Inside E/S: Giving Back with GO Campaign
Since 2006, the GO Campaign has been empowering children in vulnerable communities through their advocacy and humanitarian initiatives all over the world. Founder and CEO, Scott Fifer, and his team discuss their work and global mission.
GO Campaign Founder and CEO, Scott Fifer
How did the GO Campaign get started?
Scott Fifer: I’ll back up a bit, first. I was a Hollywood screenwriter in my prior life, and a Wall Street attorney for a number of years before that. In 2005, I was feeling very guilty that I hadn't been doing much volunteer work; I didn’t know enough about what was going on in the world. So I decided to take a trip, and spent a month with street children at an orphanage in Kilimanjaro. It was the best month of my life.
Originally, I started the nonprofit to help those 20 kids. But then in 2006, I brought 10 of them to the U.S. as a cross-cultural exchange. They performed for schools around California and Nevada. And people started coming up to me saying: “You're doing great work helping these kids directly. I know this monk in Cambodia who's working with girls. I know this woman in Machu Picchu working with indigenous children–I’d love to introduce you. Can you make sure the money gets where it’s needed most?”
It was very organic and never intended to be what it's become today. But I met some terrific women in LA who became my co-founders and helped me expand the organization. Slowly, we developed our Local Hero model: Investing in individuals who work for their communities through grassroots projects around the world. From there it’s snowballed. Over 17 years, we've helped 200,000 children across 40 countries.
We want to know how we can best serve every community. That’s why the work we do is so varied. We do clean water. Microloan programs for girls. Anti-bullying. We work with AIDS orphans. Health clinics. We build schools. But it’s the local heroes who answer those important questions. What are the biggest threats to the children in your community and how can we help you with that? We invested in their visions, their dreams, and that's how it became what it is today.
Director of Impact & Storytelling, Lauren Kezon: I've been with the GO Campaign for about five years now. I’m from Chicago and have a nonprofit background. When I found GO, and this position specifically, it was really just a culmination of everything that I was passionate about, especially children. GO has always been such a unique organization. The way it's set up is so different from any organization I've ever encountered. It's been really wonderful to be able to work within and help expand it.
Director of Development, Kristen Bennett: I have been with the GO Campaign going on four years now. It's been a really interesting, fantastic experience. We never go into a community and tell them what they need. We go in with “big ears” and listen. We say, “You know your community better than anyone, and what your needs are”. That grassroots approach is, I think, very different from what a lot of other organizations are doing. That's one of the things that really attracted me to GO.
What does GO do and how does it operate?
SF: We really do two things. Our grantmaking process is about capacity building. We work with our partners to think about what happens after a grant. How is it going to be sustainable or help the grantee achieve their goal? What's the plan for next year? We don't do things like school fees or lunches because you're going to need those next year too, and the year after that. But we will build a cafeteria where they can make the lunches. Or we will build them an internet cafe so they can make money to pay for the lunches. We think about the lasting impact.
Several of our grantees have outgrown us. Some have become CNN heroes and one has won a Nobel Peace prize. They've gone on to great things and that's what we want for every one of them. We really are a family. It's not just handing out a check and hoping for the best. It's all about helping them to flourish.
In the same way, we listen to our donors. We’ll ask, “What do you care about the most? And where do you want your donation to go?” If a donor cares about US projects, we can give them a portfolio of US projects that need funding. If they’re interested in girls’ education or educating youth about climate change, we can create a more personalized portfolio. Listening is a core value for us. We listen to our local heroes. We listen to our donors. We ask what’s needed, what interests them, and how we can help achieve these philanthropic service goals.
LK: We always hear back from our local heroes that the relationship they have with GO is so different than with other funders. It's not just an email going back and forth, or a wire that gets sent and then a report comes back. There’s consistent communication. They know us and our whole development team. We're a small but mighty team of ten that's doing that massive work.
The local hero model is the heart of the GO Campaign. The work that we do and the work that they do, it runs the gamut from water education to vocational training. You name it, we help provide those services. But it’s the individuals that we're investing in. It's Brenda in Tanzania helping youth with special needs. It's Maria, here in Los Angeles, helping youth at risk of incarceration. These local heroes have this lived experience. Our donors put their trust in GO; we put our trust in our local heroes.
SF: We had to be nimble during the pandemic. We were lucky to already have grantees around the world so we could send funds immediately and start saving lives. When lockdowns were occurring in India or here in East LA–where 70% of families lost their jobs–we were poised to help. It was very rewarding to be able to deploy funds and get the job done. The challenge now is figuring out this new world that we live in. There's been a decrease in donations and charitable giving this year and last year. The numbers are not encouraging. How do we change the roadmap for the next few years? How do we get more people to know about what we're doing so they can join the campaign and our family?
Currently, we have to say no to around 60% of the requests that we get. Not just any requests; requests that we would like to deliver on, from partners we know or that we’ve vetted and would like to get to know. It’s very frustrating. Saying ‘yes’ is the fun part. When you get to see the results and watch these local heroes flourish. We need to fix that ratio so that we're saying ‘yes’ more often than we're saying ‘no’.
KB: We're very fortunate that the GO Campaign does so many different things. That means we have a wider appeal to people who are interested in vocational training, health care and whatever else. But it's a double-edged sword when it comes to messaging. When people are new to the GO Campaign, they don't intuitively understand what this local hero model is. So one challenge is educating people and helping them to better understand the work that we’re doing.
LK: Give us a follow on Instagram, X (Twitter), Facebook. Those follows, and that engagement, it really does mean something. If you don't have the funds to give, sharing the stories is a great way to help. It comes down to action and doing something intentional. You might not be able to give $5,000, but you can educate yourself and continue the conversation. If you know you want to make a difference; if you're overwhelmed with what's happening in the world and just don't know where to start, start with GO. Come join us.
KB: If you’re able, of course, becoming a recurring donor is a simple thing to do that helps us sustain and determine our projections. We know exactly what we can do with the money that will be in the bank. Our recurring donors are really a special group that’s integral to the work that we do. But we're always interested in hearing from people, as well. Reach out to us and say, “Hey, I know about this person doing incredible work here.” Maybe we're not aware of it, and we want to know. Our goal is not to just be the best nonprofit, it’s to make the world a better place. We want to see that happen regardless of who’s doing the work.
SF: Share our video with a friend to help spread the word. Most people don't know who we are. Sharing it with one person or company helps push that bubble out a little farther. We also have volunteer opportunities at locations here in Los Angeles and around the world. They're often in places where you might want to go on vacation: Kilimanjaro, Cambodia, Machu Picchu. We've worked in 40 countries so there's a chance that we might have a project somewhere near where you're going to be, and we’re happy to make those introductions.
I want folks to know that we’re doing this work all over the world. Some people really want to help their neighbors first, and that's fine. We can point you to projects in the US. We currently have a big project in Chicago. We have projects in New York City. We have a lot in LA. But we’re also in Asia, South America, Central America, Mexico. It really is a global as well as a national effort. Really it all comes back to listening. Tell us. What do you want to accomplish? Even if it's not through GO Campaign, we can refer you to another organization. Ultimately, our mission is to do everything in our power to help you achieve your goals.
To learn more about the important work that the GO Campaign is doing, please visit gocampaign.org. Follow GO Campaign on Facebook, Instagram and X.
If you would like to make a personal contribution, please consider donating directly to their fundraising campaign. Or simply share this story with a friend.
We believe it is such an immense privilege to give back. May we all continue to do everything we can to protect the earth and all the people on it. Thank you for joining us and the GO Campaign in this effort.
GO Campaign is a U.S. nonprofit 501(c)3 organization.