I always thought crisis fundraising would be an interesting challenge.
What I didn’t fully realize was how hard a real crisis would be.
Several weeks ago I came into the office and saw a blue rope hanging from the ceiling. I knew that something strange was going on at BAYCAT. We had been burglarized.
As people started trickling in, we somberly greeted each person as we assessed the damage. Someone had climbed in through the sky-light, cut the pad-lock on our laptop cart, and carried every one of our students’ laptops out the window. My desk was in disarray. All the cords had been pulled out of my laptop, and there were cut marks in the laptop cable lock where the thief had tried to cut through, but failed.
Whoever did this had to have been pretty desperate, but I could not help but be furious that someone would rip-off a non-profit. Our laptops, and all the technology at BAYCAT, are a resource for everyone in our community. We need them to teach class, to host our open lab, and to have off-site workshops at schools and with community partners. How could one person be so selfish to take a community resource and use it for personal gain? No matter how much the laptops would sell for, it would not be close to the value they could create by being in our students’ hands.
As our team scrambled to put together make-shift work stations for the youth who were coming in for class that afternoon, I began trying to think of ways to raise the money to replace the $50,000 worth of equipment that was now lost. Something had to be done to rebuild, and prove that a community working towards good is stronger than one working for self.
I have done many annual campaigns, and I was in the process of building BAYCAT’s first summer fundraising campaign, but I quickly realized I was going to have to scrap all the carefully calculated collateral, and focus on building a different sort of fundraising effort. We didn’t have time to create a new platform to run this sort of a drive on our site, so began researching crowd-funding sites. After a bit of research into tools and funding options we decided on IndieGoGO and The Show Must Go On Campaign was born!
After fifty days of PR blitzing, social media updating, special events and other fundraising efforts, there are now only 30 hours left in the campaign. As we push to make the final $10k (so we only have 4% deducted instead of 9%) I look back on this experience and am thankful for the lessons I’ve learned.
1.Don’t be afraid to share bad news.
Having your space burglarized is a very violating experience. It not only threatens your sense of security but also makes you doubt yourself. “What could we have done to stop someone from breaking in and stealing our equipment?” With this self doubt comes a reluctance to speak out. At first, the idea of doing a major campaign around a negative event seemed risky. But, as we listened to our students talk about the way the robbery impacted them, we knew we could not remain silent. The second we started telling people our story, and let our students voices be heard, they immediately wanted to help! Sharing our bad news immediately led to good news as people stepped forward to help us rebuild.
2. Find creative ways for people to get involved.
Once we started telling people about the theft, there was a ton of energy around the rebuilding process, but not everyone who wanted to help could give money.
Our students don’t have the resources to donate much, but they do have the ability to be advocates for BAYCAT. Students served as our spokespeople for the campaign, helping to create the videos we featured and speaking to press and friends about their experience and the impact of BAYCAT’s programs.
Many of our friends from local restaurants and businesses wanted to get involved, so we harnessed their energy by asking them to provide the perks for our campaign. This allowed us to attract more donors, and save on costs.
Twitter wanted to do something to help, so in addition to donating we asked them to give our students a tour of their space. It was an inspiring and fun treat for our students who had been through so much, and gave our friends at Twitter a chance to meet first-hand some of the students their gift would help support.
3. Go beyond your list.
We would never have been able to raise as much if it weren’t for the media attention and the network-effect of our friends. We did a HUGE media push the day we launched the campaign, notifying everyone we knew about what happened and our response. This got us some of the immediate media attention that helped our campaign take off. Throughout the rest of the campaign we tailored our weekly updates around different themes, and sent press releases and emails to bloggers and influencers who would be interested in the topic.
Every ask we made focused on the ideas of sharing and giving. Individual donors are incredibly valuable, but not nearly as valuable as donor advocates. We had some amazing success with companies, schools, and community partners organizing pools to support our campaign.
4. Roll with the punches.
Not only did the laptop theft force me to scrap my perfectly planned summer fundraising campaign and write a new one, it daily required me to adapt to changing circumstances. From the San Francisco Foundation’s generous offer to provide a matching grant for the campaign, to new in-kind donations being added up to the last minute which we needed to try to leverage, running a campaign like this requires a lot of flexibility. The fun thing is it never gets boring; the hard thing is you have to be willing to tailor your messages to what’s going on in the moment. This means you can’t plan that much ahead of time, but plan as much as you can, so you have something to go out when the campaign needs that extra push.
5. Don’t get discouraged!
About 20 days into the campaign, we stalled at around $22,000. We sat there for days with no donations, no comments, and no real response to any of our social media appeals. Rather than get discouraged and resign ourselves to falling short of the funding we needed to replace the laptops, we hung in, started reaching out to our inner circle of supporters and found new ways to get our message out. The middle of a campaign is hard, the initial excitement has worn-off, donors are getting tried of the same message, and there is no real urgency if there are still 20 days to go. Just keep communicating and finding new ways to prep the donors you already have to become advocates in the final days.
Although the robbery was devastating, this campaign has shown the amazing power of community to turn a tragedy into a positive teaching event. And as I said, there are still a few hours left :-) so let’s work on tip #3 and see if we can help this amazing organization reach their goal!