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Fundraising for Chapters

You probably have many questions about financing your Chapter, such as:

  • How much money will I need to start my Chapter?
  • How much money will my Chapter need to maintain its activity once the Chapter has been organized?
  • How important will funding be to accomplishing my Chapter’s goals?
  • Can the Internet Society help my Chapter with funding?

Some Chapter leaders focus on creating a steady source of revenue; others focus on organizing the Chapter with as few expenses as possible.

Funding can come in several forms. However, in general, the two categories of funding are cash and what are referred to as ‘in-kind’ contributions.

Types of funding

In-kind contributions

An in-kind contribution refers to anything other than money that your Chapter needs or could use (that would otherwise cost money) to accomplish its goals. For example, if you need office space to run your Chapter, and someone you know is willing to let you use an empty office in their building without charge, such an arrangement would be regarded as in-kind support. Similarly, if you are running an event that requires snacks and beverages, and an individual or business is willing to contribute those items, such contributions are also regarded as in-kind support. In-kind support can serve the needs of your Chapter in general or it can provide support for a specific programme, event, or project.

The Internet Society Greater Washington DC Chapter held its first public meeting at the visitors’ center at the Capitol building in Washington. The facility was made available because one of the Chapter’s past leaders, Gene Gaines, had previously worked there as a volunteer. According to Gene, everything at the first meeting was donated, including the video and still photography, which was made possible through a strategic partnership with the Internet Society New York Chapter.

In-kind support can also take the form of human resources. Students from local colleges and universities are often required to perform internships, which help them get much-needed work experience. So consider taking on an intern to work on a three-month project, such as something in the area of marketing support, development of communications materials, or cleaning up your membership database. Similarly, business students are good candidates for helping a Chapter create a business plan or develop a funding model.


At some point your Chapter will need cash to accomplish even the simplest tasks, such as submitting paperwork for establishing a not-for-profit entity. Additional resources, even in the form of in-kind contributions, might also be necessary in order to build your Chapter’s website or to pay for meeting space. As Chapters grow and become self-sustaining, they might find it is necessary to generate funds to hire staff to handle administrative activities, or to pay speakers for Chapter events.

However, before you start putting into place plans for generating funds, contact other Chapter leaders, many of whom can give you suggestions, ideas, and inspiration. The network of Chapter leaders is your best resource for techniques and tactics that have already been proven effective. A simple message to Chapter Delegates (chapter-delegates@elists.isoc.org) will usually result in valuable feedback.

If you decide that you need more ideas, think about other volunteer organizations in your area and consider which of them are the most successful. Contact them to see what has worked for them and add them to the list of fund raising options.

In addition, there are countless resources out there that offer ideas and suggestions for fundraising. Try an Internet search using the keyword term ‘development’.

Sources of funding

There are a number of ways to generate funds, ranging from charging fees to soliciting sponsorships to funding opportunities from the Internet Society. They are not mutually exclusive.

Membership fees

Some Chapters choose to charge membership fees. While charging for membership is one way to generate funds, doing so creates an expectation among prospective members that they will receive something, either in the form of a tangible benefit (such as a publication, or discounts on products, events, or services) or intangible benefits, such as access, prestige, or that being a part of your Chapter will be a personally or professionally satisfying experience. At first it is relatively easy to argue that membership fees are necessary to get things going. In the long run, however, members will only be willing to pay when the Chapter provides value, either to them personally or to the community at large.

The Internet Society Australia Chapter, for example, has been highly successful at creating the type of value that justifies a membership fee. On the Chapter’s website is a statement that is both clear and confident with regards to the benefits of joining:

“As a member of Internet Society Australian Chapter you will become part of a network of friendly, informed people, willing to share their knowledge at every level of Internet expertise. The Internet Society Australia Chapter was founded by many of the pioneers of Internet networks and services in Australia, and it offers an environment in which members may seek information, discuss issues, and provide input into industry and government policy submissions. Membership is available for both Individuals (Full and Concession) and Organizations (Foundation, Enterprise, and Sustaining).”

