Fundraising training courses in India

(A version of this article was originally published in The Horn, spring 2012. Author: Cathy Dean, Director)

It was an invitation I couldn’t turn down: an email from my dear friend Susie Ellis, Executive Director of the International Rhino Foundation, asking whether I fancied travelling with her to Darjeeling and Kolkata, to help teach a pair of fundraising workshops, followed by a visit to Manas and Orang National Parks and Pobitora Wildlife Sanctuary, to check on the progress of Indian Rhino Vision 2020. Most of my expenses would be paid by a grant she had obtained from USFWS. It took me under a nanosecond to accept.

The word of the trip was “Yikes!” “Yikes!” when a passenger on the plane shouted in Hindi that he was going to blow it up. (We could have done without the well-meaning translator sitting next to us.) “Yikes!” when we saw the carpet in Delhi International Airport, a vision in orange. “Yikes!” as we careered nearly 7,000 feet up an impossibly twisty road to the gorgeous hill station of Darjeeling.

One good night’s sleep later and there we were, in front of a group of 20 people working for local conservation NGOs. Susie’s former Development Officer, Maggie Moore, had planned the whole workshop, with sessions covering prospect strategy and research, the basics of donor cultivation, “The Perfect Proposal”, writing for different donors, budgeting, donor stewardship and reporting. We took it in turns to present, happily ad-libbing about good and bad examples we’d each come across.

After an initial shyness, by the time we’d got the trainees working in small groups on writing a practice proposal and budget, everyone was having a great time. We’d told them not to worry about whether the project was realistic, just to ensure that the proposal followed the right guidelines. I remember with particular fondness a discussion about how to budget for training elephants to catapult themselves across railway lines in a sling, thus avoiding ele deaths and train derailments. Being creative is great fun.

Each group reported back on their draft proposal and budget, and then the others would critique it. Their enthusiasm was utterly infectious: we were all practically cheering when one group came up with truly poetic descriptions of their project site that would have painted a vivid picture for any proposal review committee. On the last day, Kanchenjunga appeared through the mist, illustrating the words of their invented proposal!

Each two-and-a-half day course ended with a formal evaluation, and I’m delighted to say that we had great feedback from all participants. Those in Darjeeling, in particular, were so impressed that we had come all the way from Virginia and London to pass on our knowledge.

But far from it being one-way traffic of knowledge from Save the Rhino and the IRF to West Bengal-based NGOs, we also learned new things: about our own skills as trainers, the fundraising climate and grant givers in India, local environmental issues, and of course about the work being done by conservation organisations in the area. There was a plea for help to expand the Indian Rhino Vision 2020 project, which is currently based only in Assam, to cover West Bengal too, and I very much hope there will be some support for this.

The thing that makes me happiest in my job is being able to team up with other like-minded people, to deliver great conservation activities. There’s no point competing; it’s so much more fun to collaborate.


Susie Ellis of the IRF for the invitation to join her; Bibhab Talukdar and Saurabh Baruah of Aaranyak for arranging all the logistics; and Amit Sharma and Deba Dutta of WWF-India for hosting us in Assam. It was a brilliant trip – thank you.