Online fundraising campaigns to benefit nonprofit groups like RAICES, the ACLU and KIND have raised millions in small donations
Charlotte and Dave Willner, moved to action by a photo of a young girl about to be separated from her mom at the border, set out Saturday morning to raise $1,500 for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES). By Tuesday night, their campaign had amassed more than $7 million.
The Bay Area couple — former Facebook employees who now work at Pinterest and Airbnb — had tapped into the power of crowdfunding: With donations from 174,000 people that averaged just $50 each, the Willners’ Facebook fundraiser to “Reunite an immigrant parent with their child” continued to grow at roughly $3,000 a minute, they told Moneyish through a representative.
“Regardless of political party, so many of us are distraught over children being separated from their parents at the border. We can’t all be on the frontlines to help these families, but by supporting RAICES, we’re able to do something that just takes less than a minute, and collectively have an impact,” Charlotte Willner said. “When we all come together in community efforts like this, we can find an antidote to the feelings of helplessness. This is just the start though, and donating is the easy part, so our hope is that people continue to be hungry for information and get involved.”
The Texas-based nonprofit, for its part, said in a Facebook post Monday that “thanks is inadequate for the work these funds will make possible.” “We’ve been occasionally crying around the office all day when we check the fundraising totals,” the group added.
“I definitely believe that media attention (to an issue) will help drive the success of a crowdfunding campaign,” crowdfunding expert Regan Stevenson, an assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship at Indiana University, told Moneyish. “We know for sure when individuals’ social networks or friends start to fund a campaign or express positive social indicators about a campaign, that it helps induce others.”
Celebrities were similarly activated by President Trump’s policy of separating undocumented immigrant children from their parents at the U.S. border: Chrissy Teigen and John Legend, marking Trump’s 72nd birthday last week, donated $288,000 — $72,000 for each head in their four-person family — to the American Civil Liberties Union, encouraging followers to give in $72 or $7.20 denominations.
You didn't think your $7.20 would be much. Some of you gave $72 you barely had. In just two days, you guys donated over $1,000,000 to the @ACLU. Over 20,000 of you donated. You. Did. That. I am so grateful, so happy, so humbled and hopeful to live amongst you wonderful beings.
— christine teigen (@chrissyteigen) June 16, 2018
Their efforts paid off in spades. “Since the inspiring Chrissy Teigen and John Legend gift, we’ve raised $2.5M online from more than 40,000 people,” ACLU chief development officer Mark Wier told Moneyish in a statement. “Of this amount, more than $1M came directly through the link that Chrissy Teigen promoted, and we have no doubt that many of the additional gifts were inspired by their advocacy. We’ve also seen people launch more than 200 peer-to-peer fundraising campaigns on the ACLU’s website alone.”
People have also raised millions for the cause through the progressive-powered digital fundraising platform ActBlue. One campaign launched May 25 by 28-year-old Amanda Litman, the co-founder and executive director of the nonprofit Run for Something and email director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign, had raised more than $2 million by Tuesday night, with the average donation amount clocking in at $85. The money raised will be divided more or less equally among 14 different organizations supporting immigrants, including Al Otro Lado, the Florence Project, United We Dream, and Kids in Need of Defense (KIND).
More than 23k people have contributed more than $2 million, split between 14 groups working with kids in detention centers — with almost all of the money coming in the last 72 hours. The average gift is only $85. 💥 https://t.co/lplNG22yke pic.twitter.com/Rf2CBIE8s4
— Amanda Litman (@amandalitman) June 20, 2018
“Individuals and groups using ActBlue have raised over 50,000 donations totaling approximately $4 million for organizations helping families and children at the border — ranging from the ACLU to RAICES, and that number is soaring fast. This surge in donations is a prime example of the powerful defiance and real action coming from small-dollar donors in the face of injustice,” an ActBlue representative told Moneyish in an email. “We are proud that our unique platform is empowering individuals across the nation to help these organizations fight back.”
KIND, which typically sees 40 to 50 individual donors in an average week, welcomed about 7,400 individual donors in varying amounts over the past week amid heavy news coverage of border separations, senior director of communications and community engagement Megan McKenna told Moneyish. “It’s off the charts in comparison to what a normal week is like,” she said.
