An Interview With Katina Bishop, Development Director, Electronic Frontier Foundation
If it's possible in this Internet age for there to be legendary digital watchdogs, the 20-year-old Electronic Frontier Foundation just might have that distinction. The San Francisco-based civil liberties organization works to protect people's rights on the Web by encouraging and challenging industry and government leaders "to support free expression and privacy online."
With three of its employees strictly devoted to fundraising, what EFF's 30 full-timers fight for includes bloggers' rights while pushing for social networkers' privacy; teaching guidelines about copyright law and calling out those who try to squelch free speech; and calling for the general public to take action to protect individual rights while it tries to do the same. And EFF puts it all on the Internet at eff.org.
Taking a break from her 24/7 digital watchdog role, EFF Development Director Katina Bishop answers a few questions for FundRaising Success.
FundRaising Success: Please tell us a little about the organization.
Katina Bishop: The Electronic Frontier Foundation is the leading civil liberties group defending your rights in the digital world. EFF broke new ground when it was founded in 1990 — well before the Internet was on most people's radar — and continues to confront cutting-edge issues defending free speech, privacy, innovation and consumer rights today. From the beginning, EFF has championed the public interest in every critical battle affecting digital rights.
Blending the expertise of lawyers, policy analysts, activists and technologists, EFF achieves significant victories on behalf of consumers and the general public. EFF fights for freedom, primarily in the courts, bringing and defending lawsuits even when that means taking on the US government or large corporations. By mobilizing more than 61,000 concerned citizens through our Action Center, EFF beats back bad legislation. In addition to advising policymakers, EFF educates the press and public.
EFF is a donor-supported organization and maintains one of the most linked-to websites in the world.
FS: How do you fund your mission?
KB: Over half of EFF's budget comes from individual donors — both smaller-contributing members and major donors. We also raise nearly one third of our budget from foundation grants, and we receive some money from corporations, event outreach and workplace giving campaigns.
FS: How do you reach out to supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising? Are you engaged with social media and social networking?
KB: EFF engages in a significant amount of outreach to supporters that is not purely fundraising. Our weekly online newsletter, EFFecter, is sent each week to more than 80,000 e-mail subscribers, keeping them updated on our current work. We are engaged with social media and social networking, maintaining active accounts on both Facebook and Twitter. Further, we encourage supporters to take part in activism campaigns through our Action Center, and we maintain an active blog on our website. We also produce events and a lecture series.
FS: How would you describe your fundraising philosophy?
KB: I emphasize the cultivation of relationships with donors and supporters; whether they be members who donate smaller amounts, major donors, foundations or corporations. EFF invites supporters to engage with the organization as more than simply financial donors — with very positive results. For example, one member of a family foundation that donates to EFF also hosted a major-donor event in his home, and various well-known artists who contribute on a smaller scale to EFF also collaborate with us pro-bono on projects that greatly assist our fundraising efforts.
I also believe that when donors are viewed as whole people and not simply as financial resources, it becomes much easier to ask for monetary contributions.
FS: Do you foresee any big changes in the way you reach potential donors and other supporters in the near future?
KB: We will be putting even more effort and resources into developing partnerships with like-minded organizations/supporters. This not only helps EFF to raise money, but helps to expand the range of people we reach.
FS: What are the biggest challenges your organization faces as far as fundraising is concerned? How do you overcome them?
KB: Like most nonprofits, the uncertain economic situation of recent times has presented a challenge for EFF's fundraising. However, in many ways it encouraged us to think outside of the box even more proactively than we previously had done, and to experiment with fundraising strategies that we might not have risked during more stable economic times. These strategies have often been very successful and they've taught our team to move in new, untested directions, as well as continue with the tried-and-true activities that we've been successful with in the past.
FS: Can you describe a recent successful fundraising effort?
KB: In testimony to the benefits of partnership and relationship cultivation, EFF recently partnered with five independent game developers that released a "bundle" of five of their popular video games and encouraged people to "pay what they wanted" for the games. They also allowed people to distribute their donations between the game developers, EFF and one other charity. We publicized the promotion through our website, blog, newsletter, Facebook page and Twitter feed. The promotion was a run-away success, surprising everyone involved and raising over $170,000 for EFF in a single week (and over $1 million in total).
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours, in size and annual operating budget?
KB: Diversify your funding sources. EFF is a unique organization in terms of our funding history. Instead of being overly dependent on foundation and/or government grants for funding, like so many organizations, the majority of our money came from the generous contributions of a small group of major donors. We learned the hard way that if even one of those sizable contributions became unavailable for any reason, it put the organization at risk. We've spent the past seven years putting considerable effort into diversifying our funding streams and are a more stable organization now for doing so.