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UNICEF and Holiday Giving

By Tom Watson on December 19, 2008No Comment

Q: Although you’ve spent your career in the nonprofit sector, you’ve recently joined the U.S. Fund for UNICEF, at a critical time in philanthropy. How are you weathering the storm?

A: I started on Sept. 8, so I’m at the end of my 90-day probation. It’s been a whirlwind!
It’s true we’re facing stiff challenges economically.

Q: In terms of philanthropy and the financial markets, do you think the challenge is somewhat psychological or is it a real crisis?

A: Already, we’re seeing the impact. Our numbers are down 7% from what was budgeted. We’re in the first year of a strategic plan that was anticipating aggressive growth rates. Year over year, the fact that we’re in the same place speaks fairly well for where things are.

Q: As far as being the US Fund for UNICEF vs. UNICEF itself, does that present an  identity challenge?

A: For the most part, donors understand that UNICEF is a government organization so individuals can’t contribute directly to it. 35 countries have national committees like the US Fund. We are responsible not only for raising funds to support its programs, but fostering advocacy, awareness of the cause.

Q: Now that we’re in the holiday season, is that when your donations are strongest, or when there are humanitarian emergencies?

A: We feel that when 25,000 die every day, from preventable causes, that’s an ongoing emergency, just as when there was a tsunami, or crises like Katrina. It’s a condition that’s unacceptable to us.

Each year, some 40% of our funds are raised in December, so we do try to make sure our holiday appeals build their message around what the donor’s gifts will mean for the children. We provide our donors with the  inspired gifts catalog. We talk about our priority program areas, and what the giver’s money will buy, whether it’s in immunization, nutrition, emergencies, water, HIV/AIDS, or other critically needed programs.

Q: What percentage of your gifts come in online?

A: Our online giving is primarily driven by emergencies, as with most humanitarian organizations. Donors prefer that because it’s instantaneous.

We’ll be looking to ramp up our online giving in the year ahead, to find ways to sustain opportunities to give. Consumers have been migrating to shopping online, and increasingly will do giving that way.

We want to be out front. Our strategic plan has ambitious goals. We want to have more of an interactive component, to find more opportunities in social networking.

Q: Another major area of focus for you is corporate partnerships. Are you seeing fallout from the economic downturn?

A: Yes and no. Most of our corporate supporters had already budgeted for this calendar year, but going forward we’ve already been told by current and prospective corporate partners that  it’s going to be a tough year. We will have to work hard, and vie for if not a shrinking, certainly not a growing – corporate sector.

We want to triple corporate giving over five years. We’re selective about corporate partners, we don’t go to anybody and everybody; they should be creative, best of class: Gucci, Pampers, IKEA, Pier One, Tiffany. Tiffany, for example, provided table gifts for our 5th annual Snowflake Gala in New York last week. We had over 500 people at Cipriani and raised $2 million. We had Lucy Liu and other celebrities, as well as auctioneers from Sotheby’s. Donors were bidding as much as $25,000 each to sponsor SUV’s for our country offices.

At the end of the day, UNICEF is a tried, true and trusted brand. Mayor Bloomberg was there, for example, and talked about how he could recall trick or treating as a child for UNICEF.

Q: Any other messages you’d like to share with our readers?

A: As UNICEF celebrates its 67th anniversary, I can say that it’s best in class, entirely funded by voluntary contributions from individuals, corporations, governments and foundations. It’s credentialed by BBB Wise Giving and Charity Navigator. It’s the lifeline to millions of children, literally saving children’s lives. You couldn’t have a better cause if you tried.

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