Mission Focus: Reproductive Rights Issues
According to the Planned Parenthood Federation of America’s Web site, approximately 750,000 U.S. teens will become pregnant this year, and nearly 4 million will contract a sexually transmitted infection — in part because they don’t have access to the information they need to make responsible decisions about their health.
Organizations that support the reproductive rights of women are faced with the challenge of finding funds for a highly political cause during a conservative administration.
“The challenge for fundraisers in this field is that health care is political, and women’s health care is even more political,” says Kim Meredith, PPFA’s chief development officer.
“Whether it is preventing breast cancer or preventing unintended pregnancy, women’s health care is an issue that affects every American family,” she adds. “But it is also an issue that’s been politicized and debated in Congress, in the states, at the ballot boxes and in the courts.”
Because of the politics, Meredith says, organizations seeking funds for reproductive-rights causes can never stop educating the mainstream, and they continually find themselves promoting the message that reproductive rights are not just women’s rights. It comes back to mainstream health issues that affect everyone.
According to Meredith, the average American woman wants only two children, so she spends five years of her reproductive life pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant, and approximately 30 years trying to prevent an unintended pregnancy. PPFA’s research has found that 98 percent of sexually active women in the United States have used birth control during their lifetimes.
Talia Bilodeau, vice president for development at the National Women’s Law Center, agrees that reproductive choices are a mainstream health issue.
“Reproductive rights are a core component of women’s health,” she says. “We fundraise by giving donors a substantive issue and keeping them educated.”
Keeping donors informed
Misinformation can be the biggest handicap for raising funds for causes related to reproductive rights.
“You have to get around the rhetoric,” says Latifa Lyles, vice president of membership for the National Organization for Women. “We make sure these issues are relatable to the average donor. We help them keep up with the debate and not get confused.”
Lyle says phone campaigns around such issues are particularly effective. “We touch them on a personal level with campaigns that ask, ‘What if?’ Let’s say we have a particular justice nominated … what would your life look like? We talk about what’s happening in different states, and how, if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion could be illegal in 22 states. We ask: ‘Is your state next?’”
Joyce Schorr, the founder and president of the Women’s Repro-ductive Rights Assistance Project, a group that directly provides funds for women to get abortions, says even people who already are pro-choice need additional education.
“Many people don’t understand the plight of lower-income women,” Schorr says. “Some people think these women are using abortion as birth control, and that’s not true. I go to major donors and say these women are like anyone else. They have the same goals; they are often just down on their luck. I tell donors that if we don’t pay now, we have to look at the long-term costs of unwanted children.”
Most effective campaigns
Meredith finds that, like most groups, reproductive-rights organizations must maintain a robust and diversified fundraising program with income from major donors, planned giving, foundations and corporations, and direct response, including direct mail, telemarketing and online donations.
“The highest percentage of our donations come in response to direct mail, but our online-giving program has been growing very rapidly over the last several years,” she reports. “One indicator of the trust our online donors place in us is that nearly 70 percent of people who give online choose the ‘give where the need is greatest’ option.”
For its direct-mail programs, PPFA also tells compelling stories about the challenges that real women and teens face.
“We have a particular segment of donors who love to be called so they can talk with like-minded individuals and then make their gifts,” Meredith says. “In our major-gifts program, our job as fundraisers is to share the stories of the work that we do, tap into the donors’ interests and passion about our issues, and convert their gifts into transformational gifts.”
Schorr also has found that sharing real stories with WRRAP donors is an effective tool in fundraising efforts.
“I sent out an e-mail request to help an incest victim get out of the state to a facility for her procedure. We raised $6,000 in one day,” she says, adding that WRRAP’s most successful campaigns are ones that “hit donors in their emotional gut.”
Bilodeau says the National Women’s Law Center finds success in hosting small cocktail receptions around the country to thank major donors. WRRAP has great success with larger events such as its “Rock ’n’ Roe” benefit concert. Its supporters enjoy the chance to have a good time, support a cause they believe in, and learn more about their rights.
PPFA says its supporter base mirrors the larger demographic picture of the country and skews in favor of baby boomers. Bilodeau says her organization has many men and younger women who have become advocates for reproductive rights. WRRAP finds its supporters are not only women who support abortion rights, but also family foundations and even some religious groups.
“People can relate to the stories we tell,” Meredith says, “and that makes it easier to talk to our supporters. The values we promote are consistent with majority, mainstream values in the U.S.
“When we advocate for comprehensive, reality-based, medically accurate sex education for young people,” she says, “our donors understand and agree, because they want to protect their children from unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.”
Christine Weiser is a Philadelphia-based freelance writer and publisher of the nonprofit literary-arts publication “Philadelphia Stories.”