Pamela Javins, with the nonprofit Jacksonville Humane Society, encouraged friends of the organization to create personal fundraising pages for its Trail of Tails promotion. Leona Sheddan created an attractive site using her own pets. Christina Knaak, a widow with two young children, who wanted to honor her late husband, created a moving individual page to help raise funds for the Children’s Brain Tumor Foundation. Here’s how they did it.
The Jacksonville Humane Society lost 80+ pets in a fire in 2007 and encouraged its supporters to do fundraisers through firstgiving, centered around a "Trail of Tails Pet Walk and Festival." Pamela Javins, Development Director for the Humane Society, answered our questions about the organization's firstgiving efforts.
Nonprofit Guide: Have you done other campaigns through firstgiving?
Javins: No, this was our first.
Nonprofit Guide: How did you decide to do this one?
Javins: We modeled our walk after Denver’s. They indicated that the online component was the key to the success of their event. We investigated several options and found firstgiving to be the best match for us with regard to its scope of products as well as cost.
Nonprofit Guide: How did you promote it from your end?
Javins: We held a corporate kick-off party months in advance to encourage groups in our community to organize teams to raise money. Additionally, we promoted it on our website and in our monthly newsletter and eblasts that we distribute to our membership and volunteers. Our PR agency issued a media alert about the event as well as a press release to further incentivize corporations to participate in the Corporate Challenge through which the top three fundraising teams win naming rights to the Cat Cabana (first prize), Puppy Room (second prize) and Cattery (third prize).
We placed ads in local newspapers and spoke about it on air during media visits. We also created a Facebook page for our organization and distributed information to those who joined our group. firstgiving has a tool that allows individuals to post a link to their fundraising page directly on their Facebook page.
Leveraging social media is key given the nature of firstgiving as a fundraising mechanism - you can solicit donations just by sending an email! The entire effort becomes viral - one person sends an email to their network of friends (church, volunteer organizations, neighbors etc.) and family, which usually prompts those individuals to do the same.
Nonprofit Guide:How does firstgiving fit in with your other fundraising efforts? Is firstgiving good for a certain kind of fundraising that isn’t covered by your other efforts?
Javins: We currently send out monthly mailers, organize JHS sponsored special events and support third-party fundraisers.
We also have an on site gift boutique where we sell food, JHS merchandise and toys, plus a Thrift Store. And, we have donation banks distributed throughout the community.
So, firstgiving is new and different because it is a fundraising tool we can use to solicit donations online - and, it's a great marketing tool. It is person-to-person fundraising - our supporters are making personalized appeals to their social network, and each one of those individuals is leveraging their social network. It's an amazing tool that can really increase donations. We've used firstgiving to raise money for our "Trail of Tails" event and have plans for future campaigns. We even have third-party fundraisers utilizing it to raise money on our behalf now.
Nonprofit Guide: Do you have any tips for other organizations that want to use something like this to raise money?
Javins: Encourage your staff and board to lead by example, and then ask your community - those who already support the organization/cause - to set up fundraising pages. Offer individuals and teams rewards (we distributed prizes for top fundraisers). Encourage team competition, use social media to market the tool to your constituency, market on your website, and send out reminder emails to encourage your supporters to send out emails repeatedly. Don’t send out emails directly from firstgiving.com – we recommend (as does firstgiving.com) that you send appeals from personal email accounts with the link to your fundraising page included in the body of the email. This avoids having your emails land in junk boxes, and your personal appeal is just that – personal.
Nonprofit Guide: Well, you've clearly been successful. Your top fundraiser, Leona Sheddan, raised over $5,000 alone, and your total for your online fundraising came to more than $41,000.
On Page 2, learn how a young widow and her daughters raised money to honor their husband and father through firstgiving.