Helping UNHCR help: tackling fundraising challenges in times of Covid-19

UNHCR leads international actions protecting the most vulnerable. The organization is almost fully funded through voluntary contributions. Due to Covid-19, it has become crucial to future-proof its fundraising programs and portfolio. But how?

UNHCR is a beacon of humanism in the world. The UN Refugee Agency leads the way in protecting rights, saving lives and building a better future for refugees.

Active in over 134 nations, the organization focuses on protecting refugees, returnees, internally displaced people and stateless persons. It leads international actions protecting the most vulnerable, delivering life-saving necessities such as shelter, food and water.


Mobilizing a donor base in extraordinary, challenging times

UNHCR is almost fully funded through voluntary contributions from governments and private donors. In 2018, the former contributed 89% of the overall budget, and the latter 11%. UNHCR has one of the fastest growing international fundraising programs in the private sector.

Today, its ambitious target is to raise 1 billion USD from over 5 million supporters, through a private sector fundraising program running in almost 40 countries. Individual contributions (voluntary donations by individual members of the public, up to the cumulative value of 10,000 USD/year) account for about 70% of the annual total income raised through private sector partnerships – 424 million USD in 2019.

Private sector partnerships have been growing considerably since 2018. The organization has been recruiting donors primarily face-to-face, with increasing emphasis on recruiting through digital channels and direct-response television. 

This immense donor base requires a strong supporter experience, and UNHCR has been looking to increase the average value per donor through donor development, as well as enhance its engagement with donors and improve donor´s satisfaction with the organisation.

Due to Covid-19, UNHCR – like many organizations that rely on private funds – faces new challenges. Donors’ behaviors and preferences have been impacted by the pandemic, and face-to-face fundraising possibilities (and the economy as a whole) have been restricted. It has become crucial for the organization to closely examine its fundraising product portfolio and programs, to future-proof them and ensure they will allow the organization to tackle the new reality.


Donor-centric innovation with
an eye to the future

In March 2020, Board of Innovation and UNHCR´s PSP (Private Sector Partnerships) set out to design and run its first fundraising innovation challenge, focusing on the diversification of both its portfolio and its revenue streams.

We then facilitated an intensive incubation program, guiding seven international teams through a donor-centric innovation process.



A promising process

At the end of the incubation program, five teams pitched their final concept to a panel consisting of a diverse group of key stakeholders from UNHCR. 

All teams were able to find a dedicated sponsor that will help them define their next steps and move forward.

On this project

Shervin Fekri

Shervin Fekri

Social Impact Lead &
Sr. Innovation Consultant

Lennert Decuypere

Lennert Decuypere


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