Friday, May 2, 2014

Can Fundraising Be Advocacy?

Is fundraising advocacy? As both a fundraiser and an advocate, I'm here to tell Well, yes. Well, sometimes. It depends.

I'm often asked to help come up with ideas for kids' groups to help with poverty projects, which is great! I love it! If there's something to be known for, I want it to be that. Heaven knows, I'm never going to be known for any of my cookie decorating skills. But I digress. Generally, the first thing that comes to mind for a group of youngsters - or oldsters, for that matter - is fundraising. Somehow, fundraising - whether people actually like to do it or not - is what we've been trained from a young age to expect as the Helpful Thing To Do. Got an issue? Help by selling lemonade, doing a car wash, selling Rainbow Loom bracelets, etc.

There is nothing wrong with these ideas. But are they anything more than fundraisers? Are they awareness builders? Could be. Are they advocacy? Usually not.

In my mind, the litmus test for advocacy is determining whether you are engaging your guests/customers/audience to be involved with your issue moving forward. Are you inviting them to know enough about your issue to become influencers themselves and rally others to the cause?

Most of the time, it comes down to HOW you fundraise. What actions are you asking people to take? What is it you want them to do that will further your cause? If it's only to give money without education or further action, then this is not truly advocacy in my opinion.

I don't have anything against fundraisers. At the moment, I draw a salary from RESULTS Educational Fund as a fundraising coach for our volunteers, so I'll be the first to hop up on a soapbox and deliver an unsolicited diatribe about how fundraising is critical for any non-profit organization - advocacy groups included! However, I'm a volunteer and a busy mom, so I find I'd much rather take part in an activity that gets more bang for the buck than the actual bucks we collect. Anytime you can take a fundraiser and turn it into an opportunity for powerful advocacy...well, that's a recipe for higher impact for your cause AND a I'm all about that! Really, why stop at raising $250 to help build a school in Uganda when you might also influence a key Congressman to allocate $250 million to the Global Partnership for Education?

Here are three examples of fundraisers I've done with advocacy spins:

#1 Microfincance with Girl Scouts
A Daisy troop wanted to make a microcredit loan through Kiva. We read the children's book "One Hen" by Katie Smith Milway to explain microfinance and personalize the issue. The girls raised money simply by asking to do some special chores around the house for a few dollars a piece. Combined, that was enough to make a $25 microcredit loan to help change someone's life. They chose their microcredit recipient on the Kiva website. Then, to add that special twist of advocacy, the kids made a poster for their Congresswoman about microfinance to be delivered by one of the girls. Parents who attended the meeting wrote letters to Congress to help support microfinance programs.

The Bread team displays our wares we sold
and the letters to Congress we collected
#2 Hunger with United Methodist Church of Evanston
My church in Evanston, IL is a Bread for the World Convenant church. To uphold our commitment, we annually donate money and hold an Offering of Letters, a Sunday where congregants write to Congress about hunger. We decided to combine fundraising with letter-writing. After worship (at which our pastor educated the congregation with a passionate sermon about hunger), we gathered everyone in the Great Hall where tables with letter-writing supplies awaited. We set up a table full of baked goodies with a sign indicating they could pay whatever they wished to donate to Bread for the World. With the letter-writing activity happening right before their eyes, they could see exactly what kind of activities their donations would support. One year, we even raised money for a volunteer to go to Washington D.C. to the Bread for the World conference with him right there talking to people about it. A seamless combination of fundraising, awareness, and advocacy!

#3 Global Health with U.S. Representative Jan Schakowksy
My RESULTS advocacy group wanted to throw a fundraising event, but at the time we had a tiny list of volunteers and a small list of supporters. We wanted our event to not only generate funds, but also to be an outreach and public awareness event to tell everyone who we were and what we do. Since our Congresswoman, U.S. Representative Jan Schakowksy, was very supportive of our issues, we asked her to be our speaker. With her as a featured guest, we drew a large crowd of around 100 people who heard the Congresswoman talk about the need for the U.S. to support global health and also other foreign aid as a means of supporting women globally. At the point in the speech when she pulled out a burka to help us understand the culture of many of the women we seek to help, we knew she was advocating to us as much as we were to her. The audience got to see citizen advocacy in action when we turned to the Congresswoman and asked her point-blank to sign onto a piece of global health legislation. Happily, she agreed!
RESULTS Evanston volutneers with U.S. Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky

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