Funds for Freedom

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  1. Accept that everyone finds it hard to ask for contributions, even for a great cause like Amnesty. Learn to get around your fears.
  2. Find and learn about potential major donors.
  3. Practice your pitch: learn to describe why Amnesty is important to victims of human rights abuse, and why this is important to prospective supporters.
  4. Ask for a specific amount.
  5. THANK donors; collect (for pledges).
  6. Tell them how you spent the money, through updates on your successes.
  7. Ask again.


The basis of any fundraising plan is that someone asks someone for money. This is hard, especially at first. People will go to amazing lengths to avoid it. But without it, your fundraising plan will fail.


1. Remember why youíre asking. If you were asking for money to take a personal vacation to the beach, that would be one thing. But youíre asking on behalf of people who are being tortured; who have sat for years in wet, dark prison cells because of their beliefs; who are waiting in crowded refugee camps, terrified of going home. They canít ask. We have to ask for them.

2. Practice. After developing your pitch, rehearse with a friend. The more you do, the more comfortable and confident you will be when you visit donors. Build confidence by getting friends to ask tough and challenging questions. Then youíll feel prepared for anything that could happen.

3. Ask yourself, "Whatís the worst thing that could happen?" Imagine the whole scenario: someone yells at you (highly unlikely), someone asks you tough questions (go back and practice morel), someone says "no." Imagine why someone might say no (she just gave generously to the United Way, he just got a huge orthodontist bill, the firm gives all its charitable gifts in January). Itís OK.

4. Expect to hear "no" often. Accept that this is OK. As fundraising expert Joan Flanagan says, never count yourself out after two strikes, or even three or four strikes. Keep trying. You only need one home run.

5. Highlight fundable units in your budget, to focus on your concrete results. A relief fund for the family of a prisoner is especially good for this purpose. In selling stamps as a fundable unit, you could tell this story: Jack Healey once joined an Al mission to Swaziland on behalf of seven imprisoned students who were released by the government just before Alís mission arrived. The students told Jack they had received many Al letters in prison; they passed the colorful stamps from cell to cell, sustaining their hope of freedom. Who could resist buying stamps for Amnesty after hearing this story?

Another good example is the Santa Fe groupís "Students for Students" project (see Section III). This group promotes the idea of human rights education to parents, teachers, and community leaders.


1. "Fundraising is schmoozing." No, you donít need to be wealthy, vivacious, or well-connected. You just need to market our product, the protection of human rights, which weíve produced longer and more effectively than anyone else.

2. "Fundraising is begging." People who give money are making an investment. They have many different reasons for doing so, just as your group members have varied backgrounds and motivations.

3. "Only rich people give money." Americans earning under $25,000 per year give away a higher percentage of income than those earning $50,000 or more.

4. "The real money is in foundations and big business." In 1991, charitable groups in the U.S. raised about $200 billion. Nine percent came from foundations and corporations, 91 percent from individuals.

5. "If we just do the letter-writing and campaigns, fundraising will take care of itself." Not.

6. "Itís somebody elseís job. Iím doing the really important stuff." Fundraising is

human rights work. It accomplishes things you canít do any other way.


A Group Inventory should help you identify potential donors. If you decide on a major donor campaign, you may want to expand the list in a second brainstorming session.

Good fundraisers watch other sources of information. Whose names are on the donor plaque at the local museum? Who attended the Red Cross gala? Whoís listed in the back of the community theater program? Read the local paper carefully and keep your eyes open: thereís a wealth of information which few people notice.

PLEASE do not use the national donor list to cultivate donors for your group. The New York office relies on you to look for new donors because you have a big advantage: on-the-ground, in-depth knowledge of your community. Please use your local expertise to help make our total pool of donors grow.


People give to Amnesty for at least four reasons. Here they are, from one (most likely to give with the least work for you) to four (longer shots).

1. Personal connection to Amnesty or your group. Members of your group. Relatives, friends, roommates, and associates of your members. Holocaust survivors, former refugees, or others who have experienced human rights abuses. Their relatives, friends, and associates.

