4 posts categorized "Fundraising"

May 19, 2010

Rock Star Fundraisers - Engaging the Diamonds in the Rough

SnshotRock star individual fundraisers are the equivalent of stumbling upon a $20 bill while walking down the street (or even a $100).  They are the ones who organize their schools, run across states, or do similarly unusual activities to raise money for the cause of their choice.  Nonprofit development teams love them, but can't rely on them because they don't know when or where they'll pop up and very rarely are their activities scalable. 

To a certain degree, development teams have identified some trends and scaled where possible.  Robust fundraising programs on and offline have popped up to support people taking on physical challenges such as 5Ks, marathons, triathlons, and so forth.  Others create special short lived fundraising events where people raise money to be named man or woman of the year.  Other nonprofits create basic personal fundraising pages in the case that someone decides to raise money on their behalf.  Few actually have any sort of active program to challenge people who want to creatively raise money in a way that is truly unique to the fundraiser his/herself - the reason again, most likely, is that is simply too difficult to scale.   

I want to draw a few examples to your attention though, because after some (very) preliminary research, I believe that some best practices are emerging that may increase the likelihood of capturing more of these rock star individual fundraisers in a way that is scalable. 

Kiss a Pig, Create a Smile (Total Raised:  $712)
In Spring of 2009 a teacher in Pierce City Missouri, gave her elementary school students a challenge - raise $240 for Operation Smile* and she'd kiss a pig.  ($240 is the cost of a cleft pallet surgery.) The kids went gangbusters and raised $712 - the teacher had to kiss the pig 3 times.  Everyone wins!  The experience was so positive that the school district set up a club and planned on turning it into an annual event.

10 Challenges in 10 Weeks to Stop Cancer (Total Raised:  $19,000 and counting)
A recent cancer survivor Josh Orenstein** wanted to give back.  Although he ran Division 1 track in college, medical issues dictated that he not participate in traditional event fundraising activities like running a 5K or marathon, doing an intense hike, or riding a bike for a long distance.  He needed a hook - something unique that could help him raise the type of money he wanted to raise.  After a bit of research, he honed in on Leukemia & Lymphoma Society's (LLS) Man/Woman of the Year program and decided to participate.  The fundraiser has a defined 10 week window where participants compete to be man/woman of the year.  For Orenstein, the stated purpose of the fundraising program was just a means to an end.  Although he used his official Man/Woman of the Year fundraising page online to collect donations, he dropped the official name in his communications and created his own campaign - "The 10 to End Cancer Challenge."  He then created 10 challenges that he would complete in 10 weeks to earn the support of his friends and family on behalf of LLS.  He communicated and organized primary through Facebook and email.  As promised, he revealed a new challenge each week through email and Facebook - some serious (bone marrow test), some funny (tap dancing lessons, trapeze lessons), and others taxing (reading War in Peace in 10 weeks).  After he finished each challenge he posted videos and photos on the dedicated Facebook page, while regularly asking for donations.  To date he has raised $19,000 and expects to reach his $20,000 goal from 250-300 donors, many of whom he has never met.  Several thousand dollars have come through friends organizing fundraisers on his behalf as well. 

Or Run from San Diego to Phoenix to Beat Cancer (Total Raised:  $26,000)
Then there is Ultramarathoner Mike Sheehy.***  After a friend was diagnosed with cancer he wanted to do something.  So he did what any normal person would do, he decided to run from San Diego to Phoenix (over 500 miles) in 17 days.  Along the way he'd stop by hospitals, talk to patients, and blog about the experience.  However, this effort didn't fall neatly into any of LLS' event fundraising programs.  Ultimately the effort was run out of the Cures Rock! effort with all dollars going to LLS through a fundraising page that LLS set up for them.  They also developed a simple site, wrote a blog, and did significant organizing on and offline.  When he crossed the finish line at the 17th day, he had raised over $26,000 for LLS.


