How Crowdfunding Can Be an Effective Alternative for Medical Hardships

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Crowdfunding has turned into a reputable resource for people who succumb to tough times and are looking for an alternative method of support. However, it inadvertently has also turned into one of the few places where people from all walks of life can come together for a common goal.

Most crowdfunding sites enable users to connect with supporters by providing updates and uploading photos. This feature offers a platform for family and friends to leave thoughtful messages and words of encouragement, creating an entire community of support.

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Michael Genest

A campaign can typically be created by the individual needing assistance, or by a family member, friend, or member of the community. While restoring hope to those it benefits, crowdfunding shows people that no amount is too small and making a difference in someone’s life is sometimes just a click away.

For example, Michael Genest has an incredibly positive personality with a “failure is not an option” attitude, even under unfortunate circumstances. Late last year, Michael was diagnosed with a very rare neurological condition known as Bickerstaff’s Brainstem Encephalitis.

The medical center in which he checked into to was completely unaware of the disorder. Michael was on total life support measures for lung, kidney, food and all bodily functions and could not speak and or easily move.

With his inability to work, the immense amount of out-of-pocket medical bills and two daughters in college, Michael’s family turned to Plumfund to crowdfund his medical hardshipAfter only two months, the campaign has already raised more than half of its $15,000 goal and the updates provided by Michael’s wife, Jordan, state that he is in good spirits and was moved to the top rehabilitation hospital in Texas. The support and kind words Michael’s from friends and family are incredible and inspiring.

However, Michael and his family are not alone. Unfortunately, there has been a dramatic increase in people turning to crowdfunding as an alternative method of raising funds for hardships, especially medical.

Thanks to social media, it’s easier than ever to connect with friends, family, coworkers or anyone in your network. Therefore, it also becomes easy to share your crowdfunding campaign and reach more people than traditional fundraising.

Users can collect any amount of donations from anyone anywhere in the world. Location is a limit with traditional fundraising, but with crowdfunding being web-based, it allows people the accessibility of sending and receiving funds at the click of a button. By incorporating technology, crowdfunding makes fundraising simple and more efficient to help ease the stress that comes along with any hardship. 

ALS Ice Bucket Challenge Raises Awareness

The month of August 2014 has proved to be one that will undoubtedly put a dent in American history. The ALS Association has broken records for their new #IceBucketChallenge campaign reaching nearly 14 million dollars in donations which is a huge jump from last year’s measly 1.7 million.

Ice Bucket ChallengeMedia outlets and social media are buzzing about famous people like Bill Gates, Martha Stewart, Selena Gomez, and Justin Bieber doing the ice bucket challenge.  The most impressive that I’ve seen so far is rapper Macklemore where he takes an icing on stage during a large concert.  No wonder why the ALS Association has seen a jump in 280,000 donors.

In the video below, I share about how ALS (aka Lou Gehrig’s Disease) has impacted me personally and taken the lives of two of my loved ones.  You can watch a celebration of life video that I created for my aunt here.  I also share about an interesting viewpoint comparing the level of awareness that the ice bucket challenged has received with the level of awareness that several other causes, including racism, needs.

At the same time that millions of us are skimming through ALS ice bucket challenge videos on Facebook, an American reporter has reportedly been beheaded by ISIS and in our own backyard, Ferguson, Missouri is in crisis over police shootings.  There is no doubt that the looting, riots, and peaceful protesting is one way or another tied to the deep roots of racism that still exists today.

Also in the video, I ask you to consider the true reasons behind many of the things that are happening in Ferguson and how the world could be improved with increased awareness to tackle the issue of racism that still exists in America today.  What if the truth about racism in America today spread as wide as this ALS Ice Bucket Challenge?  Watch the video now:

[youtube]https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jbq-Xtv6kXQ[/youtube]

Fundraising: The Skill that Stands Out

Students and college graduates across the country know that finding a job, and especially finding a job you like, can be a taxing and difficult process. The problem is the competitiveness of the job markets can put stress and limitations on the opportunities students can obtain. In addition, the social welfare field has strains such as limited job opening, overwhelming responsibilities, and not enough financial resources. Social work students work hard to obtain the necessary qualifications to get that perfect job come graduation. We as students are trying to figure out what experiences and skills are going to attract potential employers and stand out over our competition. One of the most valuable skills that any student looking to go into the human services field should learn is fundraising.

fundraisingFirst, it is important to clarify what fundraising is and the benefits from it. If you think fundraising is simply raising funds, then you do not fully understand it. Many students and professionals dislike fundraising because they are not comfortable asking for money or do not think it is important. Well I do agree that our society sometimes has an unhealthy relationship with money and wealth, fundraising is not just about the money. Fundraising is developing relationships with community members to obtain the necessary support for your organization.

