By Jenni Wolfson

As my birthday approached last week I became increasingly uneasy. It had nothing to do with my age as you might suspect. Let me explain. For the last two years WITNESS has launched a spring drive fundraising appeal.  Our staff, board and close supporters reach out to their personal and professional networks to ask them to donate to WITNESS.  I have worked in human rights for almost 20 years but I have never asked anyone in my personal network for money.

Two years ago during our first spring drive launch, as the Acting Executive Director at WITNESS, I sent out an appeal with the subject line: “My Life, A New Life, What a Life!” I announced two very personal things about me – my significant birthday coming up and that I was pregnant.  My goal – raise $4,000 in 40 days to celebrate my 40th.  A friend immediately wrote and told me that for every dollar I raised he would match it.  The appeal raised almost $11,000 for WITNESS.  It was an eye opening experience for me. Whilst asking people for money is about as comfortable as a self-administered root canal, the effort was validated by the overwhelmingly response.

Were they giving because they cared about human rights, about WITNESS, about my leadership, about me?  I don’t know – does it matter?  I was touched and the support was tremendous.

Although my first personal fundraising drive was so successful, I still found it hard last year to do it all again. It’s not easy to ignore a request from a friend, especially for a good cause. But last year, in the midst of the economic crisis, raising money was even more challenging.  I also knew that many people were dealing with their own financial challenges. I knew people were still giving, although perhaps in smaller amounts. So I took a deep breath…

My 2nd appeal was more professional than personal.  The subject line read “Three women I want to tell you about” and I wrote about three women in Zimbabwe, Yemen and Mexico who had been the victims of violence.  I sent it on my birthday, posted it on Facebook, and shared a WITNESS video where I talked about our campaigns to fight violence against women. I let people know that their donations were going to be tripled thanks to the generosity of some WITNESS donors.  My friends and family gave generously again although I raised significantly less than the previous year.  Was the smaller amount due to the economy, did I offend people by asking again, did people respond more strongly to a personal than a professional appeal, was it due to the fact that I was now 41 and not pregnant?  We can only speculate …  But I was still thrilled to have raised that much money for WITNESS during such tough times.

This year I worried that I wouldn’t have anyone to celebrate my birthdays with any more if I sent an appeal on the day.  The day was approaching and I hadn’t written my appeal although we had officially launched the drive.  The day came and went.  I even hesitated about sending out another appeal worrying that I would be hidden from my friends’ newsfeeds.  Today I’ve worked up the courage though and I’m about to launch my 3rd appeal.  Although I can’t think of a better organization to support than WITNESS, I confess it’s still not easy to ask people you know for money.

So if you want to wish me a happy belated birthday 😉 click here

Jenni Wolfson is the Managing Director at WITNESS.

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