So what is a nonprofit to take away from these fundraising rock stars?  Especially with the fact that none of these activities is scalable on their own.   The answer is to look at the concepts that are present in each of these examples:

1.  Create a Challenge or Let Them Create a Challenge:  A challenge gets the event fundraisers more involved, makes it easier for people around them to donate, and attracts a different type of donor.  The grade school kids wanted to see their teacher kiss a pig.   Orenstein's challenges attracted far more attention and support than he would have generated simply by asking for donations.  Sheehy ran 500+ miles.

2.  Fundraising Page:  Make sure you give them a fundraising page that they can customize for their unique fundraising efforts.  Duh.

3.  Have a Defined Timeline:   This is fundraising 101 - always create a sense of urgency when raising funds.  By giving your participants a defined timeline, it allows them to better organize their own challenges.

4.  Encourage & Reward Creativity:
  Kiss a Pig?  Trapeze lessons?  Run to 500+ miles in 17 days?  All of these challenges are unique to the fundraiser - doing what they believe will help them raise the most money.  You may not be able to scale any of these, but you can reward creativity and create a platform that encourages it.  Your nonprofit will undoubtedly reach all sorts of new people.  For example, one donor in the UK gave to Orenstein's effort simply because the donor was a huge fan of War and Peace. They did not know each other previously.  So in true Web 2.0 fashion, give your event fundraisers greater control over their fundraising page and how they market their effort on your org's behalf. 

5.  Identify and support the major fundraisers that emerge:  You may not be able to support everyone who participates in an online event, but if major or unique fundraisers emerge, they should be identified and supported.  So make sure someone is keeping track of what is going on.

6.  Encourage activities that support varied messages:  Cultivation is important and in event fundraising it's not in your control.  But the fact remains that you not only need your event fundraisers talking about their challenge (and your nonprofit), but, in the world of Facebook and Twitter, you also need them to have some variation in their messaging as well.  In this regard, Orenstein's weekly challenge stands out as a best practice - each week he provides several updates spread out between email and Facebook.  He tells his supporters about the upcoming challenge, which is always new, and makes an ask. He posts photos from each challenge. He promotes other events designed to help him fundraise and regularly communicates his fundraising progress.

7.  Social networking matters big time:   These types of challenges are unique and are perfect for viral distribution.  Provide a robust set tools and recommendations on how people can use social networks to get the word out.  If a blog would help them (see item 6), give them a blog on their fundraising page.  

*  Operation Smile is a Common Knowledge client
** Josh Orenstein is a close friend of mine.  Watching him develop and carry out his effort has been of significant interest to me personally as well as professionally.
*** I have been involved with the LLS' Team in Training program personally (not professionally) for the last year.  Mike Sheehy has been a teammate of mine during that time.  His latest endeavor is breaking the Guinness Book of World Records for the most miles run in a week in an effort to raise money for LLS.  More on it here.

August 12, 2009

Is it the end of the year already?


August is here and if you’re like most people you’re thinking about how to get as much fun as you can out the rest of summer—not about racing towards the end of shorts-weather, much less the end of the year.  Yet, savvy nonprofit fundraisers are already thinking about their end-of-year fundraising plans.  If you haven’t started, here are six things you should be doing now to help ensure you get the most from your end of year online fundraising.  And none of them require you to put on long pants!

Step up supporter acquisition efforts
Supporters who are added to your list this fall will be your donors this winter.  So step up your efforts to grow your email subscribers and increase the size of the other lists you’ll be using during your end of year promotions. 

Find out if an end of year campaign theme exists
Good will towards all?  New beginnings?  Peace and prosperity?  Cram ‘em in before tax season? The sooner you know what your theme is the sooner you can start pulling relevant content, generating ideas, and highlighting your organizations most pertinent accomplishments. 

Review Last Year’s Lessons
You can maximize your efforts for the upcoming end of year campaign by looking at what you did in previous years.  Determine what worked, and whether it would work again this year.  And consider what didn’t work, and why it didn’t work.

Get pen to paper (or fingers to keyboard)
Start getting it done early!  Come up with ideas and write quick drafts, just to cut through the noise.  It’s not so terribly important that what you produce in September be earth shattering and fit to publish.  Just give your campaign a back bone to shape the body around.  Revisiting something you wrote this fall is going to be easier and produce better results than hammering away at a brilliant idea on December 30.

