I didn’t follow a traditional path into a nonprofit career. When I became the first employee of She’s the First in 2012, I faced the daunting task of figuring out how to be a CEO and also fundraise. I was 23 years old and I didn’t have rich and powerful contacts. What I did have was a network of friends who, like me, wanted to make a difference; social media pages at my fingertips; information on why the issue is so important; and limitless passion.
My first year on staff, I nearly quadrupled our growth, going from $64,000 in annual revenue in 2011 to $244,000 in 2012. And we more than doubled again the year after that — to $575,000. I attribute most of those dollars to the power of grassroots fundraising.
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Today we are raising almost $1.5 million annually, and we’re still a small team relative to our reach. We are six full-time employees, and only two of us work exclusively on development.
As CEO, I don’t execute grassroots campaigns anymore — I’ve had to pass the torch to my colleague Henah and turn my attention to major gifts — but I still supervise them, and I participate in them. These campaigns remain so close to my heart, because they gave me my start as a philanthropist. This is how my own friends and family get involved.
When I look back on She’s the First’s most successful grassroots campaigns—#BakeAChange, #SweatforSTF, #CheesetheFirst, Donate Your Birthday—there are six key qualities I see. I’d encourage you to work these qualities into your own campaign strategies:
Foster a sense of unity (or competition) among participants. That way, no one feels like they’re just a drop in the bucket.
The call to action can be tailored by the individual. They can use your branding but also make it their own.
No one needs to reinvent the wheel! You’ve provided everything from email templates to graphics to post on social media.
The organization’s impact is felt through inspiring stories; participants see how they can weave their own stories into appeals.
There are photos of happy people participating—making the campaign look fun and doable!
There is a concrete goal and/or a deadline to incentivize someone to act soon.
To show how these pieces come together, here’s an example from She’s the First. In the past few years, we noticed that students in our university campus chapters were having great success hosting cheese-related fundraisers, which they advertised with “Cheese the First” posters and flyers. Never underestimate the appeal of a clever pun! Students sold quesadillas and gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches during lunchtime and late-night study breaks. Our headquarters saw an opportunity to unite these scattered fundraisers under a national #CheesetheFirst campaign, and we expanded the audience off campus to post-grads — all the way up to executives. Because who doesn’t love a wine and cheese networking event or a gourmet pizza dinner party?
- We created a campaign landing page on our website (org/cheesethefirst), offering participants tool kits and easy steps they could take to replicate this idea–and put their own twist on it.
- We set a collective goal of raising $50,000. In 2019, we’re creating more urgency around the season of March 15-April 15 to capitalize on fanfare around National Grilled Cheese day on April 12 and the peak season of campus chapter events.
- On our social media, we invite campus chapters and other #CheesetheFirst hosts to do Instagram takeovers so everyone can see how fun these events are. We save them to our Instagram profile for permanent reference and will be publishing more blog posts and videos this year.
- On our website, we share the back story of the campaign and plenty of impact stories to show our supporters exactly where their money goes.
For more tips on how to launch your campaign (and what questions to ask yourself and your team to get started) watch my webinar It All Adds Up: How to Launch a Successful Grassroots Giving Campaign.
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