Jay's World of Abstracts

Jay's World of Abstracts 00008

Creative Resourcing:
Building a Membership Base

Copyright 2002 Changemakers.net

[Standard disclaimer: The nature of abstracts are that they are pieces of something larger. Not everyone is going to be happy with my choice of abstracts from any larger work, so if you are dissatisfied, I would refer you to the original document, which should be able to be found on the Internet. I encourage others to make their own abstracts to satisfy their needs.

Jay's Introduction

One of my resposibilities with the MCCH Council is to work to increase our membership to include the youth in our county. It is a tricky need to fill, often because of the way we do things in the Council. It is often too plodding and planning-heavy for youth.

This abstract describes some principles and examples of organizations (in third-world countries) that have actively engaged community members in their efforts.

I produced this abstract using time paid for by the Quay County Maternal Child and Community Health Council with funds from the New Mexico Department of Health.


Creative Resourcing is about tapping into local resources to build strong civil society organizations (CSOs). CSOs globally are engaged in advancing societal interests and promoting civic values. To do this effectively over time, they need sustainable strategies for involving local citizens. Utilizing citizen support in a variety of ways will not only help keep CSOs accountable to local citizens, it can also move them towards greater organization sustainability and autonomy.


When your local community becomes involved in your organization, they become part of your constituency – a group of local citizens who will benefit from and support your work. Through this engagement you can attain a variety of important resources, including money, publicity, material donations, and volunteer support. All of these will contribute to your institutional strength, particularly as your constituency encourages and expects you to be fulfilling your goals.

Defining the Human Element

There are a many terms used to describe the involvement of local citizens in an organization. These include volunteers, constituents, donors, members, or believers. Here forward, we will use the terms member or membership base. Though member is often associated with local monetary donors, we seek to use it in a broader sense.

Members are individuals who are committed to your organization in one form or another. Many organizations describe members as individuals who are active in your organization, i.e. your advisory board, your executive committee, and your main donors. Other organizations describe members as those who will not only give money, but who will also give their time and talents to your organization. Still others describe members as individuals in the community who need your organization and who may be actual beneficiaries of your services. Being a beneficiary doesn't necessarily mean directly receiving a product of the organization; more often, it means being better off because the organization improves some aspect of your community. For example, Blanca Villaseñor, in Mexico, provides a safe harbor for youth deportees from the United States and helps them to earn enough money to return home. Her beneficiaries are obviously the youth, but her Members are the people in the community who were concerned about increased crime and begging amongst the unemployed and restless youth and wanted to do something about it. These members benefited from her program and are her primary funders.


Blanca's strategy was supported by the fact that local citizens perceived a direct correlation between deported youth and the welfare of the community. This correlation and willingness to help may not be so strong in every community. Often issues like the environment or hunger are too removed from the direct experience of the majority of local citizens, and it is more difficult to get their support. In many cases, like these, it is important to visualize your community in relation to your organization.

In relation to your organization, your local community consists of three primary subgroups: those who work for your organization or serve in an institutional capacity; those who are already members, supporting your organization in a variety of ways; and the rest of the general public, those who are either not familiar with your organization or have not been given a reason to participate in your work. Organizations can build and increase local citizen support by continuously working to move the inhabitants of the outer circles inward. The key to this process is to remember that you are the center of the circle. It is your responsibility to act as a magnet pulling in the outer circles. Many organizations charge their members with this responsibility, leveraging their talents to find creative ways engage other citizens more fully and thus, pulling in the outer circles.

In Indonesia, Mia Siscawati is demonstrating how to pull in citizens from the general public, making them the messengers of environmental education and the citizen base for her organization's work.


Mia's strategy demonstrates several important principles in building a membership base. The first is that the key to getting support from the general community is to help them see how their livelihoods and their lifestyles somehow benefit from your work in the community. Inviting them to give something back is a great way to keep their support. Secondly, because the general public may not have an immediate connection to your work, the key is to find something that they want and use this information to attract them to your organization.