Prospective members of the Internet Society Australia Chapter can quickly see that by joining the Chapter, they will be in the company of leaders and like-minded people. Plus, the advantages of membership include both tangible and intangible benefits:

“Members of  Internet Society Australian Chapter are able to:

  • Have their say in submissions on public policy and critical Internet issues affecting Australia
  • Stay informed with our mailing-lists
  • Support ongoing international Internet development through Internet Society and the IETF
  • Receive reduced entry fees to meetings, conferences, and events held by our Organizational Members”

The Internet Society does not take a specific position on whether or not Chapters should charge membership fees. We understand that depending on your geographic region, the culture of your community, and your Chapter’s specific objectives, your Chapter is unique. Only you and your Chapter’s board members can decide whether or not you should charge membership fees.

In some parts of the world or in some cultures, charging membership fees may not be practical, desirable, or even feasible. If your community members are not in a position to make a financial contribution, it will be even more important that they make a personal investment. In order for your Chapter to be successful, you will need, at the very least, human resources.

The following offers some insight into the benefits and drawbacks of charging for membership.

Benefits of charging membership fees:

  • While membership fees for most association chapters are typically low, they provide an immediate and ongoing source of cash.
  • Sends the message that membership in your Chapter has value.
  • Could potentially mean attracting a higher-quality and more committed group of members.

It is also important to consider that charging the same people who you are asking to volunteer their time also has some drawbacks:

Drawbacks to charging membership fees:

  • Collecting membership fees often requires that the Chapter establish a legal entity, which can take a long time and cost the Chapter money for filing and, possibly, legal fees. While the Internet Society strongly recommends establishing a legal entity for your Chapter, doing so is not required.
  • If you decide to collect membership fees, you will need a mechanism for, and a person in charge of, collecting and accounting for the money received.
  • Members who pay fees are more likely to expect, or demand, benefits of Chapter affiliation.

If you choose to charge a membership fee, you will need to create an administrative structure for collecting fees as well as a plan for how that money will be spent. That can be handled by forming a legal entity or by partnering with an organization that can handle billing and collection.


Some Chapters have found that sponsorships from other organizations (including equipment manufacturers and service providers) can bring in much-needed revenue. Sometimes sponsorships are solicited to help support or promote a specific event or activity, such as a meeting. In other cases, Chapters encourage businesses and other entities to become organization members, which, if successful, can mean a substantial infusion of cash or in-kind contributions on an annual basis.

What is a sponsor?

A sponsor is an individual, business, or organization that agrees to provide funding or other support to an organization, business, or individual. Sponsorship can be for the purpose of supporting your Chapter in general, or it can be for the purpose of supporting a specific event or activity. Payment is generally made through a transfer of funds or it can come in the form of in-kind support, such as materials, meeting space, advertising or promotion, computers, or other tangibles or intangibles of value.

Opinions about the value of sponsorships vary widely. On one hand, sponsors can provide a large chunk of the money or resources needed, reducing the pressure to obtain similar funding from a variety of sources. On the other hand, sponsors rarely make contributions without expectations. In some cases, sponsors simply want to be able to have their name attached to your Chapter or your event. In this case, you may be expected to put their logo on your website or on any materials you distribute. In other cases, in exchange for their contribution, a sponsor might want to have one of their staff members on your board or a voice in making important decisions. You are encouraged to discuss the pros and cons of sponsorships with your board. And you are encouraged to formalize for your Chapter a set of guidelines that determines what is and is not acceptable in exchange for sponsorship support.

When the Internet Society Puerto Rico Chapter became involved with a study about the state of the Internet in Puerto Rico, it engaged Centennial of Puerto Rico as a sponsor, which resulted in an in-kind contribution that included a year of Web hosting in a shared environment as well as the necessary storage and high-bandwidth connection to the Internet. In return, Centennial’s name appeared on the Chapter’s website.

Remember: Your Chapter has value. If you operate your Chapter professionally, there are likely to be organizations that see the value of contributing. It is very likely that your Chapter’s efforts are going to benefit other organizations. The trick is to figure out what those benefits may be and how to frame the message.