Plan Backwards
We all have the challenge of having too much to do and too little time to do it. Backward planning is a useful way to address this problem. Conveniently, we know the deadline:  December 31st.  Now you can assess what steps are needed to accomplish your goals by that date, and plot tasks along a timeline backwards at realistic intervals in order to determine what point you need to start your campaign.

Figure out what can you get ready now, whether you like your ideas or hate them.
The holiday season is not the time to begin making changes. If you want to create a holiday related donation page, redesign an email template, or tweak your homepage – the time is ripe to begin planning what it is going to look like, who’s going to create it, and how.  Your best ideas won’t get you much if you have to cut them off at the knees because the technical components don’t come together in time.

Now, with those ideas in mind, I’m off to enjoy a barbecue and what’s left of summer!

(I'd also like to give a special thanks to Luke Maffei for his contribution to this post)

July 07, 2009

New YouTube Feature May Be Missing Link For Non-Profits Using Video

Summary: "Call-to-Action Overlay" allows non-profits to link videos to their own websites.

This feature is free for nonprofits.

YouTube "Annotations" allow organizations to create video "hotspots" - linking viewers to other videos or providing them with additional information.


YouTube released a new feature widely last week that should make a huge difference for nonprofits big and small: "Call-to-Action Overlay."  This handy new feature allows nonprofits to add a semi-transparent box with call-to-action copy that links viewers off YouTube and lands them on your petition or donation page. The nonprofit Charity:Water has already used this medium effectively - notably raising over $10K in a single day.  As TechCrunch's Jason Kincaid points out, the video was placed on YouTube's home page, which undoubtedly played a role in its success.  To be honest, I'm actually a little surprised that it didn't raise more money given the exposure that it had, but I digress.

Okay, so your nonprofit may not make millions right off the bat, but for nonprofits with effective, viral videos, this could be the missing link that gets people to your site to donate or take action.  You should be aware of another footnote before you get too excited.  This feature is only available for members of YouTube's nonprofit partner program and people/organizations running pay campaigns to promote their videoes.   If your nonprofit hasn't already signed up for YouTube's nonprofit program and it posts videos on YouTube, now is the time!

In the meantime, there are other similar tools that you can use to increase the effectiveness of your videos.  YouTube supports "annotations," which allow you to highlight sections of the video or add in "notes."  You can then link the note or video section to other videos (on YouTube) for free. 

Happy videoing!

April 24, 2009

Do you know where your checkbook is?


Make it easier for your supporters to donate in the way that works for them by integrating your fundraising efforts.

Small changes to your homepage can help improve returns from your direct mail campaigns.

Integrated marketing, or integrated fundraising for the nonprofit sector, is a really hot topic. However with limited time and resources it is still incredibly challenging to take a great theory and implement it in your day to day fundraising campaigns. Here is one quick idea you can use to integrate your direct mail and online fundraising channels no matter how pressed for time you are.

Donors want to give to you via the channel that is most convenient for them and its your job to make that possible. Consumer habitats are changing, Jeff and I were recently talking about multichannel giving, and I had to confess that on any given day I don’t really know where my check book is. My organizational skills aside, that means that even if I am inspired by a particular direct mail piece I’m more likely to look up an organizations website and give online then to write a check.  

My advice is to place a small ad on your homepage that uses similar art work and language to your direct mail pieces. That way when someone, like me, comes to your homepage looking to donate in response to a direct mail piece they will know exactly where to click to donate. We are now in the process of testing this with a number of clients and the early results are very positive. A couple of organization that are already putting this technique to good use are and

Often the first thing I get asked when I make this suggestion to a new client is “Won’t this just cannibalize my direct mail response?” No it won’t! Over the years a mounting body of research has shown that communicating to your donors via multiple channels increases their annual and life time value to the organization. More significantly converting a single channel donor (online, phone, or offline) to a multiple channel donor also increases the value of that donor to your organization. Far from “cannibalizing your direct mail results” by making it easy for your supporters to donate to you in the way that is easiest for them you’ll increase the total dollars you raise across all channels.

For more info on multi-channel and integrated fundraising check out this great case study on the ASPCA compiled by Convio and StrategicOne: