Putting the FUN back in Fundraising
A few weeks ago, we talked about whether the time and expense of putting on big events was worth it in the long run. Sometimes it is, and sometimes it isn’t, but a key takeaway was that organizations should take the time to figure out what makes the most sense for their staff, volunteers, and communities.
This week, we pulled together some fun ideas from network partners with the power to bring in dollars without taxing resources. Some are virtual, some lean heavily on the help of local businesses, and some are more like mini-events. There’s also one that is the epitome of a BIG event, but it’s so fun and cool that we just had to include it.
Poorly Drawn Pets - Animal Rescue League of Iowa (ARL)
You may have heard of this type of fundraiser before – maybe your group has even put one on – but ARL stands out for being ridiculously successful with its Poorly Drawn Pets event in 2022. The all-digital fundraiser pulled in $46,450 dollars and attracted submissions from all 50 states plus 13 countries.
Much of ARL’s success can be linked to the group’s very large network of followers on social media (they have 111,000 on Facebook), which is where they promoted the event. People were invited to submit a photo of their pet for a donation of $25, and in return, they would receive a work of art featuring that animal. ARL was careful to note, however, that not every work of art would be something worthy of hanging in the Louvre: “Participants may get one of our super talented artists, or chances are they will get someone with the talent of a third grader. The luck of the draw is half the fun!” Those who kicked in an extra $10 received the final product within 48 hours.
The group has raised funds via Poorly Drawn Pets six times in the past. Not only have they had a lot of financial success, but the event doesn’t require a lot of staff time – though it is taking more time as the event grows more popular.
“This fundraiser is powered mostly by volunteers, but we have one full-time staff member who handles all the magic behind the scenes,” says K.C. Routos, ARL’s director of development. “The fundraiser started out with 4 to 5 days of staff time and about 50 volunteers drawing. It has since grown to include 300 volunteers from all over the place who create the art, and our single staff member now dedicates nearly 2 weeks to coordinate the submissions and return the drawings.
“For our most recent Poorly Drawn Pets, we hosted a drawing party for volunteers to get together and draw in person with music, pizza, and a cash bar,” K.C. adds. “The party ended up raising an additional $100 and around 80 people attended, which meant we had over 100 drawings completed in one night.”
ARL also received several touching stories about how much the drawings meant to people – whether it was a drawing of a late pet, or the artist fully capturing their personality.
“This fundraiser is a fan favorite, and our volunteers and staff love it just as much as supporters do,” K.C. says.
Toe beans - Kansas Humane Society (KHS)
If you don’t know what toe beans are… you might be in the wrong business. Or maybe you don’t spend a lot of time on social media, where sharing pictures of cute cat and dog feet is a regular feature on many people’s accounts. KHS recently decided that people love seeing doggie paws and kitty toes so much that it would make the perfect fundraising opportunity.
Dubbed OnlyPaws, the fundraiser promised to post 5 pictures of “spicy bean pics” on the shelter’s Facebook and Instagram pages for every $100 donated to the organization. While the name is a play on OnlyFans (which features unique content for paid subscribers) and the original promotion showed blurred-out toe beans (a nod to the mostly risqué OnlyFans content), the images featured on KHS’s social media accounts are anything but NSFW.
Fans of all ages can enjoy these pictures, which are not limited to cats and dogs. Also included have been hamsters, guinea pigs, rabbits, cockatoos, chicks, turtles, squirrels, rats, iguanas, raccoons, parrots, and even a praying mantis, a kangaroo, an opossum, a leopard, and several axolotls.
The quirky concept has proven to be a bigger hit than KHS expected. It was announced on February 28 and only officially ran for one week. However, KHS raised $11,608.92 by mid-March and the images (numbering in the thousands) continue to roll in.
“The idea initially surfaced in the fall of 2022, and although we loved it from the start, we needed to find the right time to work it into our calendar,” says Shasta Lockwood, chief development officer at KHS. “Now that we have, we will definitely do it again.”
Easter eggs - Dorchester Paws
Want your sons, daughters, nieces, nephews, and grandkids to wake up on Easter morning to a yard filled with cleverly hidden candy-filled eggs? Don’t enjoy the time it takes to buy the candy, stuff it into countless plastic eggs, and then hide them all over your property? Dorchester Paws in South Carolina is happy to do it for you in exchange for a donation to help the shelter care for its animals.
