A few months before I started a new job in the philanthropic world, my wife (then my girlfriend) and I decided to take a trip to Asia. I was winding down a start-up that wasn't as successful as I had hoped--statistically, nine out of 10 start-ups fail. I told Kara after the decision was made to shut down the company that we should skip town and travel Asia while I was between jobs.
I said, "Hey, I am jobless right now and I know that you have been thinking of quitting your job. Just quit and come to Asia with me. Then when we get back we can find something else to do!"
There is a reason I married my wife and it's because she is more logical than me. At first, she brushed me off like the nagging child that I can be at times. Finally, my "Ziglar-like" salesmanship wore her down and she agreed to join me. So the next day, when she went in to resign from her employer, they ended up throwing us a curve ball. "Don't quit, take a leave of absence, and when you get back we will move you into a new role," her boss said.
Really? I mean who does that?
It was great because it meant she had a job waiting for her when we returned. And I had just secured my new job setting up the personal foundation for the Chairman of Rackspace, Graham Weston.
With jobs waiting for the both of us,we would travel without worrying where the next paycheck would come from and were able to relax and enjoy the trip.
While we were traveling through Asia there were so many cool things that we ended up doing, but for the sake of this blog post I will only tell you about two of them.
1. In Burma we decided to get engaged and had our rings made in Yangon. Total cost for two silver rings: 90,000 Kyat or $180 USD. I almost had a heart attack when they told me the price in Burmese currency.
2. After our engagement was official, we decided to "Give Away Our Wedding" instead of getting wedding presents.
The idea came from a Seth Godin book I had read several months before. To this day I can't figure out if it was Tribes or Linchpin. Rather than read them again to figure out which book it was, I recommend that you read both because they are worth it.
In the book, Godin tells the story of how he "Gave away his birthday." He just decided one day that instead of having everyone and their grandma tell him "Happy Birthday" he was going to ask them to make a small donation on behalf of his birthday to the nonprofit, Charity Water. If that is not an impressive use of influence I don't know what is. 665 donations later Seth was able to raise $39,937 for Charity Water. Not bad for setting up a page online and not having any overhead cost for a fancy gala.
After I told telling Kara the story, she looked at me as if the answer was so simple. "We should do that for our wedding," she said.
The idea was so brilliant I was upset I hadn't thought about it already. If we hadn't just gotten engaged, I would have dropped to one knee and proposed to her right there. It just goes to show that it pays dividends to marry someone smarter than you.
The first thing we did when we got home was to start getting our invitations in order. After the list was made and our cool yet quirky invitation was selected, Kara made some great flyers that would go in each invitation telling people that we were giving away our wedding to LiberiaNow. This is a nonprofit that I have been involved with for several years and was the inspiration for me starting this website.
The total cost to make these flyers was $72 at Fedex and that is one of the two nominal costs associated with this campaign.
While designing the flyers, we created a campaign landing page that would direct people to when they wanted to donate.
I remember seeing one of my previous coworkers do a campaign for her sorority so I looked back through my Facebook timeline to look up the campaign. I found out that the site she used to do this campaign was called Givezooks. I looked on their site and everything looked pretty simple to set up, so I said, "what he heck, I will give it a shot."
Below is the Give our Wedding Away page that we made on Givezooks. All we had to do was put the LiberiaNow PayPal information in the Givezooks site builder and we were off to the races. Because of this feature, the donations made on the site went directly to LiberiaNow. We never received any of the money that was donated to LiberiaNow through the Givezooks site - everything went directly to the charity, and because of this, all donations given via Givezooks were 100% tax deductible for American tax payers.
A tax deductible wedding gift - bonus!
Once the invitations were sent out, we started getting some really good traction with the campaign. Twenty dollars here and there. Then one for $250. The momentum was starting to build.
We let the campaign just do it's thing and noticed that there was a slow but steady stream of donations that were coming in. The average donation sizes during the campaign was $20 and $50. We did get a few that were larger but for the most part the average donation size fell in-between this group. We were very grateful.
Then, more as an update than a strategy, I decided to update Facebook and see what type of response I would get. So five days before the wedding I posted a "Thank You" note that said we had reached $2,450 in donations. From this one post I got 18 likes, nine comments, one share, and seven more donations.
Two days before the wedding I posted again and the number had gone up to $3,130 with 20 likes, 17 comments, one share, and 11 more donations. The day before the wedding I posted yet again and the number was now $4,171 with 12 likes, three comments, and five more donations.
Finally, a week and a half after our wedding, and we were still getting donations for a new total of $6,536 with 31 likes and two comments.
Our final donation number ended up being $7,306!
I really can't tell you how blown away Kara and I were at the end of it all. We really were so proud to know such amazing and thoughtful people. The coolest part for me though was the fact that I wasn't going to get $7,000 worth of stuff I didn't need.
Kara and I are both in our 30s and have been working for a long time so the thought of getting another toaster or some towels made me cringe. Most of the stuff we need we already had and this campaign gave us the opportunity to redirect people's generosity to something good.
One quick note on GiveZooks; it is not the only tool you can use for a campaign like this. In fact, dozens exist. At some point I will do another blog post about the different types of online fundraising tools and the differences between them. Givezooks just happens to be the first site I found so I decided to give it a shot. Also, Givezooks charges you 2.5% for every transaction done so on a campaign like ours they made $182 (which is not bad for them or us). This is the second and only other cost associated with our campaign.
While using the tool I did encounter an error where a couple of people couldn't give, most of them being out of the country, so that is something to consider. The pros of the tool are that you can set up multiple campaigns for anything you want. They provide you with a cool dashboard where you can see who made what donation and you can customize your campaign to auto respond to people once they have donated with a personalized message. I thought that was kind of cool, but I am nerd, so stuff like that always impresses me.
The psychology around what Seth Godin did for his birthday and what we then adapted for our wedding needs to be adopted by nonprofits everywhere. What we did with our wedding campaign was to take people that normally would never have given to LiberiaNow and gave them a reason to give. I don't suspect that most of these people will ever give again to LiberiaNow, and that is alright. The point is that you have to give people the right incentive to give, at the right time. Birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries are just a couple of events people are willing to get behind a cause, if only for a brief period of time. There is absolutely nothing wrong with that. In fact, I think it brings people together.
Most important, this is a new tool born of the modern social media era, and one that the philanthropic world must embrace. As the next generation of young people start getting jobs and have money to give toward good causes, fundraising galas will likely be replaced with online fundraising. This is the future of giving - I know because I experienced it and now see just how easy it is.
Lorenzo Gomez works for The 80/20 Foundation, whose mission is to turn San Antonio into the Cloud Computing Capital of the World. You can follow him on Twitter at @eSamaritan. He is also the founder of the nonprofit technology blog Esamaritan and former ten year Rackspace employee.