I don’t consider myself a fundraiser at all. Yes, I worked as a grant writer for a not-for-profit theatre company for two years fresh out of college, but writing proposals to large foundations asking for funding hardly matches the hustle it takes to be a real deal fundraiser, grassroots style. Asking people for money was always mildly terrifying to me, though I would give what I could to causes I believed in.
But then November 8th happened, and after a few catatonic days of mourning and self-medicating, I needed to channel my rage into a more productive extracurricular.
One of my good friends is a senior policy editor for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental nonprofit consisting of scientists, lawyers and policy advocates around the world working to safeguard our climate for future generations. As someone who holds environmental sustainability close to his heart, I was alarmed to hear the Trump administration’s plans for our climate, all of which I won’t get into here.
I knew that Facebook had expanded its fundraising capability this summer to allow individuals to run their own campaigns to raise money for verified nonprofits. I was intrigued both from a digital marketer’s standpoint, but also personally. So I took it upon myself to test it out on behalf of NRDC.
It took me all of 15 minutes to write my pitch, start the fundraiser and invite 200 or so of my Facebook friends who I thought would be likely to chip in. I set it to run two weeks, ending on Giving Tuesday, with a goal of $1,000. Surely a few of my friends would chip in $10-$20, right?
I was thrilled to see that my contacts responded immediately, and over the course of the first week and a half, I was able to raise the goal to $2,500. Some friends shared the fundraiser, a few friends of friends shared it. During this time, about 80% of the donations were from my direction connections, with the remainder coming from a few kind strangers.
The Giving Tuesday 🔥
Then Giving Tuesday hit and it caught fire. I woke up to about 20 new donations, all from strangers, and then throughout the course of the day, the fundraiser received about one donation per minute from people around the globe. My notifications were blowing up like it was my birthday, times ten.
I kept raising the goal to keep it just out of reach. By the end of the fundraiser’s last day, I had raised $30,000 from a total of 778 donors to help protect our climate against the Trump administration. Almost 90% of the donations were from total strangers. What?!
I spent the night thanking donors and reading their kind words and encouragement. I felt a strong mixture of happiness, excitement and inspiration: emotions I hadn’t experienced since before the election. After the wave of giddiness passed, as a marketer (and newly self-appointed fundraiser) my first post mortem question was “how in the actual heck did this happen, and how do I do it again?”
So...How Did This Happen? And What Did I Learn?
Pay Attention to the Algorithm. You've probably noticed that over the last few months, there have been more and more fundraisers in your feed. Just like when Facebook wanted to expand their video hosting to challenge YouTube, and more recently with live video on Facebook Live, Facebook adopts its algorithm to favor certain content types. Facebook rewards its new endeavors with organic reach because it wants to grow them. If you pay attention to what Facebook is favoring, you will be paid back with lots of free exposure.
Sharp Copy and Follow-up Correspondence. I named the fundraiser “Help Fight Against Trump’s Climate Plan,” which gets to the point quickly. I used a strong verb, "Fight" giving an action people could take to help. I tied my campaign into what was going on in the world, so it was relevant in people's newsfeeds. Each time I shared updates and asks over the two weeks, I used my digital marketing know-how to craft language that prompted people to open their wallets. I made sure it was compelling enough that if my friends shared it, their friends would be moved to donate, even without having a personal tie to me.
Ideal timing. Ending the fundraiser on Giving Tuesday was a good move in hindsight. Many were emboldened by the outcome of the election, and charitable giving was up tremendously throughout November as a result. People were in the mood to give to causes they care about. As a bonus, the Gates Foundation announced that they would match up to $1,000 donated to each Facebook fundraiser on Giving Tuesday, which gave me some additional bait in my final hour pleas. This demonstrates the power of the fundraising match that many arts organizations use, and should continue to use.
It got personal. I was outraged to hear that much my friend’s work and all of the recent progress made by NRDC would go down the toilet once Trump took office. I couldn’t help but express this at every turn, which helped put a face on the cause. I was truly pissed off, which I suppose can more politely be called “passionate.”
Virality. Most obviously, this is the biggest factor at play. Fundraisers are public, and as my connections shared it, friends of friends started to share it. We always talk about the “power of the share” at CI, and this clearly demonstrates it. On Giving Tuesday, my fundraiser became the seventh most popular fundraiser on Facebook in terms of funds raised. This “leaderboard” steamrolled a whole new level of donations, since users were going to the “Popular Fundraisers” page looking for causes to support.
All of this said, any future attempts I make at replicating this will likely leave me disappointed. This is because a large part of this endeavor was pure luck. I don’t think it’s useful to set a bar here and measure the future against it; this will lead to impossible expectations and unmet goals. We can’t expect lightning to strike twice in the same spot.
I can, instead, look at what really worked and replicate it for future fundraising campaigns - and you can too. Motivational headlines, sharp copy, connecting your efforts to the world around you, emotionally appealing to people's connection to a cause, timely and personal "thank you's." These are essential elements for any fundraising campaign.
Have you experimented with Facebook Charitable Giving? Tell us about it in the comments section!