After the excess of Thanksgiving—the food, the travel, and perhaps the shopping—over a dozen people gave generously to Project Renewal. With more than $77,000 raised, Project Renewal will be able to feed and shelter and empower homeless men and women out of poverty.
How was this nonprofit able to break through the noise of a festive yet busy holiday season?
Their success stemmed from their reaching outside of their comfort zone when it comes to development & fundraising.
About Project Renewal
Nonprofits working in human services traditionally rely on grant writing to fund their causes; Project Renewal is no exception, receiving the majority its funding from public sources, foundations and corporate grants. There is little precedent for venturing into new territory it when comes to marketing.
“Some nonprofits have simple missions,” said Joanna Stanberry, Project Renewal’s Director of Communications. And by “simple,” she means straightforward; for example, charity: water’s mission is to bring “safe and clean drinking water to people developing nations.”
But Project Renewal’s mission is not quite as straight forward.
“Project Renewal has a complex message,” said Joanna. It takes more than just a meal and a bed to empower homeless men and women who also struggle with addiction and mental illness to breaking the cycle of poverty. This kind of freedom is hard won and requires holistic commitment – health care, shelter, and job training & placement.
Because of the high ethical standards that nonprofits are held to, these organizations tend to “add fifty asterisks” when sharing their story, said Joanna. But when it comes to marketing, modesty is not always the best policy.
Diving into peer-to-peer fundraising
Nonprofits tend to stick to what’s “tried & true” when it comes to fundraising, and peer-to-peer fundraising is still relatively new territory.
Joanna came on board with Project Renewal with extensive experience in both the nonprofit and the tech startup spheres, so she saw from both vantage points.
“Human service agencies aren’t used to fundraising most income from individual donations,” said Joanna, calling Project Renewal’s foray into peer-to-peer fundraising “a major first culture step to think outside the box.”
How did CauseVox connect with Project Renewal’s first foray into peer-to-peer fundraising?
Joanna likened the initial steps of the journey to “a rabbit trail.”
“Two years ago, I was researching using a certain DSLR [camera] for nonprofit marketing,” she said. “I was trying to pitch why the organization should buy the DSLR to the CEO.”
In her research, she came across some content from CauseVox. As Project Renewal was moving forward with their first real online campaign, she researched fundraising platforms and kept revisiting CauseVox.
Using CauseVox for peer-to-peer fundraising
Joanna has a “passion for clean technology” and “elegant solutions,” which she found in CauseVox. Though it’s a platform to serve nonprofits, CauseVox was designed to “a different standard.”
Customization and domain pointing were must-haves in a fundraising platform for Joanna.
“Other platforms offered these features at a premium, for an extra charge,” she said. With CauseVox, these features were built into the basic version.
And with a platform and a push of support from the Board of Trustees, Project Renewal was ready to embark on their first official peer-to-peer fundraising campaign.
“We have to be really awesome at connecting, at being social,” said Joanna about online fundraising.
To prepare them, a friend of Project Renewal gathered several New York-based nonprofit organizations to prepare them by assigning meetings and homework. Admittedly, nonprofits are experts in serving people, but less so when it comes to promoting themselves.
Planning and preparing for Giving Tuesday began in early October, and with Giving Tuesday falling on December 2, 2013, Project Renewal had a narrow window of time.
So how did they make the most of it?
- They set their target just beyond their reach. “Goals are what drive peer-to-peer fundraising,” said Joanna. The initial goal was $50,000, which was a big number but not too big.
- They defined their timeline. The deadline they set also lent a sense of urgency.
- The board matched the crowd’s gifts. With 100% participation from the board, Project Renewal was able to exceed their initial goal. “Matching drives action,” Joanna said. The matching extends the impact of the donors’ gift and encourages giving.
- They quantified impact. Project Renewal presented the possible impact of one day of giving. Figures from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services were sufficient impact metrics. Nonprofits need to ask themselves, “How do I measure things?” said Joanna. A key element of nonprofit marketing is “picking a number to wrap their minds around,” she said.
- They encouraged collaboration & competition. With CauseVox, staff and supporters were able to form teams to fundraise together. The junior board, senior staff, and a group from Aflac, the insurance company, each formed teams; they collectively raised $18,000. Project Renewal’s women’s shelter staff teamed up and raised $4,000, thanks in large part to the director’s emailing everyone she knew.
- They practiced strategic storytelling. “Email has to drive traffic,” said Joanna. And an effective email marketing campaign takes “at least two months to plan” so that the messages can be drafted and reviewed. There’s an additional cushion of time needed to use split A/B testing, to determine which client stories to share. These emails empower supporters to spread the word.
- They timed their messaging well. Project Renewal progressively increased their frequency as Giving Tuesday drew nearer: Three weeks before Giving Tuesday, there wasn’t as much activity, but as the day of drew closer, they upped the ante.
- They cast their nets wide. On Giving Tuesday, Joanna reached out to her personal contacts and influencers in the same space as Project Renewal. It does take time to work and plan with partners who will retweet and share the campaign to their respective spheres of influence, but in the days leading to and the day of, staff and supporters shared the link to the campaign with everyone they knew. “You want eyeballs,” said Joanna.
With their first online campaign as success, Project Renewal now has been dreaming up what’s next. They hope to use their CauseVox page year-round for peer-to-peer fundraising, like encouraging supporters to set up their own pages for their birthdays, or “hijacking for an event as necessary,” said Joanna.
Project Renewal found CauseVox that versatile and easy-to-use. Joanna said that the blog feature of their campaign site was another outlet to share the organization’s visual and digital collateral.
“You don’t have to hire a designer to make it look nice,” she said about the platform.
With enough time, a willingness to step out of their “tried & true” comfort zone, a mix of marketing savvy and design “DIY” hacks, Project Renewal’s first peer-to-peer fundraising campaign was a resounding success. Now that the nonprofit has established a new tradition that will raise thousands of dollars to scale their mission, Project Renewal can continue to break the cycle of poverty for thousands of men, women and families.