Monday, October 10, 2022

Being an online fundraising Rockstar!

I've been fortunate to find a career that I love as a professional fundraiser.  Currently, I manage the Donor Relations department at Brandeis University.  This falls within the larger Institutional Advancement or Fundraising division for the university.  Donor Relations is the thanking and reporting side of fundraising, which is a lot of fun.  Leading up to this, I've spent the previous 20 years as a front-line fundraiser working in annual giving, planned giving, major gifts, and alumni relations.  

In my spare time, I love cooking, photography, crafting, running, and so much more.  However, once a year, I use my fundraising experience to raise money for a charity that is very close to my heart, Special Olympics.  I've been fortunate to tap into my friends, family and the community to raise over $20,000 online over the past 14 years from for this charity.  Pictured below is my merman costume from last year's Polar Plunge for Special Olympics in Lake Ontario.  

I want to share with you what has worked for me in fundraising so you too can have fun and raise money too for your favorite charity online.  

REMEMBER - your friends and family only have so much money, so pick one or two charity fundraisers a year and stick to them if you want to make the greatest impact.  If you ask your friends every month, they will start to experience "donor fatigue" from you and will ignore all of your requests.  

If your charity has an annual event or fundraising giving day, that's the easiest way to join and raise money without building your own fundraising page.  

If that isn't the case, I recommend reaching out to the charity itself to see if they can set up a special fund for you or code so people donate directly on their website to your favorite fund or at least give you a separate web address (URL) to count your money only.  Sometimes they have the ability to set up a separate code or page as well through their giving platform (usually called crowd funding).  

When I raise money for a charity outside of my day job, here is what I do using mostly social media:

1.) Set up a webpage (blogspot or wordpress are free) that tells your story

2.) Figure out how to collect money through their website and set up paypal and the cash ap or venmo to collect money for those who give it to you and don't care about the deduction. Many charities are linked to facebook so you can just click the "make a facebook fundraiser" and it's done for you.  Love this when it works.  

3.) Prepare yourself to use facebook, instagram, tiktok, Linkedin, and any social media you have.  You should learn (google it if you don't know) how to add your give link to both posts and your "home" page.  

4.) Film a short video (use your phone, don't get fancy) with a compelling story as to what this fundraiser would do for you and for others (cell phones are amazing now and there are free apps for simple editing). Remember to have fun with it.  Then it gets views, comments, and shares which help you raise even more money.  

5.) Make sure before you publish the "ask" that you have a few people in advance that will give you some money. Folks like to give to things that others are giving to support and are successful.  Line a few up before you go "live." 

6.) Write out a story about the why.  Make sure to include the words I and you (unlike formal writing these words are important for fundraising).  The you words (or your) should be twice as numerous as the I words.  You can make a difference.  You can help me.  Your support will .....  Your financial contribution will offset the costs for us to.....or clients to....

Remember to make it personal.  People give to people and stories about people.  Tug the heart strings.  

7.) Make a list of 12 people (or more, but I think anyone can do 12) that you will reach out to personally.  Call them.  Tell them you are raising money for this and that you would like them to support you.  Ask them if you can email a link.  Ask until they say no.  If they say they want to think about it, tell them, you'll call back in a week to check in and do it.  Unless they say no, you can still get the money.  

8.) If you are really creative and a friend has the money, ask one of your friends if they will match any gift dollar for dollar up to a certain amount.  If this happens, save this match for day two or three of your fundraising.

9.) Set a finite period for fundraising.  I would not let it go past two weeks.  If you don't make the money, you can start again in six months.

10.) Share the link on your social media, text it out, facebook message it, etc, WITH images of you and or people you support.  People like to see faces.  Faces earn money.

11.) Update people as you make money.  Tag them in your thanks on facebook,  "Thanks to @eric shoen for making my dream of helping folks INSERT WHAT THE DONATION HELPS DO with their donation. INSERT GIVE LINK.  This makes it show up on other people's feeds without you posting over and over and asking over and over.  Encourage those friends to donate AND share, like, and/or comment.  This also helps with the placement on social media because of the algorithm.  I also post a funny gif about that person as a thanks in a comment below the thank you.  You can search words like thanks, yeehaw, woohoo, that's awesome, good onya, etc in the add gif on facebook.  If the friend loves star wars, for example, I usually put up a dancing ewok.  Sometimes I just put dancing or smiling animals including puppies or kittens.  

12.) Thank people with personal emails, texts, or messages.  Thank them at least twice (phone, text, postcard, or something) in addition to thanking them publicly once on social media (unless they want to remain anonymous).

13.) Consider offering perks for any donor over $100, like a postcard from a client or one digital print emailed to them.  You can be creative here.  Don't go overboard though.  Think things that are free or cost only a dollar or two.  I use a photo from my event each year and buy enough postcards to send one to each donor.  I just print the front and back with an update and some thank you text using vistaprint (but you can use any online company).  I use labels, but hand sign and write a hand postscript on each one.  

14.) Don't be afraid to send out letters or written notes to people asking for money too.  If you included a stamped envelope inside, they will feel guilty and be more likely to give.  

I hope this helps.  There are reasons why fundraising departments have 30 people working on individual fundraising and only one corporation and foundation person.  Corporate sponsors take a lot more time and energy because the return on investment just isn't there. Sometimes you get lucky though by asking companies for support, however, you will have more luck doing personal fundraising.


The most successful fundraising is asking face to face. Second most successful is asking over the phone, third is personal email or hand written note. Fourth is blanket email, post, or letter and social media.

Feel free to share this post with anyone you know who is doing social media fundraising personally.  I'm also happy to consult with anyone who wants some fundraising advice or consulting for their own charity.  

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