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Growing Up Online


Better than Bake Sales: How to Raise Real Money with Virtual Events



July 01, 2008
Times are tough—not only for families, but for schools. As a result, parents often face a stark reality. If they don't raise funds for library books, Smartboards, team uniforms, field trips or other events, their kids will go without.

For some groups, online fund-raising has become a secret weapon that takes less time and produces better results. Once an organization makes contact with them, online donors can be exceptionally generous. According to Network for Good, the average contribution is several times larger for online than offline donors.

Online fundraisers allow groups that have exhausted local resources to reach beyond the borders of their communities to raise funds from alumni, grandparents and retired teachers. Perhaps most enticing, online projects like the ones that follow bypass the hard work of running a carnival or a carwash and avoid the risk of having kids go door-to-door asking neighbors to buy things no one really needs or wants.

Searching for funds

At Goodsearch.com, it's easy to enroll any nonprofit that qualifies for 501 (3)c status. Then people can list that organization as their beneficiary so that each time they use the search engine (which is powered by Yahoo), a penny or two goes to your group. That money really starts to multiply if you can convince teachers, parents and even students to do their searching on your behalf.

Shopping for a Cause

Rather than sending kids door-to-door selling candy, wrapping paper and ceramic doodads, many groups now encourage would-be donors to shop at online malls where a percentage of what they spend goes to their cause. Schoolpop.com is an online shopping site set up specifically to benefit schools. Others sites such as Igive.com, Charitymall.com and Mycause.com allow you to shop on behalf of any nonprofit you designate.

Going, Going, Gone

Auctioning off donated items is a time-honored way to raise money. Adding an online dimension simply increases the pool of potential bidders. A school, for example, can appeal to alumni, grandparents of students, retired teachers and so on. Ebay sponsors a special section called Missionfish.org which allows nonprofits to register and benefit from auctions. Cmarket.com runs a site called Biddingforgood.com where schools and other groups can easily list items and win a worldwide audience for their auction. The trick, of course, is to get the maximum number of bidders by publicizing your online auction through MySpace pages, blogs and e-mails to family and friends,

High Tech Recycling

Recycling cell phones and print cartridges is both lucrative and good for the environment. The Educational Technology and Conservation Program is behind a Web site called Fundingfactory.com that helps schools and related organizations set up and manage recycling programs so they can earn cash or points which accumulate towards athletic and technical equipment.

One of a Kind Designs/

Thanks to new digital services like Original Works (www.originalworks.com), parent groups can sell customized items featuring artwork created by kids. Young artists create vivid, colorful artwork that is uploaded to a Web site. Then your organization can sell parents everything from magnets and notecards to tote bags and aprons featuring the designs.

Paying for Pixels

The Million Dollar Home page was started by a British college student who didn't want to go into debt to pay for his education. He sold pixels for a dollar apiece on a page which looks like a wall filled with graffiti (Milliondollarhomepage.com). Some nonprofits have been successful in creating similar pages filled with good wishes from supporters. Although several companies will set up such sites for a fee, the original software is now available free at http://www.milliondollarscript.com/.

Blogging for Bucks

Odds are, someone in your organization has a blog or, at the very least, a page on MySpace or Facebook. Ask him to tell a heart-warming story about why your organization needs funds and who will benefit. Encourage him to link to the donor page on your Web site if you have one. Admittedly, lots of people are doing this now, so it's harder to get noticed. But the right appeal to the right network can raise real money in a hurry.

Virtual Events

Several large organizations have experimented with "events" that occur only online. One of the most successful was an American Cancer Walkathon that took place on SecondLife.com and raised over $80,000 without anyone lacing up a single pair of real sneakers. This sort of event requires imagination, technical skill and, in all likelihood, the cooperation of a few network-savvy students. Still, if you're fed up with the legwork of organizing real-world events, this is an interesting alternative.

Even those who decide virtual fund-raising is beyond their technical capabilities can still use the Internet to find innovative ideas that, as they say, put the fun back into fund-raising. Web sites like Fundraising123.org and Diyfundraising.com may help you find just the right project to make people open their hearts—and their wallets—to do something good for the kids in your community.

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has written about families and the Internet for 15 years. Read other columns at www.growing-up-online.com.

Carolyn Jabs, M.A., has been writing about families and computers since 1993. Other columns about are available at www.growing-up-online.com.
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