NEWSMAKER: Driven by results - Joel Voysey, Supporter recruitment manager, Amnesty International UK

Annie Kelly

As Amnesty International UK's supporter recruitment manager, Joel Voysey has to clearly communicate the darker side of human nature on a daily basis. It is his unwavering belief that Amnesty's work makes a real difference to people's lives that motivates him. A three-year stint at WaterAid as a committed giving manager installed a strong results-based philosophy that initially drew him to the Amnesty cause.

"WaterAid was very clear about the fact that it wasn't going to go into emergency aid areas but instead concentrate on long-term, sustainable objectives," he says. "Although not identical, Amnesty has that same determined sense of mission. It demonstrably makes a difference and I think it's this element that makes it so appealing to the man on the street."

Amnesty is in its second year of an ambitious fundraising strategy that aims to raise income by 30 per cent by 2005 and generate £14.2 million by the end of the year. The organisation is more than 90 per cent funded by its 250,000 members and supporters and isn't eligible for the tax breaks and funding opportunities open to registered charities.

Indeed, Amnesty recently stated that if it was allowed to register as a charity it could gain an extra £3 million a year through tax breaks, Gift Aid and increased statutory income. To reinforce its position, Amnesty has joined with other voluntary organisations to campaign for a new definition of charity law. However, Voysey is unsure about the wider implications of charitable status to an organisation that prides itself on its outspoken stance on a broad spectrum of human rights issues.

"There are strong campaigning strands of our work that I wouldn't want to be ruled over by the Charity Commission, but as a fundraiser I'm obviously concerned with getting the best return on investment as possible," he says. "What we're calling for is a real modernisation of existing charity law that would make it possible for us to retain our independence and hard-line approach while benefiting from the tax breaks other charities enjoy."

At present Voysey oversees supporter and member recruitment for both the UK arm of Amnesty and its charitable trust. The existence of the two branches he admits can create a certain amount of confusion. Voysey and his team have to make sure that they're crystal clear about the messages they give to all potential supporters.

Most members are brought to the organisation through print advertising and direct marketing, and the majority of people recruited through face-to-face fundraising and other public channels become supporters of the trust.

Face-to-face fundraising has proved an effective method of recruiting supporters as it gives the organisations the chance to discuss its wider aims and objectives with people. Public fundraising also gives Amnesty the opportunity to explain to new supporters and members that their donations to the charitable trust will directly fund vital research projects undertaken by the organisation's International Secretariat.

"I don't think a lot of voluntary organisations spend enough time really talking to potential supporters," he says. "We try and plough as much as we can into our public fundraising as we find that this helps dispel myths and misconceptions about the role of Amnesty and the causes we support."

Voysey's commitment to helping establish face-to-face fundraising as a reliable and solid income channel led him to taking the post of chairman at the Public Fundraising Regulatory Association (PFRA) in 2002. Although he stepped down at the end of last year to be replaced by Timothy Horsnby, the former chief executive of the National Lotteries Charities Board, he remains active in the organisation.

"Our whole focus at the PFRA is about maintaining and improving standards. All charities involved in public fundraising should have a keen interest in the work that we're doing," he says. "The danger with face-to-face fundraising is that it becomes a hands-off medium where charities simply relinquish control to an agency. The most important part of our work is ensuring that the sector becomes integrally involved with the fundraisers who are representing the charity on the street."

The next few years will also see Amnesty focus more on domestic issues. Its stance on the impending war with Iraq has led the organisation to address issues that directly affect the lives of people in the UK.

Voysey sees the area of crisis response as being increasingly crucial in the future.

"We need to make sure that the human rights agenda is not lost in the international war on terror," he says. In such uncertain times, Voysey feels that supporters will look to the organisation for strong leadership and direction and believes that it is more than up to the task ahead.

"Economically times are tough, and it's more difficult than ever to persuade people to start donating," he says. "But we're clear about what we have to do and stand firm in our belief that essentially people want to help those who are facing danger and persecution. It's up to us to raise our voice above the general noise."


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