The integration imperative: Tiananmen mothers case study

Ben Brandzel explains how integrating communications with 'donors' and 'activists' can pay off, with a case study of Amnesty UK's 'Tiananmen mothers' campaign.

Back in May of 2008, Amnesty UK had just over twice as many "donors" as "activists".  Like most major NGO's in those days, they almost never sent action alerts to the donors, and never asked their activists for money.

Integration didn't alienate the donors or the activists. We got more donations and activism from both groups than we ever had before.

Coming from my work with dedicated online organizing groups (, etc.) I proposed a concept I called the  "Integration imperative". You don't have "donors" and "activists", you have supporters, who like to support in different ways at different times, but all of whom are far more concerned with making a difference than with what they're labelled. You serve your supporters by giving them every reasonable chance to convey any of their various assets into social and political change. You do them a disservice by deciding in advance that donors never get to use their voice, and activists never get to use their wallet.

Amnesty agreed to the experiment to test the principle and to doing the first ever outreach to the combined list of all supporters with an integrated series of asks.

The online staff there had been making similar points for a while (I find quite frequently that shmancy-pants consultants frequently just give more voice to what hardworking teams have been saying for years.)

Bringing activity together

At the time, there was already an activist campaign in the works to leverage the upcoming Bejing Olympics to get China to agree to the demands of a group called the "Tienanmen Mothers,". These families had been lobbying the Chinese authorities for 19 years for the right to publicly mourn, and for an official investigation into the deaths of their children in the massacre.

There was also a separate plan to ask the donors to "support the China campaign." And a third, separate plan to hold a rally outside the Chinese embassy around the anniversary of the massacre. So basically, we just pulled it all together.

Here's how it went:

Email 1: Send a Mothers day card to the Tiananmen mothers on Chinese Mothers' day, letting them know you support their struggle.

This message introduced the characters and the overall narrative, and gave the UK members a strong emotional hook to engage in the rest of the campaign.

Email 2: Sign the petition to the Chinese government asking them to grant the Tiananmen mothers' request.

This highlighted the Chinese government's vulnerability to public pressure in the lead up to the Olympics. For every signature we collected, we would place a rose outside of the Chinese embassy in London at the rally on the anniversary of the massacre.

If you donated 20 pounds, we'd place in your name a full bouquet (the official symbol of the Tiananmen Mothers group). On the landing page you also had the option of giving a smaller donation to support the free rose distribution, after you signed the petition.

Email 3: Follow up on the petition/roses ask, closing in our goal of 5000.

Email 4: Turnout for the rally in London to help with the delivery of the roses, or host/attend separate rallies in local areas across the UK

Email 5: Report back on the rose delivery, with ask to join Amnesty as a monthly contributor to support similar campaigns in the future.


All in all, the campaign garnered record breaking results, both in terms of absolute numbers and in terms of percentage yields of actions and donations from email campaigns to those respective groups.

The vast bulk of fundraising yield came without ever focusing on a fundraising ask.

And that was true before email 5, so the vast bulk of fundraising yield came without ever focusing on a fundraising ask. In other words, by integrating tactics, asks, and supporters, we didn't alienate the donors or the activists, we got more donations and activism from both groups than we ever had before.

Email content

The content of four of the five emails is reproduced below (without unsubscribe options etc)

Email 1

(Note the unusual structure here, a long body with no link until the bottom. That's because unlike a classic action email, this email

a) makes a high-bar ask, rooted in emotional engagement, so you really need more content before you take the leap, and

b) serves a broader goal in the overall sequence of introducing folks to the characters and the story - if the reader clicked through without absorbing that it wouldn't really serve the purpose.

I think this is a great example of why the email "formula" I teach should always be subject to review and abandoned entirely when it's strategically appropriate.)


It's Mothers' Day in Tiananmen Square

Tiananmen mothers email header 1

Dear friend of Amnesty,

This Sunday, 11 May, is Mothers' Day in China. Just like here, it's a day for families to celebrate the strength and love that mothers bring into our lives.

And this year, it's a chance for us to reach out to some particular mothers in Beijing who have experienced the worst thing a mother could endure - the death of their own children, at the hands of their own government.

They call themselves the Tiananmen Mothers. They are a group of predominantly Chinese women who never wanted to be activists. But when their children were killed in the violent military crackdown on the Chinese pro-democracy movement in 1989, everything changed.

All they ask is the freedom to publicly mourn without harassment, the release all those who remain in prison in connection with the 1989 protests, full public debate about the events and an independent inquiry into what happened on those dark days almost 19 years ago.