I absolutely love fundraising. My social work cohort does not completely understand why, but I love it. I get the opportunity to connect with various community members, build relationships, and then offer the opportunity that is mutually beneficial. There are opportunities to help businesses market their brand, foundations impact the community, individuals feel a sense of reward, and communities feel the difference they are making. Fundraising has more purposes than making revenue, thus making it a vital skill for many organizations.

Fundraising has been a low priority for many human service agencies since the majority of funding can come from government grants or insurance reimbursements. Even though the amount of money from fundraising initiatives may be a small percentage of the total organizational revenue, it is still important to put effort into it, but could be hard to financial restraints. If social workers knew how to fundraise as well as provide direct care, they become a double asset for their agency. Even if their primary job is providing services, assisting the development team with initiatives can be have a huge impact for the agency. Program staffs that know how to fundraise are valuable and highly honored by nonprofit professionals. Program staffs also have a stronger connection to the agency that fundraising staff at times, making their contributions stronger.

As students, we have the opportunity to expand beyond our roles at times and assist in fundraising efforts. While we volunteer for special events or campaigns, we also develop important skills that will benefit us in our career paths. Fundraising is a valuable skill to know and social work students interested in the nonprofit world should explore options to learn more about it. I am currently a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals (Afpnet.org) and it is a great resource for professional fundraisers. I recommend looking into programs provided by the local chapter, or any other professional resources that will help develop necessary fundraising skills. Taking a course while in school or attending some training programs can be payoff as well. Learning to fundraise and learning to enjoy it will make a student stand out.

Fueling the Political Machine: Kristie Holmes on Campaign Finance Reforms

There is something very special about a social worker in public office. As social workers, we are bound to an ethical code to uphold social justice, provide service to others, bolster the dignity and self-worth of all people, understand human relationships and communities, and act with competence and integrity in all our endeavors. When considering how these core values shape social workers’ singular objective to make the world a better place for everyone, I think most people can agree that these are the kinds of people we want representing us in government. That is exactly what Kristie Holmes is planning to do in her campaign for Congress representing California’s 33rd district.

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Kristie Holmes (right) at United Nations

Kristie Holmes is a breath of fresh air for Los Angeles County. Unlike her top opponents, Holmes has not been a participant in the troubled public administration in her region. Rather, Kristie has been fighting at the front lines as a case worker, community organizer, and social policy scholar. As a social work professor at the University of Southern California and small business owner in Los Angeles, Holmes is in touch with the people in her community and is raising quite a following among younger voters, who are sick of establishment politicians and nepotism.

So what’s the problem? Why isn’t her name up in lights with the best of them?

Sadly, along with her virtuous political agenda and clean slate comes a major shortcoming: Money or as she refers to it in her blog, “Trial by Fundraising!” And while we all know campaigns always require money, Kristie Holmes has been exposing political financial requirements to that will make your stomach ache. According to the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara University, the average congressional campaign costs over $1 million per candidate and the average senate campaign costs $4.3 million (while many go as high as $10 million and 15 million).

This leads many concerned citizens to ask, who has that kind of money? Certainly not the families and citizens politicians are supposedly “representing.”  These unprecedented financial requirements not only distract elected officials from their primary role as lawmakers, but paves a clear path for encouraging special interests in politics. As Kristie explains:

“When it is all over, what do we have to show for it?  How much have we collectively spent- on what exactly?  It certainly doesn’t go to those who need it.  In fact, it goes to funding things that voters clearly despise.”

As a determined, trail-blazing social worker, Kristie Holmes is standing up to the political establishment. She is running her campaign on policy, not politics and financial deal-making. With her hard earned, modest budget, Holmes is inspiring awe as she unwavering fights for a seat at the table. As fellow social workers, we are very proud. In her campaign blog, title “Kristie’s Adventures in Running for Congress in the Wild West” Holmes documents the process of running an honest campaign amidst a corrupt landscape of Super-PACs and sneaky political loopholes:

Money & PoliticsTo begin the process, there is a $1,740 non-refundable fee to get your name on the ballot. Okay, steep but do-able.  But wait, it doesn’t stop there. In order the get your name and 250-word blurb printed in the voting guide (the sample ballot given to all voters before they cast their vote) candidates must pay an additional $8,600.

If you want this available in Spanish (which is spoken by about half of L.A. residents) it costs another $17,200! Further fees are required for each additional language. Just the fact that there is a language fee at all, from a social justice perspective, is ethically questionable considering the US Census reports 56.8% of L.A. residents do not speak English at home. So, all in all, it actually costs a whopping $18,940 just to have a meager presence at the ballot box.

