Crazy Enough to Work: Fundraising Efforts That Prove It Pays to Think Different
The harsh reality of fundraising is that boring is often best. Viral video, Instagram Live, Tinder (OK, maybe not Tinder)—there’s a steady stream of cool, new, exciting channels on which fundraisers can get creative. These channels promise big short-term returns, but they’re not without risk. Focus too much energy on new ideas at the expense of, say, monthly giving or direct mail—you know, the boring stuff—and the long-term fundraising health of your organization could suffer.
Still, as long as you eat your fundraising vegetables, it doesn’t hurt to treat yourself (and your donors) to some dessert once in awhile. Just look at all the creative ways nonprofits capitalized on the Pokemon Go craze over the summer. No organization staked its fundraising livelihood on Pikachu and friends, but the immediate payoff—funding or publicity or just fun interactions with donors—was well worth the effort.
So, don’t be afraid to dream big, whether it’s trying a new channel, putting a fresh spin on an old standby or, uh, building a 30-foot pinwheel. That’s what these three nonprofits did. Here, in their own words, the masterminds behind these outside-the-box efforts discuss their campaigns.
May they inspire us all to get a little crazy.
American Heart Association
Submitted by Audie Garrote, Marketing Manager, Charitable Estate Planning
Charitable estate planning and how to make it more relatable—that was the premise behind the following campaign. Entitled “You Don’t Know What You Don’t Know! 37 Things About Wills You Might Be Afraid to Ask,” we featured a sweet, confused-looking older gentleman on the front cover and hoped no one would find the photo in any way offensive. It was our first attempt at having a little fun with our advertising rather than being so serious.
I had just started with the American Heart Association. It was my first attempt at a direct mail piece for charitable estate planning, and I was talking to my boss late one night. She was asking me how I was doing and if I had any questions, and I said, “Not exactly. I’m so new that I don’t know enough about what I’m doing yet to ask questions.” She replied, “You don’t know what you don’t know!” and then she said, “That would make a good headline for something, wouldn’t it?”
Bells went off, and I immediately went out to iStock to see if I could find a picture that would set the tone. This mailer was the result. It was a combined effort and a lot of fun to do. We had so many people tell us how much they loved it and him, including our printer.
To date, it has had our largest response at more than 4,081 leads for the direct mail piece and 571 leads from the e-blast. And the dollar amount raised? $1.121 million to date, and five placeholder gifts with value undetermined. Needless to say, we were very happy with the results!
Iron County Care and Share
Submitted by Peggy Green, Executive Director
We hold an annual, upscale golf tournament, like all well-behaved emergency food banks (Drive Out Hunger is the widely used tag). But we knew we needed to bring in our next generation of community support, and golf wasn’t going to cut it.
Derek Morton, board chair and guy that lives outside the box, came up with the throw-down idea, and once we peeped it, it took off! The community is excited, it is attracting exactly the right crowd, and we have 16 teams registered and paid for the Feb. 4 event.
Each team was asked for their team name, colors and entrance song—yes, entrance song. Thus far, team “The Rick Rollers” has gained my love and affection with their ’80s take on uniforms and attitude. Word on the street is they are playing in blazers with over-padded shoulders.
Players will be handed a black, terrycloth headband upon arrival, and our local tech college is supplying an ambulance (a “WAH-mbulance”) for injuries. Our major sponsor is a dentist (recreated in character in the logo) and a chiropractor will be on hand to put body parts back in place.
Mount Saint Vincent
Submitted by Elizabeth Roberts, Marketing and Communications Specialist
In order to raise awareness about Mount Saint Vincent, a 130-year-old nonprofit that serves children who have been abused or neglected, it was decided to make a big splash during the month of April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
The unofficial symbol of child abuse prevention is a blue pinwheel. All around our home city of Denver, child-focused nonprofits plant “pinwheel gardens” around their grounds. Some gardens feature hundreds of little pinwheels spinning in the breeze. The gardens are prevalent all over town. For our observance, we wanted to go bigger.
Our agency’s three-person maintenance staff constructed a giant pinwheel nearly 30 feet in length. The pinwheel portion was made of semi-malleable plastic, the same material used to make bathtub enclosures. The stem was made of PVC pipe, and the entire pinwheel was painted bright blue.
All the materials to create the pinwheel were donated by our local Home Depot store. A local general contractor donated the use of the bucket truck and labor time to install it, so there were no direct costs involved.
A media advisory was issued to the local TV stations on April 4, 2016, alerting them to the fact that a hydraulic lift would be used to install the pinwheel onto our 100-year-old building. News crews interviewed director of development Kay Mcdowell, and the segment aired on 9NEWS KUSA at 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. that day. It also aired on FOX31 Denver at 5:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m., and again on the following day at 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m. and 8:00 a.m. A news story and photo were submitted to The Denver Post, which published both in the April 11, 2016 edition. A story also ran in Denver Catholic, a weekly publication, the week of April 18, 2016.
It is difficult to estimate the cost of raising this kind of awareness within a community, but seven on-air segments and two print publications with a combined circulation close to one million is worth noting.
The media event coincided with a direct mail campaign that urged potential donors to become a “Pinwheel Partner.” Those who made a monthly pledge of $25 or more became partners. As an incentive, a corporate sponsor agreed to match every donation—dollar for dollar—up to $25,000. Donations had to be made during the month of April to be eligible for the match. Mount Saint Vincent realized a 2,051 percent ROI on that mailing. It was our first effort in using direct mail.