Confessions of a Serial Online Fundraiser

In the past two years I have immersed myself in the practice of social media-based online fundraising (or social fundraising). During that period I have raised more than $28,000 through individual and team efforts.

These fundraisers included running birthday campaigns on Causes, a SXSW benefit on the LIVESTRONG grassroots platform, a Women In Tech fundraiser on Crowdrise, the CitizenGulf effort via Citizen Effect’s platform, and the most recent Punish Geoff Fundraiser for Invisible People here on Mightycause. While some platforms were more robust than others, it’s the method that makes a fundraiser fly. (Needless to say, given where this is being posted, any analysis would be partial so a comparison may not be fair.)

Here are a few lessons learned through those efforts:

Authenticity Matters

The most successful fundraisers have involved causes I deeply believed in. In the case of the LIVESTRONG fundraiser, my family was suffering at that time due to a close member who was undergoing chemotherapy. That fundraiser was my most successful to date.

Conversely, when I raised money for charity: water–an organization that brings clean drinking water to developing countries–here on Mightycause last year, it didn’t go so well. Not that I don’t care about the environment. I do. Deeply. But I chose the cause because of a friend, and where I have been successful in fundraising was for U.S. causes that focused on mindfulness and resolving the Gulf Oil Spill (Causes, Citizen Effect fundraisers). Most of my work for the environment has been U.S. based.

Similarly, my successful Mightycause Punish Geoff Fundraiser was for a friend, Mark Horvath, but I believed in that cause as I almost became homeless as a result of a dot com crashing. The authenticity translated.

People Like to See You Earn It

My two most successful personal fundraising efforts–The Punish Geoff Fundraiser and LIVESTRONG Fundraiser–featured some sort of pain. People wanted to see me earn it. Whether it was the tattoo, or dressing in drag on Google+ Hangout (today at noon, join us!), people loved the idea that I was willing to do extraordinary things to help these causes out. Something to keep in mind as you build your effort.

Teams Matter

The first and third largest fundraisers were team efforts: Citizen Gulf and the Next Gen Tech effort. These two raised approximately $16,000 through the collective effort of hundreds of people. While no one person killed it like the Punish Geoff or LIVESTRONG efforts, the distributed whole provided significantly higher collaborative contributions.

If your friends believe like you do, then empower them to make the cause theirs. This is the difference between transactions and movements. When others are empowered to act, communities are moved, and change themselves and their world. In addition to funds raised, the CitizenGulf effort saw thousands of citizen actions in addition to the donations. It was a powerful moment.

…But, Teams Require Work

More people equals more work. You need to help your friends, and remind them to act, even write tweets, requests and status updates for them. It also requires a lot of management and prodding.

Frankly, setting personal expectations are important. People want to help, but don’t know how or get busy. If you expect them to work as hard as you do, you will be disappointed.

The trick with teams is to highlight the successes, and cherish the overall greater impact you are having. Again, in both team efforts, the collective money and actions were far greater than anything I did on my own or within the teams. And I definitely gave everything I could to personally raise the fundraising bar in all of those efforts. You should also see the larger impact of helping others to take actions.

Those are the biggest trends I see across these experiences. I hope they are useful to you!