Now, comes the campaign. There is the usual stuff: yard signs, door-hangers, TV commercials, etc. These are the kind of cost most people expect from campaigns and millions of dollars can also go into funding these. Luckily, there are low-costs alternatives to raising political awareness such as relying heavily of social media and people power in the community- the tactics Kristie Holmes is well versed in as a macro social worker.There are countless, nearly insurmountable hidden costs all along the way. Just last week, for example, Kristie was denied invitation to a candidate debate forum because the organizers required candidates to have raised over $100,000 in order to attend. 

Seriously? Television commercials are one thing; denying candidates a right to speak at political debates- that is another. Requirements such as these are normal; they are a part of a regime to perpetuate the political status quo, stifle real social progress, and represent the interests of the few over the many. According to the LA Times, the Pacific Palisades Democratic Club created the requirement (which was possibly as high as $200,000) to allow only “viable” candidates to participate, as not to “dilute the session… by including candidates with little or no chance of winning.” Yet, isn’t is also true that barring these candidates from the debate is directly contributing to their poor chances of winning?

Kristie also points out that candidates for California’s 33rd congressional district only found out about the current congressman’s retirement in late January. Established candidates with an existing FEC number had less than three months to acquire their current campaign funds. However, the time frame was much shorter for new candidates who needed to apply for a FEC number before fundraising could begin. As Holmes speculates, “Perhaps a candidate has a long line of wealthy, waiting funders ready to go when they announce (due to fame or personal fortune).” Whatever the funding sources or tactics are, one this is clear: our current political system is designed to pander to wealth and power.

When a real candidate “of the people, for the people” emerges, the powers that be quickly shut them down. In such a climate, it is not a surprise that our congress looks like a Hampton country club full of white men shaking hands. As social workers and citizens, we cannot sit quietly as the political machine attempts to push aside highly qualified candidates like Kristie Holmes. The system will not fix itself. It is up to us, as voters and social change leaders, to demand better and to put people in office with integrity. We must support Kristie Holmes and raise awareness for her campaign.

As a congresswoman, Kristie pledges to fight for open government and to put an end to fraud and corruption in her district. She will fight for gender equality, equal access to education, improved care for veterans, and to put an end to the war on drug through the decriminalization of marijuana. As a social worker, she will fight for all socioeconomic groups but most importantly, those who are most in need.

Why can’t we have a Congresswoman like Kristie Holmes? I believe we can.

Learn more about Kristie Holmes and how you can support her campaign. Follow Kristie’s blog, “Kristie’s Adventures in Running for Congress in the Wild West

Follow Kristie on Twitter @DrKristie

5 Ways to Help You Segment Your Communications

Why Segmentation is Important

The whole idea of market segmentation is to attract the right customer (or donor) using the right methods. When you send out that annual appeal, you’re targeting a large number of individuals who have different reasons for supporting you. You can’t use the same message and same images for all of them. They want to see a buy-in that fits their expectations and reasons for supporting you.

Case Example: No Kid Hungry

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No Kid Hungry uses statistics to identify the problems.

For example, it might be helpful to target new donors using the statistics on the number of people you’re serving, and how that looks in their community. This first No Kid Hungry ad campaign is targeting people who need to be aware of the problem in their community, so that they have a reason to support it. Using statistics and ‘sad children’ pictures works well for this initial buy-in grab.

When targeting existing donors, however, you have a bigger challenge. They’ve heard your pleas. They know that children are hungry. They know that $1 will buy 10 meals at the local food bank. Why should they keep donating to an organization that isn’t solving the problem? That’s where segmentation comes in.

This second photo is one of many visual and text-based stories that show how donated funds were directly used to improve the lives of children and communities across the US. It’s important that they focus on a broad range of topics, and use a broad range of mediums to disseminate this information. It’s attractive to a wider audience.

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This photos shows a direct impact that No Kid Hungry has had on a community.

No Kid Hungry’s entire website is built so that it tells the right story for the right supporter. It’s separated into 5 categories- The Problem, The Solution, Our Impact, Take Action, Give. I use this organization as an example because their marketing campaign is effective and easily recognizable. They even have a privacy disclaimer on their site that tells you how they track your personal information when browsing the site- talk about keeping up with the times!

There are plenty of other organizations who do a great job at this, as well. Even small organizations can use these methods to increase visibility and have a stronger call to action.

5 Ways to Make it Easier

There is a lot of software that will make your segmentation process simpler. Here are a few that are commonly used in the nonprofit world (in no particular order):

MailChimp

MailChimp allows you to segment your campaign lists so that you can easily send the right communications to the right people. You can even do this with the free version.

SPSS

SPSS is a common evaluation software that lets you put your data collection to work for you. It even helps you segment that data to look for common threads and characteristics. While not directly a communication’s based tool- the information should be used to inform your marketing.

