Back to articles

There are many amazing examples from organisations who have had to get creative with raising funds since the COVID-19 pandemic began in 2020. Although we have not all had lockdowns to the same level as some countries around the world, the added layer of lockdowns and restrictions and the constant pace of change makes it feel like the worst possible time to be making the ask for running a fundraising event. We hope these examples from around the world provide some inspiration. We are adding a new element to the Tonic Club newsletter this year called Moments of Inspiration, we’ll include some fundraising stories in that.

Even when the going is tough, how can we look at what we do have and find ways to use them to raise funds. What resources does your organisation have at your disposal and how might you put them together in unusual ways to generate income? As COVID-19 situation changes rapidly, how can your organisation find an opportunity within the changing rules and frameworks to continue to raise funds? How can you overcome the fear of making the ask at a time when we assume everyone is struggling, and make the ask anyway?

Well hello, goat, in my online meeting!

Need a fresh face to brighten up your video conference meetings? Want a fun experience for an online happy hour or friends birthday? Looking for fresh material for your virtual classroom. Those are the questions posed by California animal sanctuary Sweet Farm (sweetfarm.org) for their Goat-2-Meeting service. The farm works to save farm animals from slaughter and to educate visitors about the impacts of factory farming. 75% of its donations were being lost due to COVID-19 as people could not visit. A goat, pig, chicken, turkey or llama can join your online meeting anywhere in the world. A 10-mintue virtual experience will cost $140, and if you don’t think that’s long enough there is the 20-minute option for $275.

Sweet Farm have taken two existing resources they have access to, goats (and other animals) and video-conferencing (something that the whole world has been doing a lot of) and put them together to generate revenue. They started the service in May 2020, in the first month they had over 300 requests, and they are still running now, so successfully they have had to partner with other animal sanctuaries to fulfil requests! They’ve even got corporate sponsorship from the meeting platform GoToMeeting, it was a nice play on words!

Taking a big fundraising event hybrid

Saigon’s Childrens’ Charity (saigonchildren.com) had to make the decision to transform their 12th Saigon Summer Ball into a hybrid event at the end of 2020. They moved fundraising online to maximise social distancing and for the safety of guests. ‘Purchasing a table’ enabled guests to host small private parties at their homes or in restaurants around the city (fitting with group number limitations that were in place at the time). Food prepared by many of the city’s top chefs was delivered to each location. Each location, as well as other supporters of the organisation, were connected through a live stream show to online auctions, raffles and performances by entertainers. The ball raised US $140,000 for the charity to further their work in ensuring disadvantaged children get an education and a fairer start in life.

Changing the plan part way through a fundraiser

When the UK went into their first lockdown in March 2020, Diabetes UK (diabetes.org.uk) were two weeks into one of their most important fundraising events, the One Million Steps Challenge. The challenge takes place over 3 months, setting a goal of walking 1,000,000 for participants own bodies and for those affected by diabetes. The goal can be achieved by walking 10,000 each day. With lockdown coming into effect only two weeks in, Diabetes UK had to make the decision to cancel the fundraiser or change it quickly to fit with restrictions on outdoor activity. They sprung into action quickly, sharing ideas to help donors achieve their number of steps each day indoors and within the limits allowed by lockdown. They updated all of their communications to adjust for restrictions to activity and changed tack to a digital campaign.

The speed at which they changed tack contributed to the outstanding success of the campaign, even during a time when the digital events space became very crowded. They surpassed their target for sign-ups through advert clicks by 136% and beat their pre-campaign revenue target by 196% raising just under £2 million!

The power of video

The Great Bungay Duck Race is the big yearly fundraiser for Falcon Meadow Community Trust (falconmeadow.org.uk), a small charity based in Bungay, Suffolk, England. The Trust owns and manages one of the last remaining water meadows in the region, I hear you, what is a water meadow? It is an area of grassland subject to controlled irrigation to increase agricultural productivity. The meadow was saved when the people of Bungay donated and loaned the money to purchase it and is a community space and conservation area.

Physical distancing restrictions meant the Trust seriously contemplated cancelling the event in 2020 but decided to go virtual instead. The annual Duck Race is a much-anticipated community event and organisers wanted to model for the community that even in times of adversity you can find a way to make things happen.

A local volunteer created a brilliant promotional video for the event (you can watch it here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3hmB0LFQ08) and supporters purchased their duck online and the race was live streamed. 24 hours after the trailer went live they doubled their duck sales. Going online enabled and encourage more people to get involved than ever before and they raised £1,234, a hefty result for a very small community organisation.

Being unsure, and making the ask anyway

Ohio Citizen Action (ohiocitizen.org) organises and mobilises people to advocate for public interests through engaging people in actions that protect public health, improve environmental quality, and benefit consumers. Our campaigns connect Ohioans and build a movement to protect democracy and create a sustainable future.

They run a number of campaigns, events and appeals throughout the year, including for Earth Day in April. Suffering a cash flow crisis due to COVID-19 restrictions they had the idea to convert their Earth Day appeal of 2021 to a “9-1-1” appeal for themselves. They asked supporters for donations to help them stay open with attempt to avoid laying off any of their team. Despite being a tough time for everyone, their supporters rallied and they raised USD $48,000, twice the amount they usually raise in the Earth Day appeal.

Make your ask specific

Armagh House (armaghhouse.ca) is a small organisation in Ontario, Canada providing transitional house to women and their children who have escaped domestic violence. Armagh’s common area had to shut down during lockdowns for COVID-19, including their computer room. This was a huge problem for a lot of the women Armagh House supported, especially for the women who were studying online and those with children who were about to start online school, as none of them owned their own computers.

They came up with the idea to run an emergency appeal aiming to raise CA $10,100 to purchase 18 laptops and software for every women they supported with school age children living in Armagh, to enable them to be individually connected online while sheltering-in-place at Armagh House during the COVID-19 restrictions. They crafted an email with a very simple subject line, COVID-19 Emergency Appeal, sharing their specific goal to raise CA $561 to cover the laptop and software for each of the 18 families, CA$10,100.  Any money raised above the goal would be used to buy basic necessities for the families, including food, toiletries, and cleaning supplies. The appeal was sent by email to just under 1000 supporters. By the end of the day 50% of the goal had been raised, 100% was achieved 2 days later. 20 days later the campaign had raised CA $23,039 and a donor had called to ask what else they needed money for, and then made a donation of CA$5,000 to support online learning programs for the women.

Article from Issue 53 of Tonic Magazine. Click here to subscribe to Tonic Magazine

If you think this article would be useful for your members, you are welcome to use it on your website or in your newsletter. We just ask that you let us know where it is being used and that you acknowledge our website at the bottom of the article. If you are using the article online, please include a link to our homepage.