If you absolutely cannot ask your family directly for money, consider alternatives. Can you give them AIUSA brochures and ask them to join? Would they install an Amnesty donation box at the office? Would your Momís karate class hold a benefit kick-a-thon? (They may not say so, but your family members are probably proud of your work for Al.)

2. Beneficiaries of Alís work. To journalists, artists, and professors, Amnesty offers a kind of insurance: we protect everybodyís free speech. Parents may see human rights education as a benefit for their kids; businesses benefit from good publicity; teachers and policy analysts use our reports.

3. Shared values. Churches value freedom of religion. Womenís groups want to stop rape, including rape by police. Civil rights groups and African-American leaders want to make the justice system less racist, partly by ending the death penalty.

4. Emergency appeals. A couple who vacationed in Thailand may respond to a crisis there. News coverage of the situation in Bosnia may prompt people to give for a special action on the former Yugoslavia. Donít, however, let possible large gifts dictate your work. Fundraise to support the actions you most want to do.


The rule of thumb is, "Donít kiss on the first date" (in fundraising, at least!) There are many ways to get to know potential donors: throw a party, call them on the phone, ask for an interview, ask an intermediary to approach them. You can send a letter first, but sooner or later you must follow up with a call or personal visit. Otherwise your success rate will be low.

Listen before you ask. Learn the personís interests and personality (itís good to interview a friend of the person first, to get a basic sketch). Before you make a pitch, think of what would compel this individual to join Al. For a refresher, look over the "four reasons for giving."


Once you have listened to potential donors you will know something about them. Keep in mind that they know little or nothing about Amnesty, and they will feel at a disadvantage when you begin explaining our work and mission. Put the donorís needs first; if s/he asks questions, listen and answer thoughtfully. (If you canít answer, itís better to say "I donít know, but I can find out and get back to you," instead of ignoring the question or replying vaguely. Questions give you a good reason for a follow-up call.)

Sell the clean floors, not the vacuum cleaner. For now, forget about Amnestyís internal operations. Focus on two points:

1. Human rights abuses are an urgent, terrible problem. People are suffering torture, execution, displacement, and unjust imprisonment. Right now. Use facts from Amnestyís International Secretariat in London:

Today there are more than 3,200 known prisoners of conscience in some 65 nations.

At least 294,000 political prisoners are now imprisoned without charge or trial.

Last year more than 1 ,270 people reportedly "disappeared" after arrest by security forces in more than 20 countries.

Prisoners are tortured or ill-treated in at least 104 nations.

2. Amnesty International effectively addresses the problem. With 1.1 million members, we are the premiere global human rights group. We have a proven record of freeing prisoners, stopping torture, and calling offending governments on the carpet. We apply a single standard to all governments. We work in the political arena but manage to be nonpolitical.

You might begin your pitch with a success story from your own groupís work: a prisoner released, a family aided. The first 30 seconds of your presentation are crucial, and usually the human face of human rights abuse is more compelling than the abstract concept. (Consider your audience, though: a lawyer and a philosophy teacher may respond best to the language of their own professions.)

Try this exercise: close your eyes and remember when you first heard of Amnesty. What inspired you? What convinced you? Practice speaking in the mirror to your pre-Amnesty self.



Even for professional fundraisers, this is a difficult question. For you itís easier: if you think someone can be a major donor, they can almost surely give $200. Make a rough guess based on your research. Donít underestimate, because:

Most people are flattered to be considered financially successful.

Major donors want to contribute to a substantial project. If you ask for too little, they may undervalue your work or consider your visit a waste of time.

lf a donor wants to give less, he/she will usually name a figure, which you can gracefully accept.

After you have outlined the two basic points, the potential donor may ask, "How?" This is the time to describe your groupís strategies, how the Urgent Action Network operates, or whatever else s/he wants to know. Keep with you a few quotations from former prisoners ("When the first two hundred letters came, the guards gave me back my clothes....") They are the most compelling testimony of Amnestyís effectiveness.

Potential donors may also ask, "How much of my dollar would go to human rights work?" You can assure them you are a local, all-volunteer group. If they ask, be prepared to explain your budget. You can explain that AIUSA is not a relief agency and it is difficult to compare our administrative costs directly with those of relief groups. But AIUSA meets Better Business Bureau and National Charity Information Bureau standards for spending the money we bring in.



