Eelco Keij is a Dutch-American dual citizen who has been active in fundraising since 2008. He brings a unique perspective to the table, having given presentations in over 30 countries, focusing on U.S. foundations giving internationally and the strategic use of LinkedIn for such efforts.
Keij initially started as a lobbyist in the development sector in the Netherlands. After moving to the United States, he sought to open an office that would connect European development nonprofits with public actors like the UN, World Bank and U.S. Government.
“That was in the summer of 2008, and it took no longer than three months before I realized I had to fire myself,” Keij explained. “Because of the sudden economic crisis, every nonprofit was getting rid of their external consultants as soon as possible.”
One of Keij’s colleagues remarked the best way to stay in business was to find another source of revenue for his potential clients. This prompted a shift in his career, from lobbyist to a fundraising strategist. Having no formal training at the time, Keij took it upon himself to scour the internet for learning opportunities. After attending a few free courses at the Foundation Center in New York, Keij found most courses were domestically focused with only a little bit of international information.
“I had to scrape all those bits together myself and try to come up with a new, truly international-oriented course,” Keij noted.
Through his research, Keij also found that the U.S. foundations market was primed for growth opportunities. Unlike any other country, Keij has found the United States to be the most “highly documented and transparent in terms of numbers (giving history, contact details, etc.),” in part due to the nature of the U.S. tax system. Keij has yet to find another country where the foundations market is so searchable.
Keij has yet to find another country where the foundations market is so searchable.
Armed with information, Keij set up his own shop as a New York-based consultant specializing in U.S. foundations giving internationally. To get the word out about his services, he began developing his own seminar for foreign-based nonprofits, sharing a primer on the market and how to enter it from start to finish. Within that presentation, he emphasized that any serious international nonprofit should at least consider approaching the U.S. foundations market, given its searchability.
Feedback for the seminar was positive and Keij gradually grew his client-base. Currently, he works as a senior consultant for Global Philanthropic, which focuses on universities, museums and other large nonprofits entering the Asian market. Next to that, he has his own consultancy, using this home-grown expertise to help the international fundraising consultancy expand to the United States.
While Keij found ease of search prevails in the United States, conversely, prospect development efforts in the Netherlands are much more piecemeal in terms of research, due to privacy restrictions that do not allow for sophisticated search engines, Keij notes.
“Now with GDPR in place, things will become even more strict in Europe,” he said. “I’ve seen some American foundations voluntarily take on this new thinking. In general it's a good step, although the restrictions can lead to (in my opinion) silly outcomes, like kids’ soccer team pictures where some teammates are invisible because the clubs don't know whether or not the parents approve.”
Whether you live in the United States or the EU, however, Keij has identified one tool that is ideal (and free) for prospect development and fundraising efforts: LinkedIn.
“Throughout the years as an independent consultant, supporting international nonprofits with U.S. foundation fundraising, I found myself using LinkedIn every day,” Keij recalls, noting this kind of work has always been of interest to him. “It’s in my gene pool. When I went to college, I connected people and built a mentoring system for international students. I love to connect people, and then came LinkedIn. I dove into it out of personal interest and discovered how it could help my business and help other people get to the right people or foundations.”
While there are plenty of U.S. foundations that give internationally, not all are well-known. And, as Keij pointed out, how can one identify such organizations without knowing their names or the individuals who work within them? This is where LinkedIn comes into play.
Keij likes to start by using the Foundation Center’s online directory to identify foundations that will match his client’s needs. He combines annual reports, tax records and websites of foundations to confirm he’s finding the latest information. Then, in what Keij calls “phase two,” he’ll share his findings with the client to determine who might be worth reaching out to. From there, if the client wants to move forward, he’ll work with the client to search the foundations on LinkedIn and see what connections are available among the foundation’s employees, past employees or board members.
The real challenge, he notes, is identifying the best way in.
Although the temptation is to reach out to someone with seniority, the best option is the strength of the connection — even if that’s reaching out to someone at a more junior level but who knows the client well. The goal is to work with someone who can give an authentic, informal, welcoming introduction, to get your foot in the door. If such a connection is not available, it’s important to then add a customized note when sending an invitation to connect. Of course, the end goal is to make a human connection, and Keij notes that LinkedIn should be treated as a vehicle to make that connection and not a means to an end.
Since identifying this opportunity, Keij has presented his strategy across the world — and with good reason. LinkedIn has seen steady growth and usage globally, now with 562 million users from more than 200 countries, according to the company. Included in Keij’s presentation schedule this year was Apra’s Professional Development conference in Pittsburgh, where he shared tips from his LinkedIn strategy, as well as a session on securing international grants from U.S. foundations. Keij was also able to participate in other parts of the conference.
“I loved it all,” he recalled. “I was part of the Leadership Cohort and I only regret having missed other sessions during that time. It was great fun to talk about U.S. foundations giving internationally and how to use LinkedIn much more strategically. The feedback I got was positive — clearly the knowledge was appreciated.”
As prospect development professionals and their teams settle into the new year, opportunities to step back and consider new tools and different approaches abound. Leveraging LinkedIn to its fullest capacity and considering new markets to explore have proven successful for Keij and his clients to date, and are just two options for others to consider emulating in the future.
Eelco Keij was a presenter at Apra’s Prospect Development 2018 conference in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Prospect Development 2019 will take place in Phoenix, Arizona, at the end of July. Learn more here.
Are you interested in understanding global search opportunities and best practices? Download the Apra University International Research bundle for five educational recordings on international giving, including "International Search: Seeing the Whole Picture," "International Fundraising: Cultural Intelligence" and "International Prospect Research: Approaches and Country-Specific Considerations."