Dorchester Paws is offering a range of options for those who want to hand off the annual holiday task to a crew of volunteers, who will carefully hide the colorful treasures in people’s yards after dark on April 8 so they will be ready for discovery on Easter morning. The $25 package features 20 eggs; the $45 package features 40 eggs; the $75 package includes 65 eggs and a small Easter basket; and the $200 package includes 75 eggs, a basket filled with goodies, and a visit from the Easter Bunny himself. Those who place an order for the $75 or $200 package by March 20 also receive a plushie stuffed animal in their baskets and themed candy-filled eggs (unicorns, sea creatures, blocks, and more).
This is the third year that Dorchester Paws has put on the springtime event, which is open to people who live within a 30-mile radius of the shelter.
“We have sold and hidden about 6,000 eggs in each of the last few years, and that means we are stuffing eggs for months,” says marketing and development director Danielle Zuck. “This year we got 10,000 of the plastic eggs donated and volunteers purchase most of the rest of the supplies.
“This year we anticipate doing 300 yards, which means we need about 30 volunteers to make it happen,” she adds. “The whole thing takes some work, but we end up netting about $10,000 and people are thrilled to have their kids wake up to find all those eggs hidden in the yard.”
Doghouse raffles – Fix West Texas
When Texas Paw House reached out to Fix West Texas to say they wanted to donate one dream doghouse each month for the group to raffle off, well, it was an offer the organization couldn’t refuse. The man behind the doghouses, Alejandro Guerrero, works with a friend to put them together as a side business. And these are anything but basic boxes. The houses can include hardwood interiors, sealed roofs, glass windows, and even LED porch lights.
Unfortunately for Fix West Texas, people liked Alejandro’s creations so much that he eventually was unable to devote the time to keep up with making monthly houses for the shelter. Still, for six months the shelter had an easy way to raise funds, and people responded. The group sold tickets for $5 apiece and on average, each house brought in $2,500 for a total of $15,000.
Tasty Kongs - Pasadena Animal Shelter and Adoption Center (PASAC)
If your shelter is like many across the country, you probably have a freezer full of Kong toys stuffed with yummy treats to keep your canines busy. Next time, instead of just putting “Kong filler” on your volunteers-needed advertisement, consider following in the footsteps of PASAC in Texas and turn those enrichment tools into fundraisers, too. For as little as $5, people can “purchase” a stuffed Kong and have it given to the dog of their choice at your shelter.
“I thought of the idea when I heard that our medical fund was critically low,” says Sarah Garcia, PASAC’s volunteer and enrichment coordinator. “I figured people would love to donate to the fund and give our animals a special treat.”
As a participant in the Kong Cares program, PASAC gets the toys at a reduced cost; the shelter also stocks up on peanut butter through its Amazon wish list. The only other things they purchased for the fundraiser were some icing piping bags, and human-grade candy sprinkles to make the Kongs really stand out to the public. Sarah and two volunteers spent about four hours filling and decorating every Kong they could fit into the shelter’s refrigerator, then displayed some in a cooler near the front desk.
“I went live on my personal Facebook so that people from all over the country who had made donations could see me passing out the Kongs in the kennels,” Sarah says. “In 4 hours, we brought in $4,000 in donations – enough for each dog to have 2 Kongs on the day of the fundraiser, plus we honored everyone’s pledges the rest of the week.”
“I shared this fundraiser on the American Pets Alive! Shelter and Rescue Support Facebook page where it got more than 500 likes,” Sarah says. “I have heard of more than 20 organizations that tried it and say it has been their most successful fundraiser yet, which brings me so much joy. We plan to do another one during kitten season, only this time we will be creating kitten lick mats."
Pinterest party - Metro East Humane Society (MEHS)
After 5 years of attending Pinterest parties a creative friend hosted to support a nonprofit for people experiencing homelessness, Cathy Santanello figured she’d try hosting one to help out MEHS in St. Louis.
“I invited both of my book clubs (about 20 people) and about 15 of them attended,” Cathy says. “But they also invited friends, so there were 34 in attendance. I gave people about 2 months’ notice so they could get crafty/creative without rushing, and some people who could not come donated money.”
