In their mission to fight the impacts of climate change in some of the most vulnerable communities, the Chesapeake Climate Action Network (CCAN) works with policy experts and community organizers across the Chesapeake region to promote progressive climate policies. The heart of their work is ”rooted in community organizing,” according to Kelly McLaughlin, Director of Donor Engagement for CCAN.
With such a strong focus on the “community,” it may not come as a surprise that their largest annual fundraising campaign relies on that same community support. Each year, CCAN hosts the Annual Polar Bear Plunge, a fun and engaging peer-to-peer fundraising event that helps raise money and awareness for the work they’re doing to educate, inspire, and mobilize community leaders to advocate for a more sustainable future.
Kelly, the organization’s only full-time fundraiser, is not only passionate about what CCAN does, but is also determined to help broaden the organization’s donor base and expand their operating budget.
This year, she knew that in order to meet the organization-wide goal of increasing their individual donation amount $45,000 from 2017, she needed to make a few changes to this signature campaign. Thankfully, after powering this already-established fundraising event using CauseVox, CCAN flew past their campaign goal and exceeded their own high expectations.
We spoke with Kelly about some of her biggest takeaways from the event and wanted to share some of the highlights with you.
- Campaign goal: $100,000
- Total raised: $128,825
- Number of personal fundraisers: 237
- Fundraising staff size: 1.5 FTE (one full-time, two that added up to one part-time)
- Location: Takoma Park, MD
- Length of Campaign: 3 months
About CCAN & The Annual Polar Bear Plunge
CCAN is an established nonprofit located in the Chesapeake region. With the help of 15 staff members spread throughout four offices in the area, they advocate for fewer fossil fuels and more clean energy solutions. Kelly works out of the CCAN headquarters in Takoma Park, Maryland, along with a team of communications and administrative professionals, as well as two other part-time fundraisers.
In the current political and social climate, organizations like CCAN sure do have their work cut out for them. However, that hasn’t stopped CCAN from setting ambitious goals. Kelly explained, “In the upcoming year, CCAN has set its sights on doubling a renewable energy mandate in Maryland, stopping offshore drilling and promoting coastal adaptation measures in Virginia, and passing a carbon fee-and-rebate policy in Washington, D.C.”
Naturally, all these goals take money, which is why they ambitiously set out to raise $100,000 for the Polar Bear Plunge. This amount, combined with individual donations, will help CCAN raise upwards of $340,000 for the 2018 fiscal year.
At first glance, The Polar Bear Plunge already has all the elements needed to ensure a successful campaign. The event relies on eager, selfless participants who believe in supporting CCAN’s efforts enough that they’re willing to raise enough money to jump into the icy Potomac River at National Harbor to prove it. “It’s both our biggest fundraiser and a major education opportunity,” Kelly told us.
Fundraisers include the organization’s activists and other supporters, each of whom uses the event as a chance to raise funds and talk to their own networks of friends and family about fighting climate change.
The Plunge: Finding the Right Platform Fit
2018 was Kelly’s first year running the Polar Bear Plunge, which tends to net anywhere between $85,000-100,000. In past years, CCAN didn’t have a dedicated, full-time fundraiser to handle this campaign and other fundraising activities.
Instead, they relied on their flexible employee-base to handle the many different aspects of the campaign. For example, one person managed the “plungers” (personal fundraisers), while another was in charge of the website, and so on.
Although the campaign was successful year after year, Kelly was eager to change their peer-to-peer fundraising software to streamline the process of her end and to more thoroughly meet the needs of the plungers.
In her search for a new platform, she wanted one that met the following criteria:
- Easy to use
- Supported multiple fundraising teams
- User-friendly backend/dashboard
- Custom fields
- Some automated functions
- Quick response time/high-level of customer service
After looking at multiple platforms, Kelly chose to power her campaign with CauseVox. “The ease of use of CauseVox and your quick response whenever we needed help was really great and it made coming over to your platform a really obvious, easy choice,” Kelly explained.
CCAN’s Keys To A Successful Campaign
After choosing CauseVox, Kelly still had to make some changes to optimize the campaign experience– for her and her team, as well as the plungers themselves. Below, you’ll see the areas that she believes made the biggest impact in helping them surpass their goal.
Spending Time Where It Matters
In years past, CCAN employees spent the majority of their campaign-related time with technical support issues. Kelly told us that CCAN used up all their time “helping people sign up on the site, set up their plunge page, and troubleshoot issues they had in setting up their teams.”
But by using CauseVox, which is designed to take the chaos out of the fundraising experience, employees were able to spend more time supporting the plungers’ fundraising efforts, and not just the technical aspects.
Kelly utilized features like CauseVox’s custom fields to capture valuable information such as T-shirt sizes, sign waivers, and contact information. “We learned retroactively that we had to fine-tune our custom fields,” she explained, but she was able to do so effortlessly. From there, she could easily pull donor data and even use built-in mail merge features.
The CCAN team also benefited from having a staffer who was tasked with working on only the plunge. “Even though she only worked 10-15 hours per week, since she had no other priorities or responsibilities, she kept the rest of us (and especially me) on track with deadlines,” Kelly explained.
Capturing Advice From Long-Time Plungers
Kelly also made sure to get the advice of long-time plungers, who informed her that they were interested in learning new ways to fundraise. They also mentioned wanting to learn skills such as content creation so they can effectively share their message with friends and family on social media.
Then, Kelly mobilized these same fundraisers by recruiting them to once again participate as either a plunger or team captain.
From there, Kelly and her team implemented new strategies to help educate and inspire past and potential plungers to get involved for the 2018 event.
Some of the key strategies included creating and distributing the following:
- A recruitment video including interviews with past plungers
- A fundraising toolkit with information about CCAN, climate change, and fundraising best practices
- An outreach planning worksheet to help plungers pinpoint who to reach out to
- An outreach toolkit with emails, phone call scripts, and social media posts
- Weekly coaching emails with tips from fellow plungers and information about bonus challenges.
- A video that explained all the new resources listed above
As you can see, CCAN understood that there’s no such thing as too much information when you’re preparing a team of personal fundraisers.
A GREAT Takeaway For You, Courtesy of CCAN
With a great campaign under the belts, Kelly and her CCAN team are pleased with their results are ready to expand their efforts again next year. We asked Kelly what her biggest takeaway from this campaign was, and she offered some great advice we wanted to pass on to you.
“I think our main take away is that when it comes to crowdfunding, you have two options to expand. You can either recruit more fundraisers, OR you can empower the fundraisers you have to raise more money.”
CCAN never hesitated to recruit new fundraisers in years past, but aside from losing plungers from year-to-year, they also found that first-time fundraisers weren’t always successful. So this year, they put their focus on fundraiser retention. “We focus on… giving them excellent support and tools.”
Consequently, they were more successful than ever before, and even with just a few more plungers than in years past, they raised significantly more funds. “We feel like because they had more fun and felt more supported, we’re likely to retain more plungers next year.”
In terms of peer-to-peer fundraising, CCAN’s Polar Bear Plunge is proof that a well-planned approach goes a long way. They used best practices, such as recruiting past participants, creating and sharing toolkits, and using the tools they were given to soar past their goal. We’re so happy to have gotten the chance to work with Kelly and CCAN’s dedicated plungers, and we can’t wait to see what 2019 brings to the challenge!
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