In reality, even the most experienced Chapter leader knows that generating sponsorship is a difficult task. It requires dedication, persistence, good contacts, good networking skills, and a thick skin. Even in good economic times, pursuing sponsorships can consume large amounts of time and yield limited results. And even if a business is willing to sign on for a year’s membership or an on-going sponsorship, you will need to keep selling that sponsor in order to keep them.

If you choose to pursue sponsorships, here are a few tips for attracting sponsors:

  • Create a list of potential sponsors. If the goal of your Chapter is to promote Internet education, make a list of the educational institutions in your region, such as colleges, universities, or private businesses that offer education and training. It might be cheaper for them to fund your efforts than it would be to offer a similar service, and they benefit from having their name attached. If your Chapter’s charter involves promoting safe Internet surfing or Internet security, think about contacting government or ministries that understand the concerns but not have the expertise or staffing to do it on their own. Think expansively about what types of organizations and companies might benefit from the work your Chapter is doing. And think about what organizations would simply want to promote a relationship with your Chapter as a way to raise their profile.
  • Create a win-win scenario. Once you have a list of potential sponsors, discuss with your board or members what specifically it is you need the money for (computers, meeting space, supplies), what you will do with the support, and how it will benefit your cause. Then, determine what are the benefits to the sponsor; in other words, what will they get for their support? In most cases, sponsors agree to provide support because doing so puts them in front of an important audience they may otherwise have difficulty reaching. Supporting your Chapter might send the message that the sponsoring organization is altruistic or visionary. If what they will get is exposure, then figure out how much exposure they can expect and put a price on the value of that exposure.
  • Write out the sales pitch. Once you have your list of sponsors and specific ideas about what you want and what they get in return, create a document that outlines what you are asking, the benefits to both the Chapter and the sponsoring organization, and the terms of the agreement or relationship, such as when the support will be needed, in what form it will come, and other details. The more specific you are the better. Terms can be (and usually are) negotiable. But it’s best to start with something specific.
  • Make contact. Contact the sponsor, by phone or email, let them know that you are interested in forming a relationship with them, and ask for a meeting. Meeting in person is always best, but if that’s not possible, talk on the phone, which is more personal than email. Email is fine once a relationship has been established, but it is no substitute for a personal connection.
  • Close the deal. If your pitch is successful, and the potential sponsor seems interested, close the deal as soon as possible. It is said that until the cheque is signed, there is no deal. A verbal agreement is fine but a signed agreement is better. Prepare a simple document that clearly outlines the terms of the sponsorship arrangement. Include what each party has promised to do as well as the payment terms. Then print out two copies, sign both, and send both to the sponsor. Include a cover letter asking the sponsor to sign both copies and return one for your files.
  • Make good on your promise. Do what you said you would do and make sure that your sponsor is happy. Don’t miss an opportunity to thank and recognize a sponsor.
  • Hold on to your sponsor. Maintaining a relationship with a sponsor is just as important as getting a sponsor. The biggest mistake Chapters make is believing that once the deal is done, they can move on to other things. Not true. Keeping a sponsor (or a member or a customer) is a lot more cost efficient than getting a new one. Therefore, it pays to check in regularly with your sponsors. Keep them abreast of your Chapter’s successes. Engage them in discussion. And make them feel like they’re an important part of the work you are doing.

For additional advice on sponsorships, particularly with regard to seeking additional support for events through sponsorships, see A Guide to Raising Funds for Events through Sponsorship by the Internet Society’s Kevin Craemer.

Strategic partnerships

Unlike sponsorships, strategic partnerships imply shared responsibilities and benefits. They can offer a practical way for your Chapter to achieve more than it could on its own. A partnership can be a one-time arrangement for handling a project or event or it can be a longer-term relationship that aligns a Chapter with a larger or better-resourced organization.

Partnerships help Chapters develop relationships with like-minded organizations and businesses that are interested in the expertise your Chapter’s members and leaders possess. Most important, partnerships can help raise your Chapter’s profile and increase your visibility among audiences you might otherwise have difficulty reaching.

Among Internet Society Chapters are examples of meaningful and creative partnerships that have furthered the goals of the Internet Society on the local level and increased visibility for Chapters.