Once you have made a pitch and answered the donorís questions, you are ready to ask for a specific amount. Donít ask vague questions like, "Can we count on your support?" Be specific: "We need $200 to join the campaign against police rape in India. Can you give that amount?" Or, "If three businesses give us a roll of stamps, it will support our letter-writing all year. Based on our experience this is the most effective tool for ending abuses. Can you contribute one roll of stamps?"

After you ask, zip your lip. Donít explain or apologize, just wait for a response. This is very hard at first. But silence after you ask is one of your most powerful tools.

Expect some "nos." Start with low expectations: "Our group will approach 10 people asking for between $100 and $200. We will try to get one Ďyes."' Expecting 100 percent success will plunge your group into despair.



Always, always write a thank you note as soon as you can, in 24 hours if possible. If the person pledged, send a self-addressed envelope so they can easily return a check.

Let them know how you use the money. A good newsletter is the best way to keep donors informed. Broadcast Alís successes and your groupís energy. If you have a big success during the year (like a prisoner release), write or call major donors to say "thanks again" and share the good news.



If you think so, remember: you can do this kind of fundraising without spending a dime up front. It has been very effective for Amnesty groups in the past. If you ask only one potential donor, the strategy wonít work, but if you are willing to try hard, it produces greater and more reliable income than merchandise or events.



Unlike special events (in which you more or less start over from scratch each time), you can build a base of major donors so that fundraising becomes easier and easier. Always ask again. Once donors invest, they usually want to follow up.

As a rule, touch base with donors four times a year (through a newsletter) and ask for money at least once. A second request might be an invitation to a special event.

Imagine you find four $200 donors this year and three more next year. By year three you can make over $1000 with very little work, just by resoliciting these donors. This is the greatest benefit of direct requests: long-term security.

You can use the process above to ask for in-kind donations, underwriting, or any kind of donation. The steps outlined above are the basic building blocks for every type of fundraising.


If you are a campus group seeking money from administrators or a student funding committee, use the process above to make a good pitch for your group. Think beforehand about the benefits the whole school gets from your work. These include education in current events, international law, geography, history, and world cultures. To a college administration, Amnesty fosters diverse viewpoints as well as educating the college community.

Look for stashes of cash available for specific purposes: paying speakers, providing travel. Understanding the bureaucracy can help you find such funds; a sympathetic administrator can help.

If the school permits, consider looking for outside donors. Committed, sincere youth have BIG fundraising advantages because donors love to support the work of Fine Young Women and Men.



Visibility means your profile in the community: how many people have heard about Amnesty? About your group? Have you shown them its effectiveness? Have you invited them to join? Your groupís size and financial health depend on the answers to these questions.

Visibility is the cumulative effect of publicity: short-term efforts to send Amnestyís message to a specific audience during a certain period of time. AIUSA helps out with press releases, national events, and public service announcements (PSAs) which reach newspapers, magazines, TVs, and radios in your locale. You need to supplement this coverage with community-based publicity campaigns.

You donít have to wait for special events to raise your groupís profile. Here are some strategies for free publicity:

distribute extra newsletter copies

get announcements in other groupsí newsletters

word-of-mouth with acquaintances, family, colleagues (effectivel)


bulletin boards

big outdoor signs (painted on a sheet or board, in a well-traveled location)

computer bulletin boards/networks

church bulletins

school PA systems and assemblies

school "blackboard blitz"--write a small announcement in the corner of blackboards and sidewalks

"table tents"--announcements propped on tables at cafeterias or restaurants

FLYERS. Ask if you can place small flyers in local businesses, laundromats, barber shops, salons, clinics, dentist offices, schools, community and rec centers, senior citizen and youth centers, libraries, employee lunchrooms, and unofficial mailboxes at schools or workplaces.

Get group members to keep a few brochures in their purses or wallets and place them on windshields of cars with Al bumper stickers or other friendly signals.

The College of William and Mary group in Williamsburg, Virginia, stuffed flyers into textbooks at the start of the fall semester. The flyers gave the date and time of their first meeting of the year.