Salesforce

Salesforce lets you run all kinds of reports on your donor, consumer, volunteer, or whatever person-type you track. You can use this information to create segmented lists to target the right people. You can run a report with the correct parameters, export those addresses/phone numbers/emails into your mailer of choice-and bam. You’ve got a campaign. Here is one method of doing this (Warning: non-Salesforce site)

Raiser’s Edge

Raiser’s Edge is well known for its use in donor management in the nonprofit world. It can also include targeted marketing analysis to help you identify donors who might give more with the right kind of messaging. Bonuses include integrated direct mail, email, and social media resources.

GiftWorks

Giftworks is another popular donor management platform that includes targeted analysis, segmentation, data importing from other platforms, and communications tools. It can be a little pricey, starting at $90 a month.

Next Steps

You’re probably wondering what is this segmentation thing and how do I even start using it? That’s a whole other topic that has been talked about by people much smarter than myself. Here is some good reading material:

The Accidental Fundraiser – Roth & Ho

The Nonprofit Marketing Guide: High-Impact, Low-Cost Ways to Build Support for Your Good Cause – Kivi Leroux Miller

Crowdsourcing for Nonprofits: What You Need to Know

Crowdsourcing can be defined as enlisting the services of a number of individuals for a particular cause usually via the internet. It is also very reflective of common community organizing techniques where you trust the established network or community has all the experts it needs to accomplish a goal. Additionally, crowdsourcing, as with community organizing, allows a community to come together for the purpose of working towards a common goal using their own skills and their own ideas. Most importantly, it can be a method of empowerment, albeit a digital enfranchisement.

You’ve probably heard of ‘Crowd funding’, a fundraising side to crowdsourcing. Websites such as Kickstarter, Crowdtilt, IndieGoGo, and others exist to pool funds from many people to create something- a new product, a realized idea, t-shirts for a community center, or whatever else. There are even nonprofits that exist solely on this crowdfunding model: Benevolent,  Watsi, and others.

How Does this Apply to Nonprofits?

Nonprofits use crowdsourcing in many ways to accomplish the same goals in the digital world that they would have otherwise used in more traditional methods. The upside of crowdsourcing is that it’s free and requires much less time and effort to track down the experts or resources you need. The only requirement is that you must have access to an online community infrastructure ready to call upon. In this digital age, many (should be all) nonprofits have some sort of online presence. Websites such as VolunteerMatch or Idealist also help with gathering people who have very particular skills and knowledge.

How Can You Start Using Crowdsourcing?

The simplest way to get what you need is to ask for it. The fundraisers in the audience will know exactly what I’m talking about. If you want people to donate $500, you don’t have a default option on your mailing cards to donate $5. You start at $500 and work your way up. You have to ask people for exactly what you want if you want to get it.

In order to ask for what you need, you must have a way to communicate with people. Email campaigns or social media are the correct venues to do this. But, in order for those to work, you have to know who your supporters are and why they support you. This will require data gathering and analysis. In addition to spending face-to-face time with your supporters, you will also need to study their online habits. When are they most likely to donate? Is it after a press release, or during the holidays? How should you word your emails in order to get the best response? You need to connect increases in exposure to tangible events that you can test by repeating. Mention is one great way to practice some online- listening for free.

This online listening infrastructure will be the most difficult task for you to complete. Not because setting it up is hard, or because understanding what you’re looking for is difficult. It’s easy to see a sharp spike in website page views and know that something good happened. The hardest part of this is the discipline that it will require in order to be effective.

You cannot just set this stuff up and leave it alone. You have to spend a few hours a month making sure that what your supporters found interesting before is still interesting. Or, if a new social media platform comes out, you’ll have to adapt. You’ll have to pay attention to the news and respond if relevant media coverage might affect you or your services. These things are not difficult to do, or overly time-consuming. It’s much easier to check your Google Analytics page once a week than it is to keep pumping out press releases and social media posts that have zero views and get you nowhere.

In a nutshell, the steps to beginning crowdsourcing are:

  1. Establish an online presence.
  2. Establish data collection and analysis tools.
  3. Get people to look at your stuff and sympathize. (Get more people using step 2.)
  4. Ask them for something.

Examples of Successful Nonprofit Crowdsourcing:

Any volunteers can be found through VolunteerMatch, Idealist, or any other online platform.

A community center needs its roof repaired. It asks its newsletter subscribers.

A New York radio host wants to know the cost of food in different neighborhoods across New York City. It asks its listeners to comment with the prices and where they live.

A Charter School attempts to raise enough funds to open.

The American Red Cross uses digital volunteers and social media to talk to and track disaster victims. Learn more from Amanda Palmer’s Ted Talk – The Art of Asking.

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