Customer Story

How the SXSW community raised over $120,000


On March 11th 2011, a 9.0 magnitude earthquake struck the northeastern coast of Japan. The massive earthquake triggered a tsunami with waves as high as 77 feet that pushed as far as 6 miles inland. Tens of thousands of Japanese were reported dead or missing and hundreds of thousands were left homeless.

That morning, CauseVox helped launch a campaign — SXSWcares — to rally the South by Southwest (SXSW) community to support Japan disaster relief. Within 10 days, along with collaborators, the campaign raised over $120,000 for the Red Cross.

We’ll discuss how SXSWcares exceeded their goal and which key lessons we learned.

About SXSW and the American Red Cross
SXSW is a film, interactive, and music festival that takes place annually in Austin, TX. SXSW started in 1987 with 700 participants; it’s grown to attract over 20,000 in 2011.

The American Red Cross is a humanitarian organization that provides emergency assistance, disaster relief, and education. The American Red Cross is an affiliate of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies, a network of Red Cross organizations.

The SXSWcares Campaign
The Japanese earthquake and tsunami occurred on the first day of SXSW Interactive, a gathering of the world’s top online influencers and innovators. The SXSWcares campaign’s purpose: to rally this community to raise awareness and harness support for disaster relief.

SXSWcares began as a grassroots campaign with a handful of SXSW attendees. After seeing the news, the team used the CauseVox online fundraising platform to launch a campaign-branded giving site within 30 minutes to capture the urgency of disaster giving.

The original goal was to raise $10,000 within the 5-day interactive portion of SXSW.

Campaign Techniques
Several techniques made SXSWcares successful:

    • Personal Fundraising – SXSWcares equipped supporters to create fundraising pages, empowering them to raise support for disaster relief within their personal networks. It gave supporters a creative way to engage the cause; over 200 supporters created pages.

SXSW4Japan - Taro

    • Social Media – Because social media, namely Twitter, is a vibrant communication channel for the SXSW community, SXSWcares used distinct hashtags (#sxswcares and #sxsw4japan) and a separate Twitter accounts (@sxswcares and @sxsw4japan) to promote the campaign.

SXSW 4 Japan (sxsw4japan) on Twitter

    • Content – The campaign featured compelling video footage of the tsunami and earthquake. Videos from Japanese attendees also made the campaign more personal.

SXSWcares Japan Disaster Relief Video on Vimeo

    • Partnerships – In addition to formally building partnerships with SXSW and the American Red Cross, SXSWcares partnered with the band Hanson to promote the campaign. Hanson organized and hosted a 12-hour telethon featuring Ben Folds, The Boxer Rebellion, and many other musicians.

Hanson Helps Raise Funds At SXSW4Japan Online Telethon » MTV Buzzworthy Blog

    • Offline Events – SXSWcares leveraged the mass-party culture of SXSW. Through events like the Hurricane Party, collaborators cultivated an environment that put a face to fundraising. One event raised $10,000 in one night.
    • Influencers – Session leaders, keynote speakers, bloggers, and social media influencers were targeted to help spread the message across to their audience. Guy Kawasaki, Brian Solis, Blake Mycoskie, and many more helped spread the word about the campaign. Joseph Jaffe auctioned off a keynote for $15,000.
    • Branding – SXSWcares featured a co-branded (with the Red Cross) site to maintain credibility. The site was hosted on, which supported a strong sense of community around the campaign.

SXSW4Japan | SXSW Japan Tsunami & Earthquake Relief

Campaign Results
By the end of the campaign, SXSWcares raised over $120,000 ($89,500+ online), beating their original goal of $10,000.

Key metrics of the campaign include (rounded figures):

  • Fundraising pages that have raised $10 or more: 96
  • Highest amount raised on fundraising page: $4265
  • Average funds raised per page: $387
  • Average donation size: $72
  • Median donation size: $25
  • Total number of donations: 1500+
  • Twitter mentions: 12,000+
  • Facebook “Likes”: 10,000+

Lessons Learned

    • Speed is critical for successful disaster relief giving campaigns. The faster a campaign launches, the more effective it will be.
    • Personal fundraising lengthens and broadens post-disaster giving support. Creative supporters who fundraise more are more likely to continue gaining donations.
    • Targeting influencers (bloggers, press, etc.) helps launch the campaign and also builds critical mass in generating awareness.
    • Branding supports credibility and community development. A branded site like SXSWcares swiftly rallied the community to own and drive the campaign.
    • Iterate on the concept and execution of campaigns rather than waiting to develop the perfect strategy. Don’t be afraid to make mistakes.
    • Organize and deploy people based on strength (creative, technology, relationship-building, networking, etc.) and share the credit liberally. The less ego the better, and there’s plenty of room for all to contribute.
    • Seek a team that lends itself to the cause – not the opposite. It’s possible to encounter people looking to promote selfish interest. Encourage those individuals to start their own initiatives rather than undermine your own. Look for talent in specific areas of technology, creative, networking, media relations.
    • Establish meaningful connections between online and offline world … tie fundraising to real-world events, people, discussions, meetings to foster stronger bonds in the community.

Red Cross Fundraiser - CenTex

  • Tell your story as it unfolds – Use Facebook, Twitter and the web to tell the story as it happens. Document stories and compelling testimonies. Take photos, creative videos and create blog posts that help tell the story.
  • Monitor the buzz – Ride the media for accuracy – Fact check, request corrections and stay on top of the buzz to make sure the story doesn’t take on an inaccurate life of its own.

Campaign Contributors
SXSWcares could not have happened without the support of the SXSW community and beyond. Special thanks to Leigh Duncan, Jess Lin, Deb Ng, Natalie Petouhoff, Denise Crowell, CauseVox, Hugh Forrest, Kevin Conner, Hurricane Party, Samsung, Joseph Jaffe, PureMagnetik, Taro Radke, Nina Lior, and the Hanson Brothers for championing this effort.

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