This blog was started in the summer of 2010 because we needed a wheelchair accessible van for my son Aidan. Thus began a major fundraising effort and we needed a way to tell our story. Our community managed to raise $40k in seven months. Since then I’ve been approached by several people who asked how we did that. This is my attempt to answer that question. My big disclaimer is that I’m not a professional fundraiser,and this is only my story. Other people have been successful with similar endeavors in different ways. The truth is that I personally mostly just smiled and said thank-you. That being said, our story stands as both a symbol of hope and need. These are some things I learned along the way that I hope you find useful.
Find a cheerleader. Not a real cheerleader, though that could probably be fun. You just need someone to take up this cause with enthusiasm on your behalf. I found it most uncomfortable to ask for financial help but certainly enjoyed sharing my son’s challenges and triumphs. You need someone to connect those two pieces. Go out for a chocolate and wine evening, share your need, ask for help, and identify your team leaders by their enthusiasm.
It’s all about who you know and what they love. Don’t underestimate what people have to give. With a little effort, your friends may not even need to leave their comfort zones to help. Do you know a Zumba instructor, a jewelry maker, restaurant manager? These people can donate their services for raffle tickets or have an activity based fundraiser. Almost every local restaurant I asked donated gift certificates with me walking in off the street, giving them a brochure about us, and asking. One enthusiastic team leader rallied her office group to raise money through a raffle and all I shared was pictures and information. And athletes, good grief, athletes go crazy for a good cause. There’s always a race for something so that’s a built in event you can personalize.
Get your paperwork in order. Have both paper and email thank-you notes ready. You can print up some postcards or even have photos as postcards. You want a quick and easy thank-you note ready to go. If people are donating online, have an email thank-you ready to go. Have a brochure or flyer with some basic promotional information about your need and who you are. The best thing would be for these paper flyers to give information about a website or blog that would be more personal and have more information.
The gift of giving. My sister and another friend took on the task of creating a tribute card. This was a beautiful card with a picture of Aidan and a few sentences about our need. It said that a gift was given in your honor to Team Aidan. This served a dual purpose of getting a donation and getting the word out.
Where does the money go? This is a bit tricky. You can’t set up a non-profit to benefit one person. You can set up a trust, which will cost some money but is do-able. We ended up opening a regular savings account at our local bank where all the money went. It has to be a personal account connected to someone’s social security number, as opposed to a “Team Aidan” account. Consider opening an account in your child’s name for some level of psychological comfort for your donors. Make sure your bank is willing to contact you with the information about people who gave so you have a way to say thank-you. This choice didn’t allow tax deductions for donors and they certainly took a risk giving to us. This is one more reason I think our story has so much to do with the importance of community and the generosity of individuals. We also had a paypal account set up on this blog. Online giving is essential. Make it as easy as possible for people to give.
Publicity is king! Contact your local paper and share your story. It may feel awkward but you’re not just asking for money; you’re bringing hope to other families and bringing attention to a need. To this day, I’m astounded that so many people who didn’t know us gave as a result of reading our story in the paper. The cards we got with those donations were very moving. We also had buttons made at wacky buttons with Aidan’s cute face saying “Ask Me About Team Aidan.”My friends and family wore them and had an elevator speech ready for anyone who asked.
Remember to check out the “How We Became Team Aidan” posts listed on the right hand side and the “Aidan in the News” page at the top. Think big, be encouraged, and good luck!
For another story with different helpful tips including information about “3 touches” and selling stuff, read Shasta’s story here.