All they want is justice. Led by Ding Zilin (who was nominated for a Nobel peace prize), they face great personal risk every time they speak out. They've suffered detentions, repeated interrogations, and prolonged house arrest. It's a long, dangerous, and all too lonely campaign.

We can never restore what they've lost. But this Mothers' Day in China, we can show these brave women just how big their global family really is, and how much we appreciate their courageous stand for justice.

If you take a moment to fill out a Mothers' Day card online, we'll deliver your comments directly to the Tiananmen Mothers by Chinese Mothers' Day. Just click below to complete and send your card:

Click here to send your card

This Mothers' day in China, let's take a moment to show the Tiananmen mothers that on this day -- which has become so bitter sweet for them - they are not forgotten. They are never alone.

Please fill out your card today.

Thank you,

Kate Allen

Director, Amnesty International UK


Email 2

Show your support for the Tiananmen Mothers

Dear friend of Amnesty,

On May 11, Mothers' Day in China, we delivered over 5000 Mothers' Day messages from Amnesty supporters across the UK to the Tiananmen Mothers – a group of predominately Chinese women whose children were killed in the military crackdown of June 3-4,1989 in Beijing. Your kind words touched their hearts; thank you for your solidarity. Now we must speak up for justice and take the next step.

For 19 years, the Mothers' pleas for justice have been ignored or repressed by the Chinese authorities. But the Beijing Olympics are shining a historic spotlight on China and international pressure can really get results.

So today, we're launching an urgent new petition to the Chinese government supporting the Tiananmen Mothers' simple demands – like the freedom to publicly mourn for their children without harassment, and a fair investigation of the military's actions. Please click below to add your name to the petition right now:

Click here to sign our petition

This is no ordinary petition. First, we'll collect signatures every way we can until 4th June, the 19th anniversary of the Tiananmen crackdown. That Wednesday, we'll gather outside the Chinese Embassy in London, with the international press looking on. For the first 5000 signatures we receive, we'll place a rose on our unofficial memorial by the Chinese Embassy.

And, if you can contribute £20 to help fund this effort, we'll add a full 10 rose bouquet – a symbol of the Tiananmen Mothers ongoing struggle for justice – to symbolise your strong support.

This is a huge opportunity to show the Chinese government, the Olympic movement, and people all over the world just how much support the Tiananmen Mothers really have. They have waited 19 years for justice – haven't they waited long enough?

We can help end the wait. Please sign the petition today, and then forward this note to your friends and family so they can sign as well.

Click here to sign our petition

Thank you, as always, for defending what's right.


Kate Allen

Amnesty International

P.S. I wanted to share with you just a couple of the 5000+ Mothers Day messages we passed on from the Amnesty UK community. Sometimes, there's nothing more important than simply knowing you're not alone. And for the Tiananmen Mothers, your words left no doubt. Thank you again. (And don't forget to sign the petition defending their rights.)

“I remember your children and now I have a daughter who is politically active and carries banners, just like them. I don't know how you find the strength to bear your loss - you have my deep admiration and sympathy. May your efforts bring the justice you seek. I am standing shoulder to shoulder with you all, mindful that you are the best and strongest mothers on our earth. Anne”

“As a mother and a grandmother, my heart goes out to you for your loss, all of my thoughts and hopes are with you as you seek justice. I admire your courage. In solidarity, Audrey”

Email 4

Over 10,000 roses. Come demonstrate on 4th June

Join our demonstration

Make your voices heard, in London and across the UK.

Dear friend,

The Amnesty UK community has blown away all expectations. Together, we've gathered well over 10,000 petition signatures for the Tiananmen Mothers and chipped in for hundreds of bouquets -simply amazing. Now it's time to take our message straight to the Chinese Authorities, and we need your help.

Please join us this Wednesday, 4th June to deliver our petition and place over 10,000 roses outside the Chinese embassy-each one representing another Amnesty supporter standing up for justice with the Tiananmen mothers. The international press will be on hand and the Chinese government will be watching closely, so we need a big crowd to show overwhelming public support. Can you join us this Wednesday evening in London?

WHAT: Demonstration for the Tiananmen Mothers and human rights in China

WHEN: Wednesday, June 4th. 6:00 - 7:00 PM.

WHERE: Chinese Embassy, 49-51 Portland Place, London W1B 1JL. Click here for map.

(Near the Regents Park & Great Portland St. Tubes on the Bakerloo, Circle, Metropolitan, and Hammersmith & City lines)

MAJOR SPEAKERS: Wei Jingsheng, Overseas Chinese Democracy Coalition; Xie Ze, Director, Friends of Tiananmen Mothers in the UK; and Shao Jiang, former student leader from Tiananmen Square 1989.

