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Posted on 5/18/11 by Guest Blogger Kassie D. Heisserer, Associate Director of Bridges of Hope
In the fall of 2009, Bridges of Hope had just opened a thrift store as a social venture/sustainable funding stream enterprise, was in the process of overhauling its very aged website, and was about to experience the first major leadership transition of its entire organizational history. Despite these many good—albeit difficult—changes and growth, one area we were struggling to break into was online donations. There was just no cost-effective way for us to manage it internally, especially during a major staffing change.
And that was when Give- to-the-Max Day 2009 came along.
We were swamped that day—that week—that month, but I had heard a few whispers about this new fundraising thing that was happening for nonprofits across the state. And then I heard a few other whispers saying that we should jump on board, too. And then I began to see emails pouring into my inbox, promoting all of the other organizations who were participating. Some of them were local nonprofits—and small, too, just like us. So midmorning on that first Give-to-the-Max Day, several hours after the campaign had already launched, I hurriedly figured out how to log in, get administrator access, and create our page—literally in about 15 minutes’ time. Because that was all I had to spend. And then, using the template from GiveMN and taking the cue from some of the emails I had already received, I quickly whipped out a very basic fundraising appeal through email and hit “send.” I waited to see what would happen.
What happened is that Bridges of Hope was thrust headlong into the world of online fundraising, and we haven’t looked back since. We raised only a modest amount during that first attempt—about $700, but it was $700 more than we’d ever raised online. AND it included brand new donors who had never given to our organization. Then in 2010, we were invited by a couple of our local and regional foundations to participate in two different matching challenges on GiveMN—and we met the goal each time! Suddenly our annual online fundraising aptitude had grown to over $15,000—which, for our size, represented 20% of our total giving from individuals.
For us, the beauty of GiveMN has been its combination of simplicity and flexibility—and its continued evolution. I literally had only 15 minutes to get us started that first day, but it was enough. We’ve used project pages, have added video to our pages, have customized our giving level suggestions, have changed and updated our message over time, continue to use the Donate Now button in all of our email correspondence, and this year we added the DonateAnywhere widget to our website, having already received several hits on it. Year-to-date, we are at triple the level we were last year this time in donations through GiveMN; and we have a few more ideas up our sleeves for this year. One is at our fundraising event at the end of the month: we are toying with the idea of projecting a GiveMN project page LIVE on the screens during the dinner, encouraging attendees to give on the spot, either from a computer terminal we set up or right from their smartphones, so they can literally see us reach (and hopefully surpass) our goal for the event. We are also currently strategizing about how to best leverage a pool of matching funds we’ve received for 2011-2012, using the matching grant tool on the GiveMN site.
When I look back, I think what I’ve learned most powerfully is that people really WANT to give to you: they just need to be able to quickly and without a lot of complication, and GiveMN makes it possible for them to do that. We’re excited to see where GiveMN goes next, because we’ll probably be right alongside, figuring out how to incorporate their new ideas into our own fundraising plans; and perhaps one day in the not-too-distant future, we’ll even grow enough to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those large metro nonprofits we so admire. And maybe—just maybe—we’ll even surpass them.