Fundraising with an activist’s vision

Trina Tocco manages more than just advocacy efforts as campaigns coordinator at the International Labor Rights Forum. And her advice on blending an organization’s mission work with its fundraising benefits more than just activists.

Trina Tocco

Trina Tocco

We are an organization not just trying to fundraise, but to “activize” and motivate. In terms of development, we’ve only got one part-time staff person, so most of our fundraising is integrated into each of our staff members’ daily work.

We fully mix our content work with fundraising, which seems to work well, because content is generally what donors want to talk about.

For a long time, the Forum relied on foundation grants. Recently however, we’ve had to spend a lot of time thinking what the ask sounds like.

Engaging the activist (checkbook)

For us, the two most important factors up front are to be sure we’re engaging in an issue the donor cares strongly about, and understanding which of our various approaches to the cause they think makes most sense.

Sometimes people like a big macro vision: instead of kids picking cotton, they’d like them to be in school. Then there’s a whole other component of our work: our corporate responsibility campaigns, or what we call “blaming and shaming.”

Not everyone who agrees with our general advocacy work will feel as comfortable putting a specific company name to that problem by supporting one of our corporate campaigns.

In order to have the proper “ask,” we need to know what level of comfort people have with our different strategies. Using an online “relationship manager” tool to recruit and engage is a good way to gage a bit better where people are in terms of their interest, so we can cater the ask to the individual.

Since many of our constituents are more accustomed to giving time than money, it’s critical to emphasize the importance of financial support to our work.

It’s not necessary, for example, to do a formal direct ask the first time around.

We typically lay out as a package the four or five things they can do to support our work. This way we can emphasize the importance of financial giving to our work by quantifying what a given amount of money will accomplish.

For example, a supporter could write a letter to Wal-Mart, or could give us $20, which will help us send 100 letters to Wal-Mart.

Stirring staff fundraising juices

Often general staff members don’t feel that fundraising is part of their job description.

Here, where more of our staff has extensive advocacy experience than extensive familiarity with fundraising, we make it a point to always talk about fundraising.

We’ve only had a half-time development staffer for a month and a half now, after going without for the last 20 years. So we’ve been working to integrate her into our daily work, making sure she’s at staff meetings and giving updates.

Setting aside time for development staffers to speak to each staff member to identify donor prospects they might have a solid “in” with is really important. Ask them: What resources do you need in order to educate those particular potential donors you’re connected to? What would help you articulate the ask?

An easy way to help those new to fundraising ease into ask mode is direct mail. At the forum, each of our employees gets 10 copies of our appeal to send to their personal contacts with a personal note.

Certain staffers may be better-connected than others, particularly those who are members of professional organizations. For example, we have one lawyer on staff who knows a bunch of law offices, which obviously should be prime prospects.

Also, assigning staff members a certain beat, or particular people or regions where they’re responsible for recruitment, is a good way to help them feel integral to the process. When our employees travel, they’re always encouraged to set up one or two meetings with folks.

Finally, ongoing training is important. Giving staff a strong sense of an organization’s giving trends is key. You can do a simple, low-key training where staff talk about their own giving habits and their perception of donors’ giving habits.

My concern for the forum is that we’re starting to put development in a corner since we’ve hired a permanent person. But we need to continually instill in all our staff members that people are going to give because they know you.

Trina Tocco is campaigns coordinator at the International Labor Rights Forum in Washington, D.C..

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