This article was first published on the Idealware Blog in December of 2011.
My work planning for, evaluating and deploying technology at nonprofits requires that I have a good understanding of fundraising concepts and practices, and I do. It’s an area that I’m sufficiently knowledgeable about, but no expert. So my current personal fundraising campaign for Idealware is an amateur effort. It is, happily, a successful one. I did some things right, including, I think, making strategic use of my social networking connections and channels.
I might have done a few things differently, given what I’ve learned. And much of the success has been instructive.
Setting Up The Campaign
As both a board member and an ardent supporter of Idealware, I give annually and encourage my friends to do the same. But this year I wanted to step it up, so I suggested that we use Razoo, an online personal fundraising platform, to host campaigns. It turned out that I was behind the times — fellow board member Steve Bachman had already started a Razoo campaign, and Idealware had registered as a Razoo charity.
I signed up for my Razoo account, and clicked the “Fundraise” link. Setting up the campaign was pretty akin to setting up a profile on a social network — name, description, graphic upload, etc. I went for not too fancy with the name and graphic (“The Idealware Research Fund” and the logo, respectively), and set about to write as plain and honest a description/appeal as I could, approaching it as what I would say if I asked you to donate to Idealware and you said “Why?”.
I set a modest goal of $750, and announced my intention to match half of that. I was a little cagey about the matching requirements, saying that I would match up to $375 when I had already pledged that amount to Idealware. My expectation, going in, was that I could probably raise $375 and my match would bring me to goal. So I’m happy that, as of this writing, I’ve raised $750 and added my donation to that, well exceeding the goal.
My campaign targets were my social media contacts. To that end, I downloaded an Excel spreadsheet of all 530 of my LinkedIn connections and pared it down to the 325 or so that met this criteria: they were either familiar with Idealware and supportive of the work or, maybe unfamiliar, but likely would support it. I didn’t target my staff and co-workers, and I left out some family and non-professional connections that I didn’t imagine would be all that personally motivated by Idealware’s work. But I left a bunch of them in, too.
I wanted the appeal to clearly come from me, so I didn’t send the appeal through LinkedIn. I used my personal email. I wanted to avoid spam filters, so the email was plain text, and I sent it in batches of ten people at a time, cutting and pasting from the spreadsheet to Gmail’s “to” field, which was nice enough to automagically format them with commas between each email address. The mailing process, from LinkedIn download to final click of the “Send” button, took about four hours.
I made it clear up front in my email that the recipients were LinkedIn contacts of mine. I’m sensitive to spam, even for worthwhile causes, and I wanted everyone to know that this wasn’t a random email, nor was it a list that would be used again. Next campaign, I’ll start from scratch again.
With the emails sent, I tweeted, Facebooked, and Google+ed the effort.
I got a healthy response to my email blast, raising $500 in a couple of days. It was great to also get emails from friends who passed on donating to my campaign because they’d already donated directly, or through another campaign. As donations came in, I tweeted and posted thanks to the donors on my Facebook page. The tweets included a link back to the campaign, of course. A week and a half in, I posted new tweets and statuses and that, too, got a good response. At $80 to goal, I tweeted how close we were, and longtime Idealware contributor and advisor Michael Stein jumped in and brought us to $750, at which point I added my $375.
I think my key successes were in keeping it human, relatively low-key (no follow-up emails or persistent nagging, but between the public thank yous and a ten day social media reminder, a fairly consistent broadcast); and having the benefit of supporting a cause that’s pretty unimpeachable.
I’m pretty sure that sending more personalized emails and making phone calls would have yielded more funding. Next time, I might trim the number of people I reach out to personally, but increase the personal nature of the appeal.
25 of my 26 of my donations came from people who were already familiar with Idealware (one was from someone who works here!). I’m sure all 25 of them have been to one or more NTEN conferences. I had little luck convincing people new to the cause to donate. Some of my fellow board members are focusing on family and other associates, and it’s a harder sell. I think that’s somewhat understandable. We all support causes that are important to us, and Idealware is going to appeal to either sympatico types like myself (I was on board with Idealware’s mission before Laura set up shop) and people who have directly benefitted.
For myself, I regularly support Idealware and orgs like them, my own employer (because the earth really does need a good lawyer!), and a collection of causes that have missions that really resonate with me, as well as reputations that hold up. But it’s a fraction of the orgs that I would contribute to if I had more to afford. Who we pony up the checks for is a very personal matter. I’m thrilled that a significant percentage of the people that I appealed to heeded the call, and it speaks to the great work that Idealware does. But I fault no one that I appealed to, as I’m certain that the ones who passed up my cause have worthwhile causes of their own.
All that said, if you want to help out Idealware, you can do so via the red button above, or via my campaign at Razoo, which runs through December 31st.