Meanwhile, the crowdfunding platform GoFundMe has “seen a large increase in donations on the GoFundMe platform related to those impacted by the immigration crisis,” a spokesperson told Moneyish in an email, adding that the site had grouped all verified crowdfunding efforts around the issue on one centralized page. “Through our platform, we will continue to support all legally-sanctioned efforts to provide assistance and relief to people affected by family separation and the immigration crisis, as well as to groups aiding those on the ground,” CEO Rob Solomon said in a statement.
While people can feel constrained in their ability to take action, online crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe, Kickstarter, Indiegogo and others enable folks to “make a campaign and support something with their pocketbooks” within minutes, Stevenson said, giving them a vehicle they might not otherwise have had.
“All of these platforms have built-in tools that allow you to not only fund quickly and easily, but also to share with your friends that you’ve funded,” he added. “To some individuals, that might mean that is a way for them to continue to generate momentum for a cause that they believe in … It could be a lot more than the $5 or $20 that you donate — it could have ripple effects through your social network.”
Progressive causes aren’t the only ones inspiring such campaigns, Stevenson pointed out: Republican Tennessee Rep. Diane Black last month introduced a bill to create a “border wall trust fund” that would solicit donations for Trump’s long-promised Mexican border wall through a “publicly accessible website.” “Crowdfunding can be used for one avenue,” Stevenson said. “It can be used for the other avenue, as well.”
Other notable crowdfunding efforts in recent months have centered around Puerto Rico disaster relief; legal expenses for adult-film actress Stephanie Clifford, stage name Stormy Daniels, in her lawsuit against the President; James Shaw, the hero who confronted a gunman in May during a shooting at a Tennessee Waffle House; and Toys ‘R’ Us amid its bankruptcy woes. In the aftermath of the Parkland, Fla., mass shooting, student activists raised more than $3.5 million through GoFundMe for their March for Our Lives rally and relief for victims and their families.
Brooklyn librarian Louisa, a currently unemployed 38-year-old who asked that Moneyish withhold her last name, described a feeling of “helplessness” living in reliably blue-state New York far from the border crisis. “Right now, individually … I feel like all I can do is make phone calls, share news stories, try to keep up the outrage and go to protests,” she said. “And what I can do is give money where I can — even if it’s not that much, it’s something.” Louisa launched her own small Facebook fundraiser for the ACLU after reading an article about the immigrant families — giving $25 of her own, with two friends chipping in another $20 and $100.
BRAVA Investments CEO Nathalie Molina Niño says she tried to create “more of a net impact” by splitting her donation of almost $300 among five or six separate campaigns geared toward RAICES. “It’s about tapping into different spheres of influence,” she said. “My friend who works at Procter and Gamble has a totally different set of friend groups than my friend who’s an activist or my friend who’s an artist.”
Here’s how to launch a successful crowdfunding campaign, according to Molina Niño and others:
Seize the momentum. “There’s a rhythm to these things,” Molina Niño said. “When it’s hot, it’s hot. When a hashtag is trending, it’s trending. You kind of have to jump on it if your goal is to influence others to do the same.”
Mobilize your network. “Make sure that you recruit your own social network prior to launching — so up to a week or two before, letting people know that you’re about to launch a campaign, that you really need their support initially, (providing) information about the product or service or charity that you’re raising money for,” Stevenson said. “And then when you launch, to send them all personalized messages again and make sure they get onto the platform early.”
Research shows that “the likelihood that a campaign will be fully funded increases as sharing on social media increases,” he added.
Gather influencers. Bring together “the people in (your) community who are the biggest influencers; have the most engagement on Facebook,” Molina Niño said, and make people “feel like they have FOMO if they’re not a part of it.” “It’s not that different from silly high-school politics,” she added. “You know who the popular kids are, and if you can get those popular kids to wear this thing or buy this thing or donate to this thing, the chances of everyone else following are higher.”
Convey trustworthiness. Lay out a clear roadmap of how the funds raised will be used effectively, Stevenson said. (The Willners’ fundraiser, for example, stated up front that RAICES’ goals included directly funding bond to get parents out of detention and ensuring legal representation for kids in Texas immigration courts.) “That level of specificity, I believe, helps people have more confidence in the fact that their money is going to be used wisely,” Stevenson said.
Give regular updates. “I’ve been tweeting out every few hours, ‘I just gave again,’” Litman said of her ActBlue fundraiser. “When someone is giving, they’re part of a movement — that’s what makes crowdfunding really powerful. You’re part of something bigger than yourself; you’re not alone in your donation; you’re not alone in thinking this matters.”
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