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European Citizens´ Initiative Forum

Follow the money: how do European citizens’ initiatives raise funds and what are the rules on financial reporting?

Running a successful campaign is neither easy nor cheap. With initiatives having to collect at least one million signatures across a minimum of seven Member States within one year, having a strong network of partners and resources will help – and so will some money in the bank! What’s more, initiatives are required to report all sources of large donor funding.

In order to support  initiative organisers and campaigners, the Forum team organised on 10 November 2021 a workshop on fundraising and how, and in what circumstances, to legally report funds. Daniela Vancic, European Programme Manager at Democracy International, moderated the session. This article summarises the advice and recommendations discussed at the event.

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Advice on Approaching Large Donors

Andrea Adamopoulos, Program Director of Economy and Democracy at the Schöpflin Foundation, shared the qualities she considers important when a foundation decides whether or not to fund an initiative. This includes evaluating their social goals and values, their individual competences, team culture, and network of connections. Such an analysis can be quite time consuming, so she advises campaigners to start reaching out to potential donors as early as possible.

On approaching foundations, Anne Hardt, Campaigning and Fundraising Manager at Democracy International, stressed the importance of establishing common ground. Consider applying to those foundations that have previously supported ECIs, as they should already be familiar with the process and may be more likely to donate again. Be sure to check their application criteria to determine whether your ECI is eligible for funding and aim to reach out to those foundations that reflect your own aspirations. There is also no limitation in using EU funding sources, so check out the current calls for funding!

Drafting Engaging Applications

When submitting applications to foundations or other funders, remember to keep your application simple and straight-forward. The text should be enthusiastic with active verbs, and your dedication to your campaign should be highlighted. It’s recommended to use a story-telling narrative structure in your application or solicitation for funds. Providing specific details can also help to structure your ECI funding request. How many people, for instance, do you expect to reach online? How many people will hear about the topic? ECIs can also help to promote foundations as you will be focusing on at least seven EU countries and will (hopefully!) convince over a million people to support your campaign. That’s a lot of potential publicity for your sponsors.

Also try to keep your applications personal and charismatic. Reach out on the phone so foundations recognize you and can hear your personality. Add additional information to applications if possible, such as campaign materials and brochures, photos of campaign work, or a letter of recommendation from an established organisation.

Who to Approach?

Aside from current and former ECI donors who already support the process, who else should you approach for funding? Anne recommends looking into prominent individuals, influencers, founders, board members of various NGOs – all working on your specific issue. Also look at LinkedIn, to view people’s interests and consider crowdfunding campaigns and reaching out to companies. Former campaigns were supported by L’Oréal, for instance, and the Save Cruelty Free Cosmetics ECI is currently being supported by The Body Shop and Dove. But don’t exclude smaller companies as they are the low hanging fruit andcould be interested in exploring new ways of promoting citizen engagement.

It can also help to break your campaign down into sub-campaigns and to concentrate on concrete milestones on the path to gathering a million signatures. People are much more likely to donate to small but significant campaign goals and milestones or to fund campaign actions because it is much more tangible, such as requesting funds for a specific campaign action, like raising billboards in a major city.

Andrea reminded of the importance of persistence and personal touch. Personality counts, and your personal story matters. It’s also good to keep in mind that this is never simply a one-way relationship. You are not only requesting funding, but you are also offering a novel solution to an important societal issue. You have an idea, a campaign, a team around you and more. Ultimately, an ECI is a collaborative process. So know your worth!

Workshop participants all agreed on the benefits that voluntary support provides for their own initiatives and shared strategies they’ve used for engaging others. The ECI Start Unconditional Basic Incomes (UBI), for example, has already held two raffles with two winners granted a prize of €800 per month for a year. This innovative strategy mobilised many supporters and was only made possible by the people power behind it.

Reporting Obligations

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Photo Credit: Free for commercial use, DMCA on Pxfuel

All donations exceeding €500 per sponsor must be reported to the European Commission on a regular basis via the organiser account. You need to provide information on funding throughout the whole lifecycle of your initiative, including sources of large funding and support even before the start of your initiative. This financial report needs to be updated at least every two months, and all sources of large-funding donations and support above €500 will be made publicly visible on the ECI’s dedicated webpage. This is potentially a good opportunity for campaigners to showcase the support their ECI receives.

As an organiser, you also need to provide information on any significant non-financial support received that is offered to your initiative. This includes, for example, information regarding in-kind donations or the organisations assisting it on a voluntary basis, where such support is not economically quantifiable. Under such circumstances, it is therefore sufficient to make mention of an organisation in your regular financial reporting to the Commission. You can, of course, choose to provide further details on funding and support to the Commission, such as monetary estimations of the in-kind contributions – as did the Stop Vivisection campaign – but this is not legally compulsory.

Conclusion

The European Citizens’ Initiative Forum is a valuable resource which offers free, tailored help, from proof-reading to legal advice and more. So check it out – and if you have a good idea for an ECI, go for it! Plan your fundraising strategy well ahead of the official campaign start date and remember to use all the different resources available to you. Good luck!

 

darrah

Contributors

Darragh Power

Darragh Power is an intern at Democracy International and a Masters student of Politics and Technology at the Technical University of Munich. He believes in the power of words to shape worlds and is active in a number of grassroots organisations focused on the right to housing. 

Connect with him on the Forum!

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