One Al member writes: "When I fly on an airplane or use other types of transportation, I always bring a few anti-death penalty brochures to stick in the in-flight magazine or some other convenient spot. Like most people, I was in favor of capital punishment--until I learned the facts. Give a captive audience a choice between a controversial brochure and some fluffy magazine, and the controversy will get the reader. Who knows, maybe some people become members of All"

NEWSPAPERS. Advertise meetings and events free in papersí event calendars; donít forget ethnic, school, or other specialty papers.

Cultivate a local columnist: send a press release and invitation to a meeting, then follow up with a call. Ditto for feature reporters: watch bylines to find the best candidate, then call to arrange an appointment.

Try letters to the editor, including an open thank-you letter after a big event, reiterating Amnestyís goals.

Ask for a "Prisoner of the Month" column in a local periodical. (You can use Urgent Actions or campaign materials; Peacenet is a quick and easy way to locate up-to-date Urgent Actions--see "Resources.")

RADIO AND TV. Ask your Regional Office for radio and TV PSAs or create your own from material in Voices or elsewhere. Send to local stations, cultivating contacts if possible so your work doesnít end up at the bottom of a heap.

Groups in Texas and Minnesota get publicity on local affiliates of National Public Radio by giving $25, which entitles them to be named five times a day for X weeks. Call your local station for details.

Explore Public Access Cable. Many cable companies are required by law or contract to offer this service. Often you can get announcements or a whole show for very little cost, if you know someone who can help with filming. Or send PSAs to local cable stations; they often have a smaller number than radio stations and will broadcast them frequently.

PUBLICITY FOR EVENTS. See "Piggy-backing" in Section V: community events are a great place for publicity.

For a big event or raffle prize, give free tickets to local radio stations, so the station can give them away "to the tenth caller" and at the same time advertise your work. Invite a local station to broadcast on location from your event. Or organize a Radiothon (last page of Section V) for a fundraising and publicity extravaganza.

With all these free options, you shouldnít need to pay for advertising, but you might consider paying for a float, booth, or table at homecoming parades, annual community parades, county and state fairs, or ethnic festivals. The Randolph Macon College group in Ashland, Virginia, designed a Human Rights homecoming float. Group #87 marches in the annual July 4 Doo Dah parade in Columbus, Ohio. Group members and their kids dress as candles in (fake) barbed wire and pass out postcard actions and Al information to the more than 50,000 spectators along the parade route.

Ideally, an Al group should be a basic part of the community like the Rotary or Police Association. Presenting yourselves in this way by joining high-profile civic events, like those mentioned above, might pay off in your next membership drive.



Multicultural development is a top priority for AIUSA. If you are a mostly white group trying to fundraise in diverse areas, be aware of cultural differences. Many people of color feel that self-help for their communities is their first charitable priority, as a matter of loyalty or sheer survival.

You can still fundraise multiculturally. Try to find an advisor or donor who knows people of color in your area. Consider designating a group member whose sole job for the year is to join the local NAACP chapter (for example) and participate in their events. Respectfully seek out and listen to allies, rather than insisting that they attend your events and listen to you.

Consider in-kind donations: for example, refugees may feel a strong personal connection to Al, and you could ask local Cambodian or Guatemalan families to contribute dishes to an international dinner.


Groups fundraising in rural areas should accept that everything will take longer; overhead costs will be higher; and volunteers will get frustrated more quickly. Rural people depend on each other in emergencies and may be reluctant to embrace a cause that might offend their neighbors. This is not "conservatism" but the need to maintain ties.

If you live in a tourist area, consider products or events catering to these outsiders. If you live near an interstate, offer late-night coffee and snacks as a service for drivers. Analyze your area carefully. How do people communicate? What do they enjoy? Where do they meet? Ohio AC Abe Bonowitz uses citizens band radio wherever he drives. On one trip he argued against the death penalty with a convoy of truck drivers. One had had both her husband and daughter killed in separate murders but agreed with Abe that the death penalty was biased. Abe met her at a truck stop to give her information on Al.

Kim Kleinís book has more suggestions for fundraising in rural areas and small towns; see the book list in the "Resource" section.

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