Over the past several years, in the course of my law practice and other activities in the nonprofit sector, I have noticed a groundswell of people who want to engage in international philanthropy. The growth in international giving by Americans has been dramatic. Indeed, from 2009-2011, international giving by Americans grew more than any other philanthropic sector, according to Giving USA, the annual yearbook of American philanthropy. But I am referring to something even more astounding. Increasingly, people want to get involved in a hands-on way. They are not content to give only money. They want to volunteer, and even create and run their own foreign programs. I don’t know how many people have come to me saying, “I want to start a school for girls in [name the country]. Can you help me set it up?”
In the fall of 2010, I was reflecting on this phenomenon, just as I saw an article by Nichols Kirstof in the New York Times Magazine, entitled, the “D.I.Y. Foreign-Aid Revolution.” I thought to myself, “If Nicholas Kristof, the renowned New York Times columnist is noticing this trend, it must be real.” I saw that these passionate people needed some resources to help them figure out the best way to further their causes.
Indeed, some people create schools in remote areas of developing countries, and have amazing impacts on the people they serve. Many others, however, find that creating and sustaining an international program is far more than they bargained for. If they had only known what they were getting themselves into, they might have made better use of the funds they raised by collaborating with an existing U.S. or foreign organization. At the least, their journeys could have been easier and less costly, had they gone in with their eyes open to the legal and practical challenges they would encounter.
How To Be A Global Nonprofit was born out of a desire to help passionate individuals and their nonprofit organizations find the best way to further their international causes. For some, this may be raising funds to support a U.S.-based organization that does work overseas. For others, it may mean funding and collaborating with a foreign-based organization. For those who have a burning desire to pursue a passion, and the ability to devote the necessary resources, this can be mean starting and operating a new program in a foreign country, or even multiple countries. Each individual and organization will find the path that is right, if they know what it takes to succeed.
I interviewed representatives from many organizations, from the largest to the smallest, to gain insights into how they decided to approach international engagement, and how they overcame legal and practical challenges. Ten of these organizations appear in my book as case studies, and I will continue to post additional case studies on my blog.
I wrote about three audacious founders who, against all odds, forged ahead to create unique programs in foreign countries. One even created a global fundraising structure. These are inspiring stories, but they are also cautionary. They show that it takes more than passion to be successful in creating and sustaining an international nonprofit.
My sincere hope is that, by shedding light on the special legal and practical challenges organizations face in the international arena, How To Be A Global Nonprofit will help more people to succeed in furthering whatever international cause ignites their passion.