Here are few examples:

  • The Internet Society India-Kolkata Chapter partnered with the Institute of Engineering and Management in Kolkata to launch a series of grassroots-level study projects on different areas that mapped with the objectives of the Kolkata Chapter. Topics included the State of the Internet in West Bengal, the Role of IXPs, and Overview and IPv6 awareness status among different user communities. Four students from the Institute were involved with the Kolkata Chapter for six weeks on a full-time basis. They were expected to submit a report at the end of the period. Not only does the partnership enable the Chapter to pursue its goals in a cost-effective manner (by using students), creating a relationship with the students made it easier for the Chapter to identify and groom new leadership.
  • In 2008, the Internet Society Australia Chapter partnered with the Australian Computer Society and the Australian Seniors Computer Clubs Association to offer a half-day meeting entitled Cyber Savvy – Building Confidence in the Internet.
  • The Internet Society Ghana Chapter partnered with the University of Cape Coast Computer Science community and the Department of Computer Science and Information Technology at UCC to organize a homecoming ceremony in honour of Nii Narku Quaynor, who was the first African recipient of the prestigious Jonathan B. Postel Service. In this case, rather than partnering on an event or a workshop, the partnership was formed to honour and celebrate as well as to connect the Chapter with an important person and a prestigious award.
  • In 2007, after consulting with its members, the Internet Society Finland Chapter joined the Finnish Information Processing Association (FIPA), which has approximately 18,000 individual professional and 600 corporate members. The organization provides office space and paid staff, which allowed the Chapter to transfer many of the routine tasks required to keep the Chapter running, such as membership administration, fee collection, and bookkeeping. FIPA also allows the Chapter to use its website service provider and gives them access to staff when organizing events. Except for a small fee they pay for bookkeeping services, the Internet Society Finland Chapter does not pay a fee for these services. In fact, FIPA pays the Chapter a portion of collected fees from the membership, which enables the Chapter to offer its members better benefits. “Being part of a larger community has brought us many benefits,” wrote Tommi Karttaavi of Internet Society Finland Chapter. “All in all, it has been a very fruitful partnership for both sides. FIPA gets new members and expertise on Internet issues through us and we can concentrate on the real issues instead of red tape.”

Partnerships are especially effective when it comes to planning and implementing events, but they can also provide much-needed resources for other activities, such as educational activities and awareness campaigns. Partners make it possible for you to focus on what you do well while allowing another individual or group to contribute resources or brainpower your Chapter may not have. And forming partnerships helps engage groups that can serve as your Chapter’s advocates.

The Internet Society Event Funding

Securing funds to hold events is not always easy, but without events, it is difficult to keep your members’ attention, maintain credibility, or make sure your Chapter is active and strong.

The Internet Society Event Funding programme offers a modest amount of money to help Chapters launch an events programme (as opposed to membership meetings) that will keep members engaged and the community interested in what the Chapter is doing.

The programme provides USD 2,000 per eligible Chapter per calendar year. The funds can be used to establish a single event (perhaps one that you intend to repeat each year) or it can be divided up and applied to more than one event (for example, if you would like to repeat an event in more than one location).

To qualify for funding, proposed events must meet the needs of the Chapter and be consistent with the Internet Society’s principles and goals. Events must also be compatible with one (or more) of our Strategic Objectives or fall within our current major activities.

The application forms for the Internet Society’s Event Funding programme are easy to complete. A memorandum of understanding (MoU) will need to be signed, which obliges Chapters to provide feedback after the event. This helps the Internet Society promote your Chapter by spreading the word about what you are doing. If necessary, Internet Society staff can help with finding speakers and with logistical details.

Chapter Travel Fellowship Programme

Attending events, whether for educational purposes or to appear as a speaker or presenter, is a useful way for Chapter leaders to increase their visibility and network with peers, colleagues, and other leaders. Unfortunately, Chapters often lack the financial resources to travel outside of their area or country.

In response, the Internet Society has a Chapter Travel Fellowship programme, which is available to all Chapters on a competitive basis. However, to support those that are least able, priority will be given to Chapter delegates coming from countries classified as emerging and developing by the International Monetary Fund. As funding is limited, priority will also be given to attending events that directly support our activities, such as regional INETs. Also note that Chapter workshops are now regularly scheduled alongside regional INETs.