Please join us to add your voice to this crucial event. You're also encouraged to bring a rose, and make a flag, a headband or a t-shirt, instructions and templates are available for download here. And don't forget to forward the invitation to your friends and family who might also be interested in standing in solidarity with the Tiananmen Mothers.

Can't make it to London? Click here to see a list of local demos planned in other cities across the UK.

This Wednesday is the 19-year anniversary of the brutal crackdown in Tiananmen Square. We gather on this day to appeal for justice for the Tiananmen mothers and all the Chinese people whose human rights are in jeopardy. The Director of Friends of the Tiananmen Mothers UK, Xie Ze, describes it below:

"In 1989 hundreds of people, including my cousin Wang Nan, were killed because they stood up for justice and equality. Every day since, their families have sought justice. We are still waiting...

What we have lost can never be restored. But this gathering today shows that we are not alone."

This is a huge opportunity for people all over the world to show just how much support the Tiananmen Mothers really have. They have waited 19 years for justice - we want that wait to end. Please join us on Wednesday evening, in London or at a city near you.

Together, we can begin to transform this day from a tragic anniversary into a historic step forward for human rights in China, in Britain and around the world.

I hope to see you there.


Kate Allen

P.S. If you haven't signed the petition or contributed for a bouquet, there's still time to be counted before Wednesday's big demonstration. But you have to act fast. You can still add your name here, or follow this link if you have already signed but wish to make a donation.

Email 5

Tiananmen crackdown - the struggle for justice continues

Tiananmen mothers email header 2

Thank you

Your interest and support has proved the Tiananmen Mothers are not alone

Dear friend of Amnesty,

Last Wednesday, the Tiananmen Mothers were yet again denied the freedom to mourn for their children on the 19th anniversary of the brutal Tiananmen Square military crackdown - the day their children died. But this year, we stood strong in support of the Tiananmen Mothers.

On 4th June, nearly 2,000 Amnesty UK supporters gathered to lay thousands of roses in solidarity with the Tiananmen Mothers outside the Chinese Embassy in London. There were also simultaneous local demonstrations across the UK; all carrying the simple message: Justice for the Tiananmen Mothers and human rights for all the people of China. And we were heard -- by governments, the media and people throughout the UK and across the world. To continue this fight for the Tiananmen Mothers - and for human rights around the world-- we need your help.

Please join Amnesty International today - let's keep up the fight

On 30th May, Ding Zilin managed to get a letter out to all the supporters of the Tiananmen Mothers around the world. She stated "In the passing of time, such gathering is gaining significance not only as respect for the dead but also as hope for the future. I would like to thank you all for this, again on behalf of every member of the Tiananmen Mothers." See the impact of our strong united voice, watch footage of the poignant London demonstration (video courtesy of, Flash required)

So what's next? We're going to keep campaigning for justice for the Tiananmen Mothers, and for human rights for all the people of China. Your support will enable us to rapidly mobilise in the event of domestic Chinese protests being prevented or violently suppressed by the Chinese Authorities, in the count-down to the Olympics, during or after the games.

AIUK's Human Rights for China campaign will continue until mid June 2009 and beyond the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Crackdown. But our impact depends on contributions from people like you.

It's been an amazing month for the Amnesty UK community -- you have so much to be proud of. Here's a quick summary of what we did together:

- We wrote and delivered over 5,000 Mothers Day cards to the Tiananmen Mothers, offering vital solidarity at a difficult time.

- We collected over 13,000 signatures (blowing away our goal) supporting the Tiananmen Mothers' simple demands, like the freedom to publicly mourn and a fair investigation into 1989's violent military crackdown on peaceful protestors.

- We gathered over 2,000 supporters in London and hundreds more in towns & cities across the UK to lay down solidarity roses.

-We made our voices heard, speaking directly to the Chinese authorities and generating media stories in the UK, Europe, the United States, Hong Kong and across the globe.

This is what the Amnesty UK community is capable of in just a few short weeks. If you believe in this kind of action, please make a small online contribution, it costs as little as £2 per month to become a full member of Amnesty International.

Click here to join

Thank you, so much, for being part of the team.


Kate Allen

Amnesty International.

Ben Brandzel is a leading international practitioner, trainer and writer in the field of progressive online organizing. He is currently the Director of Incubation and International Programs at Citizen Engagement Lab.

by Ben Brandzel published Jan 29, 2012,
There was an error while rendering the portlet.