An Interview With Jennifer Tierney, Director of Development of Doctors Without Borders/M
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) is an international medical humanitarian organization created by doctors and journalists in France in 1971. Today, MSF provides aid in nearly 60 countries to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care or natural disasters.
MSF provides independent, impartial assistance to those most in need, and in 1999 received the Nobel Peace Prize for its work.
Here, we talk with Jennifer Tierney about the organization and its fundraising strategies and challenges.
FundRaising Success: How do you fund your mission?
Jennifer Tierney: In the U.S., we raise private funds exclusively. This is done through direct marketing efforts, foundations and corporations, and major-donor and planned-giving programs.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
JT: Clearly the economy has had a major impact on everyone, so that has been a challenge. We have tried to be creative in our fundraising this year, while sticking to our core principle of independence. Private, unrestricted funding allows us to respond to medical humanitarian crises based on our independent assessment of the needs, and to react quickly as our funds are not tied up in earmarked accounts. We kept these core principles in mind as we created our online fundraising strategy for the year. For example, how do we let our donors know that we are responding to a natural disaster in the days immediately following the event, without asking them to send earmarked funds specifically for that disaster that may end up being more than we need for that response? We chose to approach this challenge by sending them an e-mail about how our assessments or exploratory missions, which evaluate the needs, work and the things we were doing right away in response, without including an ask for that type of project. All the while, we made clear that the response will expand or contract based on what the exploratory team finds.
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way you reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
JT: We are working a lot on the Internet and in social networking right now, trying to marry a social-networking and event-type fundraising approach. Please see www.bethere1st.org.
FS: How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?
JT: We stress the importance of providing donors with specific and detailed information about the work we do in the field. Transparency about our work and the challenges we face is very important to us, and it has the simultaneous impact of bringing our donors closer to the organization, and often increases their loyalty.
FS: How do you reach out to supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising? Are you engaged with social media sites — MySpace, Facebook, etc. — and online social networking?
JT: Throughout the United States, MSF hosts a number of awareness-raising public events, including moderated panel discussions on humanitarian issues and the "Refugee Camp in the Heart of the City" exhibit tour. MSF also regularly sends aid workers to give presentations to medical, academic and community groups. Find MSF on Facebook at www.facebook.com/msf.english, and check out MSF's YouTube channel at www.youtube.com/msf.
FS: Can you describe a recent successful fundraising effort?
JT: Just launching the Be There 1st campaign earlier this month was a success.
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you've faced along the way? Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
JT: Online fundraising has been a challenge. Getting people to donate via e-mail only seems to work very well in emergency situations and at the end of the year, when donors are using the online form as a "virtual reply device." We have improved our strategy and raised more money than historically, but the money we generate from e-appeals is still not a significant percentage of our income.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours, in size and annual operating budget?
JT: In your communication, focus on the work and be transparent with donors. It increases the value of your brand and the loyalty of your donor base.
Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF)
333 7th Ave., 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001-5004
Annual Operating Budget: $167,899,824
Annual Contributed Income: $151,514,937 in the U.S.
Staff: 2,000 international staff; 24,000 locally hired staff; 22 employees devoted strictly to fundraising
Mission: To provide independent, impartial assistance to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect or catastrophe, primarily due to armed conflict, epidemics, malnutrition, exclusion from health care or natural disasters.