Fundraising Challenges for VAAR

If there was one aspect of my job I could afford to outsource, it would be fundraising.  Fundraising as an American running a vegan organization in Vietnam focusing on solutions rather than the popular and media-friendly Bandaids of other “animal advocacy” organizations is the bane of my existence for many reasons. It is the part of my work that makes me feel most often like quitting and running off to Antarctica to live among walruses. Here are some tips for those who are considering such an odd job as fundraising followed by an explanation of the challenges we face as a vegan rescue in Vietnam.

Fundraising basics for small organizations:

Have rich friends that support your mission.

Have money to get into places where you can make rich friends who support your mission.

Have the money to buy the databases of rich donors who could support your mission.

Have the money to drop hundreds of thousands of dollars on fundraising consultants who can get you to the rich people who can support your mission.

If you have none of these, tap into your trust fund and run your mission as a private organization.

If you have no trust fund, marry someone who does.

If you don’t want to be married or can’t be married because you are a stressed out shelter director drowning in personal debt to support your mission and no one is dumb enough to marry you, work your fingers to the bone doing another job while managing your organization so that you can burn out as quickly as possible, have a heart attack before the age of 45, and drop dead to avoid the suffering of being a fundraising shelter director with a mission that is impossible to support unless you can do steps 1-6. 

95% of our donors live over 5000 miles from our shelter and will never see us or any of the work we do outside of social media.

That’s the reality of fundraising for a mission of this scope here in Vietnam. Kidding aside, here’s a guide to the challenges we face specifically at VAAR in fundraising so you can see why we have such issues staying afloat:

As an American 501(c)(3) organization, run by myself, and American, it’s not shocking that the majority of our donors are American. Being in a country in which the average salary is around $300 a month, it makes sense we are not getting much money from locals. Most donors have never been to Vietnam, nor ever will come. A large chunk of our donors only know Asia only from the movies and viral videos of the dog meat trade.  Probably 0.0002% of our donors have ever been to a local Vietnamese vet clinic with any animal for any reason and couldn’t begin to process the posts we make about the reality of the veterinary industry here. Many don’t have farm animals, have never been to a farm sanctuary, and have not ever considered that if the dog meat trade is so bad, the production and slaughter of species almost no one on the planet considers a pet must be much, much worse.

Compare our situation to a rescue in North Carolina.  Where do you think their donors come from?  Their adopters?  The vets they use?  All are probably living not more than 50 miles from that rescue.  All speak the same language, all have the ability to visit the facility.  All understand the issues they have in the community because they also live there.  On top of that, they are Americans making US dollars in a place where usually the disposable income allows for donations to multiple organizations.  Not quite the same as being a rescue in Vietnam run by foreigners, right?

  • It does not pay $$$ to be a vegan rescue.

We are a vegan organization competing against nonvegan organizations with MUCH bigger audiences and marketing budgets who sell single issue campaigns focusing almost exclusively on the dog meat trade and wildlife issues.  With less than 10% of the world population being vegan, this means we piss off a lot of animal loving animal eaters with a message against speciesism no matter how we phrase it.  People still believe the lies that the big organizations sell that dog meat is the greatest tragedy here. 

  • Fundraising is EXPENSIVE.

Let me repeat that for those in the back: FUNDRAISING IS EXPENSIVE. Okay, now once more to drive it home: FUNDRAISING IS EXPENSIVE.  You get that now?  It costs money to make money.  If you think nonprofits get all our marketing for free because we have cute puppies, then you might want to douse yourself with a bucket of ice water and wake the f*** up.  We don’t.  We have to pay to get you to see our posts.  We have to pay for the services to create engaging ads that are distributed to a target population that will donate.  We have to pay the human beings behind the screens who use their valuable time to make these posts, handle the banking, and pay the bills because HUMANS EAT and we are all educated and functional staff members working our tits off in a nightmare scenario for pennies.   And when we do not have this cash, which is almost always because every penny we have ends up being sucked into direct care and basic overhead, we don’t get to do any proper marketing that drives people to our pages to find their way to our donate button. If you think the RSPCA gets their cash through their good work rather than their professional fundraisers and marketing budget, you’re kidding yourself. Nonprofits are a business like any other. Stop acting as if we live in some alternate financial universe.