Community Grants Programme

The Internet Society’s Community Grants Programme provides much-needed financial resources to help programmes and projects being led by Chapters (and individual members) succeed. It was created to advance the Internet Society’s mission, goals, and objectives, as well as to serve the Chapters’ communities, nurture collaborative work among Chapters and Global members, enhance and use knowledge and sharing in the global Internet community, and encourage and maintain Chapter sustainability and relevance.

Some examples of past financial awards include those that went to Chapters working on IPv6 training, capacity building for academic institutions in Central Africa, the creation of Internet Exchange Points in Sierra Leone, and enabling Internet access in underserved communities in remote areas of the Democratic Republic of Congo, to name a few.

If your Chapter is currently working on or collaborating on a project that addresses Internet access, security and stability, IPv6, alternative networks, or any other topics that fit within the Internet Society’s strategic objectives, the Community Grants Programme could be a way to receive the additional funding you need to complete the project.

To date, the Community Grants Programme is having a positive impact. The Internet Society Mexico Chapter was awarded a Community Grant in 2008 to launch a website on security and cybercrime issues for the benefit of Latin America countries and the Internet Society community at large. Today, Ciberdelincuencia.Org offers tools and best practices about security and cybercrime, serving as an important resource for attorneys, law enforcement authorities, public officials, and academics about the existing legal international instruments and the frameworks found in Latin American legislation in the fight against cybercrime. As of September 2009, the website was averaging 5,000 hits per month and approximately 200 visits a day. The project’s leaders are exploring alliances and funding partnerships with other nonprofits and academic research centres to ensure that the site becomes a permanent source of legal reference in the area of cybercrime for Latin America.

For any enquiries about the Community Grants Programme, contact projects@isoc.org.

Outside grants

An outside grant is a financial award obtained from a foundation, institution, government agency (or an agency affiliated with a government), or organization other than the Internet Society. While the method for obtaining grants can vary widely depending on the type of grant, the granting organization, and even what part of the world you are in, investigating grant money for a Chapter is well worth the effort. Keep in mind, though, that grant money for a Chapter might be difficult (if not impossible) to obtain if the Chapter is not a nonprofit organization, business entity, or affiliated with a nonprofit organization or business entity. Grants usually go to small businesses, nonprofits, nongovernmental organizations, and similar types of enterprises.

On rare occasions, a grant will be awarded to an organization or enterprise in the form of “start up” or “unrestricted” funds (meaning funds that can be used to do whatever is necessary to keep an organization – or in this case a Chapter – going). Therefore, it is possible that a granting organization would respond favorably to a grant proposal that would help fund start-up Chapters. Most often, however, grants are awarded for a specific project or activity.

How do you go about getting a grant? The first thing to do is to research granting organizations. There are public foundations, private foundations, governments, and charitable organizations, among others. In the United States, there are government grants and grants from U.S.-based organizations, such as the Ford Foundation. Think about what your Chapter can do and look for a granting organization that might be a good fit. For example, if your Chapter is interested in education, look for foundations and government grants whose mission is education, particularly for the benefit of rural and underserved communities. If your Chapter is interested in accessibility issues, look for granting organizations whose mission is the benefit of people with disabilities.

Second, once you find an organization that you believe is a good fit, do your homework. Find out what other types of projects they have funded. Doing so will help you formulate a project that will be good for the Chapter and attractive to the granting organization.

Third, you will need to create a grant proposal. Some granting organizations have grant schedules (similar to ISOC’s Community Grants Programme). If so, you will need to apply by a certain deadline. Others have “rolling” deadlines, meaning you can apply for the grant at any time. Whatever the requirements, do your research. Talk to others who have applied for, and who have been awarded grants (whether they are affiliated with a Chapter or not). A good grant proposal can make all the difference.

Finally, be prepared to issue regular reports to the granting organization.

If you are turned down, learn from the experience. Do not be afraid to contact someone at the organization you applied to and ask questions about your proposal in order to find out what went wrong. Like any of the relationships described in this handbook, cultivating a relationship with someone at a granting organization is a good idea.

Grants require patience. It can take months (if not a year or more) to go through the application process.

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