Keeping the Party Purposeful
FS: How do you balance the party atmosphere of a gala with your mission?
SF: I think that we’ve found a way to put on a professional event that raises a significant amount of income while still making our guests feel intimately connected to the work like we did before with the house parties.
Last year we focused on our ongoing work to put an end to the human-rights atrocities perpetrated by the military dictatorship controlling Burma. We had one of our partners from Burma Issues [a project of The Peace Way Foundation dedicated to empowering grassroots movements to lead the struggle for change in Burma] fly in from Thailand to talk about the campaign and also heard some incredible music. It’s a delicate balance to strike, but I think we’ve managed to do it pretty well.
FS: What fundraising challenges does WITNESS face?
SF: A big challenge is diversification, as I mentioned, and we’re making a lot of progress in that respect. I think another challenge — and this is not exclusive to WITNESS — is that in a way we’re the victim of our own success. The more money we raise, the more programs we start. And the more programs we have, the more staff we need. The more staff, the more funding, and so it becomes a cycle where we’re trying to keep up with ourselves institutionally.
So far we’ve been able to do it but [we] still need to give ourselves more space to reflect and allow our infrastructure to grow along with us. So, I guess you can say we’re at this exciting yet challenging tipping point with our growth.
FS: How has your work been influenced by Web 2.0 advancements?
SF: We’re about to launch a ground-breaking new project called The Hub, which some are calling the “YouTube for human rights.” It’ll be an online destination where anyone, anywhere in the world can upload or download footage [depicting] human rights [issues] to create change. It’ll open to the public this fall.
FS: What advice can you give to other organizations?
SF: I think one major reason for our success is our “open source” or nonproprietary approach to what we do. WITNESS was founded on the concept of collaboration, and we’re constantly striving to share our methodology and tools with as many human-rights and social-justice groups that could benefit from what we do.