  • Crisis is the only way people are motivated enough to donate.
  • That crisis better be life-threatening or no one will even blink.  Paying for a new barn roof, and air conditioning replacement, or the salary of the only people that make this work at all is not what anyone considers life threatening enough to help us with.  We are expected to foot that bill with our “side jobs” done in all this amazing free time we are expected to have ( WTF @#$%^&*!!!!!) and our giant trust funds it seems. 
  • Getting our donor demographic to understand the “why” of our financial needs here is impossible. 

Without understanding the “why”, we are not going to get the donors.  The most basic reality of animal rescue here has been covered up by the flaming lies written by the communications teams of the large organizations (all non-vegan and thus not confronting the animal eating “animal lovers”) who have staff writing from an office in a city where they have NO clue how day to day life is here.  This shit spreads like wildfire to the puppy-loving public in the main donor countries who can’t fathom the daily shitshow we live with and the big picture issues we must solve through LONG TERM strategies for development within our specific social, political, and economic situation here in Vietnam.  Most people in our donating demographic have no idea what the difference is between countries in Asia and do not care. For people who do not travel, it’s hard to explain how our situation in central Vietnam is different from the situation in South Korea, Hong Kong, or Cambodia. The majority of people who read this page have never lived somewhere that vets are not reasonably well-educated in science and have a decent grasp of veterinary medicine that can at least get you close to a real diagnosis and a treatment plan that doesn’t do more harm than good. It’s very difficult to understand without having lived this life here with hundreds of cases going through local vets that were tragically misdiagnosed and mistreated.

  • We don’t want donations.  We want investment

We want donors to invest in financial stability for all nonprofits, not just throw cash at crises.  Building up our ability to keep the funds rolling through a social enterprise has not been something people have gotten behind no matter how hard we sold that idea. Sustainable income is not a crisis, and thus the imperative is lost. No emotional pleas.  It’s just business as usual and that bores the piss out of most people. How do you get people to want to donate to sustainable income instead of crises?  That’s the million-dollar question.  Literally.  It would get us a million dollars and a network of vet clinics across Vietnam if you could answer that. I’m all ears.

  • The entire system of nonprofit fundraising, rescue specifically, is tragically flawed.

Rescue funding is based on crises and is expected to be done for free by people who are unpaid to support a cause for which there is no measurable economic impact.  This is the idea is batshit insane and there is nothing we can do about it while the large organizations are hogging all the media. This is a dead end of nonstop begging and without a consistent source of income outside donations, it will not change.  Without investment in a social enterprise, it won’t change.  Without a shift in the general understanding of rescue fundraising, there will be no progress. 

The large organizations feed you the drama you crave with pretty white people taking doggies out of cages at dog meat farms in Asia to fly them to the US to add to the millions of dogs who need homes.  People drop loads of cash on that, which pays for the overhead that allows them to do these nonsense “rescues” for the bleeding hearts of suburban America who have no clue the detrimental effect of this dramatic crap really is. Those two sentences are going to hurt a lot of feelings, but they are true. Sorry, not sorry. Our shelter needing an expensive clinic and salaries for our hard working staff to get that clinic running pales in comparison to the drama of these big orgs with their Bandaid fixes professionally filmed and promoted for all to see. We can’t get you the before and afters you crave, so we get nothing.  No drama, no dime.  The flaw is glaring to those of us here, and invisible to those of you far away who donate.  Not much we can do to change that.

In general, we are losing the battle for funds because we sell a message that confronts people in their own participation of animal cruelty on a daily basis. We are losing the battle with that message because it confronts the largest organizations in the world who tell the public that eating dogs is wrong, killing rhinos is wrong, riding elephants is wrong, but breeding, confining, torturing, and murdering a slew of other species in an industry responsible for more greenhouse gas emissions than any other sector is just fine and dandy and totally morally consistent. And more than anything, we are losing that battle for funds because we insist on LONG TERM strategies to END, let me repeat that, END the use of animals, period, full stop. That message as an animal rescue is NOT negotiable. We want to end animal suffering. Why the hell would we buy into a message that has no scientific or economically valid basis and sell that in exchange to feed our animals and keep putting drops in a bucket that has so many holes in it?

We need investment now. Not tomorrow. Now. We need a clinic now. Not tomorrow. Now. We need change and it is not going to come from the top, clearly. Please help us end animal suffering through high impact, long term strategies addressing the root cause of animal suffering. There is no other way.