Organization Mobilizes Support Through Online Fundraising

Organization Mobilizes Support through Online Fundraising

Personal connections help grassroots nonprofit plant trees

By: Sarah Hawkins


June 28, 2005

The poet Henry Adams asked, "What do we plant when we plant a tree?" To a small nonprofit organization focused on impacting environmental, economic, and social change in rural Central America, the act of planting trees is an act of hope.

The Foundation for Self-Sufficiency in Central America ( FSSCA) is a Texas-based grassroots organization that partners with low-income communities in Central America organized to achieve environmental sustainability, economic self-sufficiency, and social change.

In September 2004, FSSCA launched the Romero Memorial Tree Project . This project set out to organize delegations from North America to plant 50,000 trees in deforested lands in El Salvador. Year one of the project aimed to plant 2,000 trees. To make this goal in time for the first delegation scheduled for March 2005, FSSCA needed to fundraise $10 per tree, or $20,000 total, in just a few months.

In order to create awareness of this new program and raise funds quickly, assistant director Sean Hale looked for new methods to fundraise. "There was not enough time or budget for a full individual donor campaign or to apply for grant monies," said Hale, "We have lots of supporters that want to help us raise money. My instinct was to turn to the Internet to try to find new ways to involve our existing supporters to raise these funds."

A friend recommended Justgiving , a Web-based service that allows individuals to set-up personal Web pages to help raise funds for the nonprofit of their choice. Hale went with his friend's recommendation because Justgiving "seemed to be the kind of tool we could use to take supporters' enthusiasm and direct it in ways that would directly support the project."

"We knew from the start that the tree project would be a hit with supporters, especially people that wanted to help raise money. It was just the right kind of project that would be easy for people to lend a hand. Ten dollars a tree is affordable, everyone understands the importance of a tree -- you don't have to explain it to folks like the importance of diversified sustainable agriculture or conflict mediation."

Hale was able to set-up a fundraising landing page promoting the tree-planting project. He then sent a link to the landing page to FSSCA’s supporters, inviting them to create their own personal fundraising pages to support the project.

"Over the next few months, five of our supporters created online fundraising pages and e-mailed the link to their own social networks, asking them to donate $10 per tree. As a result, $10,000 was raised," Hale said. While anyone can create a basic online personal fundraising page for free, there are fees for using the more robust features offered by the service. Justgiving charges a fee that equals five percent of the money raised through its service. In some cases -- for example if a very large donation is made through the service -- Justgiving will work with the organization to arrange a fee cap for donations received. Additional fees include a one to two percent credit card processing fee set by a third-party credit card processing service, and initial start-up fees that range from $150- $500, depending on the type of service an organization chooses."

"When you consider that about 90 percent of the gifts come from new donors, who probably wouldn't have given otherwise, its reasonable."

While FSSCA has been using Network for Good's free service to accept online donations for some time, the organization had not seen a significant increase in income until it began using personalized fundraising pages.

"Like any tool, it's not just having it in the tool box, but knowing when to use it and how. Different tools lend themselves to different goals," said Hale.

He went on to explain that personal fundraising pages help guide supporter enthusiasm in ways that require relatively little effort but deliver nice paybacks for the organization and supporter. Additionally, the tool helps introduce new donors to the FSSCA's work and helps new donors give quickly and easily. And, the personal connections between supporters and donors make the gifts more meaningful.

For other organizations interested in creating similar personal fundraising pages, Sean advises that they be built around an activity. For example, an organization working on a building project should use the personal fundraising pages to sell bricks to donors rather than vaguely soliciting donations. This increases the success of a fundraising campaign by helping donors feel a connection between the supporter and the cause.

"Online personal fundraising has allowed us to open up a new area of fundraising,"Hale said, “This technology has made it easy for us and our supporters to help out in a meaningful, personal, and efficient way.”

By employing online personal fundraising methods to raise money for future delegations,he believes that FSSCA will make its fundraising goal of $50,000 within the next five years.

About the Author:

Sarah Hawkins is a freelance writer and former TechSoup associate editor.


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