Getting the Basics Right: 5 Best Practices from Latin America

By Ellen Sullivan

As a volunteer for CASE I have had the opportunity to visit with colleagues in both Mexico and Colombia (from independent schools and national universities) to offer seminars on fundraising best practices. These trips, on which I was the presumed “expert,” were humbling experiences. They taught me about the creativity, tenacity and resilience of our advancement colleagues in Latin America.

Designed to help support the growth of our profession in the region, the seminars were organized in collaboration with Angélica Careaga, CASE’s executive director of global engagement for Latin America, who is based in CASE’s Mexico City office.

Spending time with colleagues south of the U.S. border, I met an impressive cadre of professionals dedicated to advancing their institutions in a context in which a culture of philanthropy cannot be assumed, but needs to be invented and then carefully nurtured.

It struck me that the work of our colleagues in Latin America is harder and requires infinitely more innovation, personal stamina and unwavering optimism than comparable development work in the United States.

Two Different Contexts for Giving

Here in the U.S., Congress introduced the original charitable tax deduction in the War Revenue Act of 1917, mere months after the U.S. entered World War I. This legislation’s sponsors argued that the charitable deduction was necessary if charities were to survive the war. Some of the beneficiaries of this tax benefit—including the YMCA (1844), Salvation Army (1865) and United Way (1887)—remain among the largest and most impactful nonprofit organizations in the U.S. today.

Latin America has no such legacy of government incentive to charitable giving. So, we should commend and applaud advancement professionals in the region for getting the basics right.

Hispanic college students studying outdoors

Global Best Practices

Here are five best practices from Latin America that many institutions around the globe would be wise to study.

  • Build a base of support through alumni engagement programs. Many institutions in Latin America wisely begin their advancement efforts through thoughtful and intentional alumni engagement efforts for the first three to five years, building a sense of community and shared purpose among their alumni/parent constituents. They understand that only by investing in comprehensive engagement programs (and being patient as they cultivate relationships over time) will they ultimately be credible in asking alumni/parents to support the institution.
  • Collaborate with the parent association. The American School Foundation in Mexico City hosts an annual Art Fair to raise funds for scholarships, infrastructure improvements and catering for many school functions. The school’s parent association organizes the event, reaching out to local artists to invite them to display their works at the fair, with proceeds of the sales benefiting the school.  Over the years, the fair has become a major social event in Mexico City, with artists actually offering their works to the school for inclusion in the show.
  • Identify local community partners. When Colegio Nueva Granada in Bogotá, Colombia, created a state-of-the-art, interactive media classroom, it wisely reached out to local businesses (both multinationals and Colombian firms in technology and media) to contribute. The new classroom is best in class.
  • Work with students. Colleagues at the Universidad del Rosario in Bogotá developed a student advocates program to help cultivate a visible, vibrant culture of philanthropy on campus, partnering with the advancement office to raise the profile of the role of philanthropy at the university.
  • Engage the board in fundraising.  Several universities in Mexico and Colombia countries are working with their boards to ensure full board participation in fundraising. This includes creating written expectations that board members will make the institution a priority in their own family’s philanthropy, as well as holding special training sessions to familiarize board members with their responsibilities as fundraisers.

Ellen Sullivan is director of international advancement at Phillips Academy and a longtime CASE volunteer. She’s a previous chair and faculty member of CASE’s International Advancement conference.


IAC_Sidebar_ImagesJoin fellow international advancement professionals at our International Advancement: North American Strategies for Global Alumni Relations and Fundraising conference Jan. 28-30, 2019, in Coral Gables, Florida. Discover strategic and sustainable techniques to increase the effectiveness of your international engagement and development programs.


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