Participants created paintings, cat beds, jewelry, aprons, items embroiled with animals, a mosaic, a quilt, and more. Those who didn’t consider themselves “crafty” donated coupons for items such as a hot tub party with a gourmet meal, murder mystery dinner, yard work, pet sitting, and a weekend at a Costa Rican Airbnb. Cathy held the event at her home, spending about $150 for food and alcohol.
“My goal was $1,000 but I was blown away by raising $3,300. I have very talented friends!” Cathy says. “I’m considering having it as an annual event because people really enjoyed it.”
Streaming Stray - Nebraska Humane Society (NHS)
When NHS received some free codes to give away for people to play the third-person cat adventure video game Stray, marketing specialist Brendan Gepson saw the opportunity for an easy fundraiser. Since Stray involves helping a lost kitty escape the alleyways of a decaying cybercity, the topic was definitely on-brand. Plus, Brendan already had 2 video streamers in mind – locals who had supported and even adopted from NHS in the past. Once he told them about the idea, they were immediately on board.
“Video game stream fundraisers are great because as long as you have someone willing to stream for you, they take minimal set up on the end of the shelter and reach an audience that you most likely haven’t engaged with before,” Brendan says. “To participate, just tune in to the stream and watch for however long you’d like and donate. It doesn’t cost anything to put together.”
NHS raised about $2,300 from both of the streams and got some good PR.
“We also increased the visibility of the shelter amongst a group that we don’t normally reach out to,” Brendan says. “When the time is right, we’ll definitely do this again.”
Letting nature take its course
There are any number of fundraisers out there that, for want of a better description, take advantage of what comes naturally. Animal Rescue League of Iowa had success last year with “2022 Was the Poops: A Crappy Game of Chance” where participants could purchase a square in a grid laid out on the floor. The shelter then let a litter of adorable puppies roam the grid until they… did what puppies do.
“Whichever square they did their duty in first was the winner,” K.C. Routos says. “It was something new for our audience, which found it hilariously cute, and it raised more than $10,000.”
Tails Humane Society (THS) in DeKalb, Illinois put a feline spin on the idea for Valentine’s Day. For a $10 donation, people could have the name of an ex buried in a kitty litter box.
“We had seen another shelter do this years ago, and we needed something light and fun,” says Rosie Trump, events manager at THS. “We also like to provide ways for people who can only afford smaller donations to support our shelter.”
The event requires very little time and effort on behalf of the shelter, and while it’s not a lucrative fundraiser – THS raised $500 in 2022 and $300 in 2023 – there are other benefits.
“The main benefit was the engagement and attention it generated for THS, which helps us meet some of our other goals and grow our audience,” she says.
….and last but definitely not least:
Dream dog wedding - Baltimore Animal Rescue and Care Shelter (BARCS)
If you love to do events, have enough staff and volunteers to pull them off, and live in a community that really responds to them, then it makes perfect sense to keep on, keepin’ on with your gala black tie dinners and walkathons. If you want to add something new to your repertoire, however, then perhaps a dog (or cat) wedding is in order. Recently, BARCS held its second such event at the elegant Lord Baltimore Hotel and amassed more than $60,000 in donations.
The wedding was dreamed up by Bailey Deacon, BARCS’ director of philanthropy and communications, and the first one was held in 2020. Though COVID forced the organization to put a pause on all in-person fundraisers, events manager Amethyst Tymoch said the initial wedding was so successful, the hope was to make it a yearly tradition.
“Once our host venue the Lord Baltimore Hotel was released from COVID relief housing they immediately asked if we would like to return for 2023,” she says.
This year’s lucky couple consisted of Nugget and Lily, who fell hard on their first date at a park, especially once they realized how much they have in common: “long, slow walks around the city’s best trails, sharing delicious treats from their humans, and napping on only the most comfortable couches.”
Their big day had all the trappings of a dream wedding, with some special twists. Pre-event festivities included BARCS'lor and BARCS'lorette parties (the latter of which featured a “Kit Kat Burlesque” show) and a litter of bridesmaid kittens greeted guests during the cocktail hour (and made sure to let everyone know they were available for adoption, too).
Like any wedding, the affair was a lot of work. Much of it fell on the philanthropy and communications department, with Amethyst noting that it was her main focus from December through February. The week of the event was definitely an all-hands-on-deck affair, too. A local wedding planner and her team helped out and numerous vendors made it possible to pull together a grand wedding for 350 guests under $10,000.
Everyone had such a lovely time that BARCS already has its “save the date” in for another wedding in 2024.
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