Reflections of an Alliance intern: Advertising philanthropy in an increasingly digital world


Gabi Kinney


Nearly four short months ago, I hopped on a plane bound for London to complete a semester-long study and intern abroad programme—expectations racing through my mind. Coming from the bitter cold, Midwestern state of Minnesota with no previous knowledge of the philanthropic sector, I thought to myself, ‘How do I advertise a subject matter that I know little about in a place that I also know little about?’ Immediately flung from my comfort zone, I was about to find out.

Gabi Kinney: Communications and Marketing Intern Spring 2019

On my first day as a Communications and Marketing intern for Alliance magazine, I anxiously hopped from tube to tube, navigating to a place that would soon be my ‘second London home’. Located in the south-western district of Clapham, the Alliance office is tucked away on a quiet side street. Coming from the University of Minnesota as a psychology and strategic communications double-major, I was so excited to learn as much as I could. 

A small, full-time staff of four welcomed me to the team, and my initial conversation with Alliance editor Charles Keidan still resonates with me. ‘Philanthropy is a love of humanity and private action for public purpose. If you remember anything about philanthropy, remember those two things,’ Charles said. He continued to question what I knew about the philanthropic sector. My response: not very much.

‘Philanthropy is a love of humanity and private action for public purpose. If you remember anything about philanthropy, remember those two things.’

Over the next few weeks, I was tasked with a wide range of projects, mostly writing and sourcing content for the Alliance blog and designing advertisements for upcoming campaigns. No two days in the office look the same; with such a small team, collaboration is key.

Pieces of a system as a complex group.

During my time as an intern, Alliance released its March 2019 issue on Systems Change. This issue was particularly fun to advertise, as it is one of the hardest concepts in philanthropy to grasp. Social issues are connected to each other in complex ways; the systems change approach builds upon witnessing change by tackling whole systems, rather than individual actions. Like Jenga, one missing block may not collapse the tower, but pull out enough blocks and the tower will come crumbling down.

I think back to a point that Charles made to me about how philanthropists decide who to give their money to. He questioned how supporting one cause with an enormous donation in theory takes away from another cause; how do we decide what to fund and what falls lower on the totem pole? Are our motives deeper than simply striving to be generous?

As a psychology major, the science behind giving is extremely interesting to me. During the March 2019 Alliance Breakfast Club on Systems Change that took place at the Thomson Reuters Foundation in Canary Wharf, panellist Silvia Bastante of Co-Impact spoke about her experience with systems change.

Does saving the rhinos mean building a park or tackling the issue at a more hidden root?

While working for the Union Bank of Switzerland as the former Global Head of Philanthropy Advisory, Bastante came across a case where the failure to consider systems change yielded a less effective approach. She told the story of a philanthropist that returned from a trip to Kenya and decided that he wanted to support endangered black rhinos by building a preservation park. Through extensive research, Bastante and her team came back to the philanthropist and recommended that he instead target the issue at one of its roots: using education to change the stigma and attitudes behind buying rhino horns in Asia, where people desire this good. ‘The gentleman returned to me and said, “What you say makes a lot of sense. But I still want my park in Africa,” Bastante concluded.

This story stuck with me as I scurried around the Breakfast Club, as interns do. In the face of logic, Bastante’s less-glamorous option would yield a greater improvement to the rhino population, but the philanthropist’s outlying motivations got in the way. Per Alliance‘s business model, looking at the sector with a critical lens to question issues such as this helps cultivate global change, which was one of the most rewarding aspects of working with Alliance.

Example skyscraper design by Gabi.

Changing topics to better describe the work that I completed at Alliance, this internship has provided me with opportunities to develop many aspects of my professional toolkit. I wrote blogs, designed email campaigns and landing pages, created graphics, populated social media platforms, edited videos (including our new Facebook Cover Video), created and embedded a signup form into the website, and more.

The hardest challenge for me was adapting to a new culture and showing it in my advertising copy and design. I had never heard the word ‘bespoke’ until coming to the UK, but I see it everywhere now. Certain word spellings were hard to adapt to; I find myself constantly correcting ‘organization’ to ‘organisation’.

As months went by, terminology in the sector started making sense. Systems change? I understand that. Funding, grant making, and social investment? I can confidently write about those topics. The biggest area of growth for me was going from an outsider to an insider, while failing at first and being okay with that. Eventually, I was able to use new knowledge combined with my background in strategic communications to benefit the organisation as much as possible.

‘The biggest area of growth for me was going from an outsider to an insider, while failing at first and being okay with that.’

This semester, I explored the role that technology plays in business, specifically as it relates to an increasingly digital society. This topic served as the backbone for a research paper about my internship experience, as technology is a daily aspect of life at Alliance.

An increasingly digital world means big changes to how advertisers operate.

Digitisation affects many aspects of a company’s marketing model, especially in the magazine industry. During this internship, the Alliance team piloted the first live-stream of a Breakfast Club to engage a wider audience in an event that has been previously based only in London. Technology has allowed Alliance to live up to its claim of ‘global coverage’, as it is easier now more than ever to incorporate readers worldwide.

Reflecting on this internship during my last day, I am honoured to have been a part of the Alliance team. I truly wish I had more time to give (my mom agrees to disagree as she wants me home as soon as possible). This internship experience would not have been the same without the support of the wonderful individuals that made me feel at home so far from home. I am so proud of all that we have achieved in the past four months, and I cannot wait to continue keeping up on ‘What’s new with Alliance?’ from across the pond.

From our Brexit talks that I struggled to understand, to watching you all make tea 10 times a day (sorry for never jumping on that bandwagon), I will miss this team immensely and cannot wait to see all the amazing things Alliance continues to accomplish.

Gabi Kinney is a psychology and strategic communications double-major at the University of Minnesota – Twin Cities. She worked as an Alliance Communications and Marketing intern during Spring 2019.

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