesson as we thought we could create something new in Mongolia, by bringing something that works in USA or Germany or Nepal and plant it in Mongolia. But, it works most effectively – or at least it has worked for us -when we take the existing culture of giving and lead it to a new direction.
GFCF: You recently attended a conference on women and climate change organized by the International Network of Women’s Funds and Global Greengrants. Why is it important to bring these two issues together?
Mongolia is a country with nomadic pastoralism, where herding families move several times a year in a search of water and pastures. This lifestyle has been preserved for, at least, a thousand years and, today, almost half of the population of 3 million people in Mongolia live in rural areas off their livestock by herding cows, horses, camels, goats, sheep for dairy products, meat, wool and cashmere. This lifestyle is extremely dependent on weather, which has been undergoing noticeable changes due to climate change. Dry summers followed by harsh winters cause the loss of livestock and force nomadic families into poverty, migration. In addition, the boom in mining industry in Mongolia has severely affected many areas as it has encroached on pasturelands.
Women in Mongolia are actively involved in pastoralist lifestyle and they are community.
Grassroots women and women’s groups in rural Mongolia are active and they often more vocal and better organized, their concern often goes beyond their immediate needs and they tend to propose solutions that are locally suitable and can make difference. MONES has supported women’s political participation for the past 7-8 years with a particular focus on rural areas. As a result of its efforts women’s activism in the 5 selected provinces has noticeably increased and women’s representation in decision-making bodies has increased, too. As a result of the increased activism of women and their influence over local-level decision-making has strengthened. One of the major interventions women-leaders undertook was the monitoring of local polices and budgets that affect environment, address migration, employment, etc. and following up on the results. One of the issues that grassroots women’s groups bring up more and more are environmental issues.
GFCF: What would you say are the main opportunities and challenges facing the Fund moving forward?
There is currently no legal legislation in Mongolia that supports or promotes philanthropy. This was the major challenge for MONES, one of the very few national organizations that raises funds from local sources on a regular basis. But, it also helped us to work in a more creative ways to ensure we raise support and money that come from the heart. However, we are happy to share that Ministry of Justice of Mongolia is initiating a bill on charity. And we are proud to share that MONES was invited to participate in this work due to our extensive experience in promoting the culture of philanthropy in Mongolia. As we see it, this bill, when it is approved, will help us to appreciate our donors and recognize their contribution to the society. More importantly, this bill will encourage more people to contribute to the wellbeing of other people who are less advantaged.
Bolor Legjeem is a board member of MONES, the Mongolian Women’s Fund