Mia successfully made one transition in the circle model: she brought the general public into the member's circle. But how do can you sustain their participation and dedication, and further, how do you do this if they are unable or unwilling to donate time as volunteers? The process of garnering and sustaining local support is often made more difficult in resource poor countries. Commonly heard excuses include "only the elite have the luxury to volunteer" or "people do not have the money or time to participate." In resource poor countries, this is often a hurdle, but not one that is insurmountable. CSOs which have initiated successful community involvement campaigns in resource poor countries have been successful through creative strategies. Often the returns are not as high as they would be through outside assistance, but they are more sustainable.

Muslich Ismail, in Indonesia, faced similar challenges when attempting to galvanize support and resources for community development. In rural Indonesia, development resources came in the form of zakat, Islamic charity, which perpetuated dependency and gave local citizens no reason to become involved in grassroots community development. Below explore how Muslich Ismail modernized the zakat in Lombok, Indonesia to increase its impact, systemically changed charity into community investment, galvanized public support for community development, and fostered the emergence of new donors from past receivers.

Muslich Ismail

Muslich wants to make giving rewarding and useful for the donors, thereby expanding the resources available for community development and for the citizen's organizations undertaking such work. In the process, he hopes to help rural Indonesia move away from the patron-client relationship that long limited the horizons of the poor and to get the poor involved in their own development.

The Problem: Islam has five principles that its followers must practice. One of these is zakat, which is supposed to redistribute wealth and improve the welfare of the community. There are three chief forms of zakat: helping the needy, contributing to the development and maintenance of mosques, and contributing ten percent of the agricultural product to the community. The two most common forms of zakat are giving charity to the needy and contributing to the mosques. Neither leads to self-reliance or development. Nor do they encourage the donor or recipient to use the funds as development investment capital. Zakat perpetuates charity. This does not assist the poor to break out of poverty but rather perpetuates income inequality in the village.

One Innovative Solution: Muslich's response is to revitalize zakat giving by making both donor and recipient responsible actors in the community's development. He engages interested donors in selecting the poorest families and working out sound investment strategies for each of these families. Muslich also pays attention to the beneficiary families. They must take responsibility for managing the investment wisely. He encourages them to work with the donors as partners in a development process that benefits both.

The Creative Resourcing Strategy: Muslich worked closely with religious leaders to convince them that the goal of the zakat should be to improve the community's welfare. To underline the change from relief to development, Muslich asked that the zakat be given in different forms, such as a live goat (an investment), rather than grain (to eat). Musclich actively meshes citizen organizations into this new dynamic. They provide some of the initiative, technical help and ongoing organization for this new development process. The process in return gives them a very strong base of financial and other support. The need no longer be so dependent on government and international donors.

Their new independence in turn leads toward a less dependent community that increasingly initiates its own development. Further, by receiving a renewable investment community members are able to give back the following year.

Muslich's innovation demonstrates how to engage even poor constituencies who don't necessarily have the time or resources to contribute. We've explored how to connect with your communities and engage them in your organization, and even how to get resources back from your community. The question remains how to build on this engagement and how to sustain it.

Many organizations use local fundraising to galvanize local support, primarily because the techniques involved in soliciting funds can foster increased cooperation and communications between civil society organizations and the community. Furthermore, a diverse set of local fundraising initiatives provides the opportunity and incentives for local citizens to play an increasingly important and permanent role in the organization.

The Foundation for the Better Life of the Children (FBLC) in Thailand has developed a creative resourcing strategy that builds its membership base through local fundraising, building and expanding the role that local citizens play in the organization.

Foundation for the Better Life of Children

The Foundation for the Better Life of Children (FBLC) is pioneering the creation of integrated services for abused, abandoned, poor and neglected children in Bangkok who have been the unintended by-products of Thailand's rapid industrialization. Its services include: homes for abandoned children, health services, and schools for the children of thousands of migrant workers. Wallop ("Khru Yui") Tangkananurak, the founder of the organization, is also a pioneer among Thai Citizens' social change organizations in terms of building a broad base of individual and small group financial and volunteer support.

The Problem: Thailand has not been immune to the problems associated with the breakdown of family unity. An increased number of broken homes, battered and abused wives and children, increases in drug and alcohol abuse, and the pressures caused by long-term unemployment all wreak havoc on health family life. Sometimes the safest response for a child is to run away from home. But of course, running away only leads to a series of more serious and potentially dangerous problems, including drug and alcohol abuse, lack of health care, crime, prostitution and AIDS.

