An Interview With Josh Horwitz, Executive Director, Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence
Josh Horwitz is executive director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence and the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, and has spent nearly two decades working on gun violence prevention issues. According to the organization, he "developed the long-term strategy to close illegal firearms markets as a way to focus the gun-control movement on gaps in the nation's gun laws that allow criminals to obtain firearms. This strategy includes implementation of policies such as closing the gun show loophole."
Horwitz also represents victims and municipalities in their lawsuits against the gun industry.
Here, we talk to Horwitz about the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and how it raises funds for its $392,000-a-year operating budget to further its mission.
FundRaising Success: How does the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence fund its mission?
Josh Horwitz: The Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and our (501)(c)(4) sister organization, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, raise funds from a variety of sources. We support our mission to secure freedom from gun violence through individual and major-gift solicitation, foundation grants, direct mail, and e-mail solicitation. Most of our funds are raised through tax-deductible individual giving and grants to the Ed Fund.
FS: What are the Ed Fund's fundraising strengths/weaknesses?
JH: The Ed Fund draws a great of deal of strength from the fact that we have survivors of gun violence on staff who are able to use their passion and their stories to connect with and inspire supporters. Another strong point is that the Ed Fund is an incredibly lean organization. We were able to cut overhead expenses drastically over the past few years, and we successfully run a wide range of violence prevention programs on a tight budget.
Unfortunately, the gun violence prevention issue can be demoralizing because we deal with so many tragedies. Almost every week, there is a new mass shooting, a new story about someone who should never have been able to get their hands on a gun but was able to easily obtain one. Of course, these tragedies are exactly why we won't ever give up! It's our responsibility to encourage people and show that they can make a real difference in the face of this national epidemic.
FS: How do you engage donors and other supporters and potential supporters in ways other than purely fundraising efforts?
JH: We have a strong social-media presence that is growing every day. Through this, we are able to stay in constant communication with our current donors and supporters, as well as reach a wide pool of potential supporters with timely, provocative content. As an advocacy organization, we use these channels to facilitate meetings between constituents and their elected officials and generate calls to decision makers. We also use social media to connect grassroots activists to each other to help them organize more effectively. Beyond fundraising, we empower our supporters to get politically active.
FS: Can you share a recent fundraising success? Why was it successful?
JH: This year we have begun to focus more on some of the loyal donors to our direct-mail program, reaching out to them personally for face-to-face meetings or phone calls to keep them better informed and to solicit project funding in addition to annual gifts. This is an ongoing, longer-term strategy, but we have had some significant success in inspiring longtime direct-mail donors to increase their giving through this more individualized approach. Personal attention to donors and connecting with prospective donors in person or on the phone has been the key.
FS: Any major difficulties or setbacks you've faced along the way?
JH: Like so many nonprofits, the Ed Fund really struggled during the depths of the recession in 2008-2009. We had to pull out all the stops to face that challenge. Surviving the recession made us stronger, and it has informed our donor outreach and communications because our supporters are ready to hear positive news and help the Ed Fund grow.
Another fundraising difficulty is the obvious resource disparity between the gun violence prevention movement and the industry-funded gun lobby. We have our work cut out for us, so we always strive to effectively communicate how we leverage the resources we do have and make people feel confident in investing in our work.
FS: Things you would do differently with your fundraising?
JH: Over the past few years, we've had to confront the issue of how we can improve our personal connections with donors and maintain good contact with older donors who may not be as active on social media. We've had to examine how we can supplement our strengths communicating via social media with continuing more traditional ways of reaching donors. We could have done a better job of offline communication and are working to improve on that front.
FS: What is your organization's fundraising philosophy?
JH: We try to let our combination of passion and expertise on the issue of gun violence prevention speak for itself. We tap in to the passion and personal experiences of our staff to communicate the need for our work to grantmakers and prospective donors. We try to diversify funding sources as much as possible to weather the financial difficulties that affect all small nonprofits.
FS: What advice would you give to organizations similar to yours in size and annual operating budget?
JH: Never, ever stop doing good work. Even in the face of financial difficulties, don't neglect your best program work. Organizations need to show that serious challenges won't render them incapable of delivering innovative, effective programs. If you lose focus on doing impressive work no matter what, you'll have no way to convincingly ask funders for help when times get tough.