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Jennifer Auten, Resource Development Communications Amnesty International

I’m the first to admit that fundraising often doesn’t make sense to me. As a professed perfectionist with a Communications background, I tend to get excited about slick-looking, brief creative. In other words, it’s a good thing I’m not responsible for our Direct Mail program.

Fundraising laughs in the face of our assumptions. Here we are in this so-called paperless digital age, attached to smart phones that we rarely use as phones, and yet, where do we find our new donors? On the street, at their doors, in their mailboxes and (gasp!) on the phone.

If Marshall McLuhan attended our weekly fundraising meetings, he’d never let us forget: the medium is the message. The best medium for a fundraising message? A human. A face, a voice, a letter – a fellow human with an amazing story to tell.

Perhaps the point is that effective emotional fundraising is not a science, it’s an art. Yes, we obsess over numbers and KPIs and testing, testing, testing. But it’s ‘how’ we get there that is a uniquely human art – the beautiful art of human connection, of reaching the heart through story-telling. The decision to give is an emotional one, especially that first gift.

We all know the importance of story-telling. We can’t attend an AFP conference and not hear this message over and over. However, do we really understand what ‘emotional fundraising’ means?

I may be finally starting to get it, thanks to a chance breakfast encounter at a recent international conference for Amnesty International fundraisers. Unbeknownst to me, the Scotsman to my left was fundraising legend, Ken Burnett. I discovered this when I declared that I didn’t understand how face-to-face fundraising really works, despite years of dealing with face-to-face donors and meeting with canvassers. He asked me why. Why haven’t I joined our canvassers? Why haven’t I done it myself?

I didn’t have a good answer. The most honest one is that it terrifies me. Despite the thousands of conversations and email correspondence I’ve had with Amnesty supporters over the past decade, and dealing with every complaint under the sun, the idea of asking a stranger for money on the street was beyond my comprehension.

Ken’s questions forced me to think about my responsibility to understand how we connect with new supporters. To understand that the best fundraising is as simple as one human sharing a powerful story with another. It’s not about asking strangers for money.

I had another wake up later that morning during Ken’s presentation. He reminded us that we are nothing if not communicators as fundraisers. Our donors can’t be on the frontlines to witness the injustice and the hope – we need to take them there with our stories. We have some of the world’s best stories, and we as fundraisers have the privilege and responsibility of sharing them with the honesty, urgency and passion they deserve.

It was the best scolding I’ve had in a while, and I’m grateful. I’m excited to share amazing stories with our donors. And yes, I will tell a few stories on the street.

 

Jennifer Auten has swapped stories with thousands of human rights supporters from coast-to-coast over her ten years at Amnesty International Canada in Ottawa.

 


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