While human rights funders have a clearer common interest, it can sometimes be more difficult to engage or connect with a funder outside of the human rights sector, and persuading a funder of the importance of your work can be a challenge.
Ask questions to understand how they define their focus area. You’ll be able to determine whether you can make a case for your work. Remember that it is your responsibility to help them connect the dots.
For a development funder, you might want to argue that refugee work rights will help them access livelihood opportunities. For a women’s rights funder, you might want to offer information about the special needs of refugee women and how your work responds directly to these needs. All this is possible only if you genuinely understand the issue and how it intersects with your work.
For example, Asylum Access spoke with a women’s rights funder about our refugee legal aid and policy advocacy work using some of the language below about refugees:
“Many refugee women who have been in Tanzania for a long time, and have married Tanzanian men still lack access to resident rights. This means that they may not have equal access to land ownership rights for example, and would need legal assistance in cases of land disputes. Our legal advocates are able to advise them and take this issue to court if necessary.”
You will notice that we explained an issue unique to refugee women before explaining how our activities make a difference.
In addition to introducing your work, funder conversations may also be useful to gather information.
- A funder with a portfolio that includes human rights work in your region might focus on another country due to recent socio-political developments presenting a greater need or potential to make an impact. For example, a foundation’s Southeast Asia portfolio became more focused more on organizations working within Burma in 2012 and 2013 as the political climate shifted towards improved political practices and openness. Without a conversation, we would never have learned this.
- In our early years, Asylum Access found that some funders still associate refugee assistance with humanitarian aid and are surprised to learn about a rights empowerment approach. Similarly, one funder refused our inquiry because they worked in human rights and not with refugees. This indicated a knowledge gap at least among some funders, and suggested an opportunity for Asylum Access to educate funders about our approach first, rather than open a conversation by speaking about our program activities.