Thai society does not know how to deal with this burgeoning street youth population. Fearing and resenting these children, as so many storekeepers and adults do, only aggravates the problem. Chasing, punishing, or incarcerating them, as many public officials do, is even worse. Thus, the challenge is two-fold: to promote a civic consciousness regarding responsibility for these children and develop constructive alternatives for the children.

One Innovative Solution: FBLC has designed a range of creative programs to address the immediate needs of these disenfranchised children. It established a home for battered, raped, and abandoned children, founded a home for runaways in transition, and started a shelter home for children involved in legal disputes. It launched a "mobile education car" that circulates among construction workers' housing areas to tutor the children of the workers. FBLC's "Sidewalk teachers" reach out and provide counseling to street children in twelve areas of Bangkok.

The Creative Resourcing Strategy: "I don't like to raise funds from foreign funding," states Kru Yui, founder and leader of Thai NGO Foundation for the Better Life of Children. Another staff member reports, "We would like to see Thai people help Thai children... when we started [these] projects, we knew that people wanted to [contribute] ... but they don't know where... or [how]." The idea to become self-reliant has been present since the establishment of FBLC. Their initial, and ongoing, fundraising campaigns were part of a systematic plan to raise the consciousness of Thai society regarding the plight of disadvantaged children and to get the community actively involved in doing something about it.

The FBLC has developed a number of ways to reach out to the general public. First, it provides a highly responsive, reliable support service for the press – feeding them story opportunities, background information and explanation. Second, it publishes and provides a wide range of explanatory materials. Third, it scrupulously responds to every request for information they get from the public. Finally, it systematically asks citizens to contribute, either financially or by volunteering, and it stays in close contact with everyone who does.

The FBLC's initial fundraising campaign was a direct mail campaign, derived from the following premise: "how to make the greatest number of people know them the fastest." To follow this idea, FBLC identified the middle class people as their primary target group for fundraising and outreach, and began to send a letter to every person in the telephone directory. The campaign was well received by the public. To those who responded to the mailing, FBLC continues to update them through mailings which include an organizational brochure, a six-month report (often attached to a hand-written note from Khru-Yui); and a New Year poster, showing pictures of the project activities or the target children at one site. The poster is accompanied by a request for funding of special projects for the next year. This leads to the next step in galvanizing support. Project-specific fundraising campaigns get the community directly involved with the children and the problem. For example, The Children's Education Development and Promotion Project receives donations in the form of education funds and equipment for disadvantaged children in rural and urban areas. The donor can contribute a cash amount of 1,000 baht a month for one child, or give in the form of school supplies and materials such as bicycles, school uniform, or sport equipment. All donations will go directly to children in the schools through a school teacher without deducting any management costs.

Results: For FBLC, the benefit gained from such fundraising initiatives is publicity for the organization, the increase of their donor base, and the civic consciousness of the community. The mesh of fundraising and awareness gives citizens and volunteers an opportunity to witness the problems faced by street children. This, in turn, gives local citizens a direct link and feeling of obligation to the children that transcends their obligation to the organization itself.

While many CSOs are started by local citizens, it is not always easy to continuously attract more support, building on that initial membership base. In these cases, it is useful to think about your community in relation to your organization, using this illustration as a model for pulling in new members. Ask yourself the following questions: is there a direct correlation between the community and the problem we are working to alleviate; if so, can I offer this as an incentive to get people involved? What local resources can the community provide i.e. donations, volunteer time, services, etc.? Like Mia in Indonesia, can I offer something as an enticement? How can my members be used to spread the word about the organization? What are the obstacles to people becoming involved, i.e. time, money, etc? How can their direct involvement better their situation? Finally, how can I sustain local citizen participation? Once citizens are interested, how can I mesh them in so tightly to our mission that they won't leave?

Answering these questions will not only assist in pulling in members from the general public, it will also assist in understanding what resources you have to gain from community support, and how your organization can be made stronger in the process.

JWA Home