Get Fit. Raise Funds. Have Fun.
Chances are good if you spent any time around 1909’s virtual office over the last few months, you heard that slogan! 1909 DIGITAL has worked with Christel House International for almost as long as we’ve been an agency, helping with projects like annual donor campaigns. Christel House operates eight schools in five countries, including two campuses in Indianapolis. We are passionate about their mission and we’re grateful for the chance to work with a nonprofit that has both a global and local impact. We were particularly eager this spring to work on the Virtual Walk Around the Christel House World.
Christel House International was founded by timeshare industry pioneer Christel DeHaan, and the organization has long and deep-seeded ties to this industry. Due to the pandemic, major sponsors like RCI didn’t have the opportunity to support Christel House with their usual in-person fundraising events, like golf tournaments and fun runs at the resorts. Instead, we turned to virtual community building and crowdfunding. We reached out to the corporate sponsors’ employees and the Christel House community’s donor base and asked them to log miles and raise funds.
We smashed all of our goals for the Virtual Walk Around the World. Christel House had piloted a smaller version of the walk in 2020. At this virtual event, there was a shorter lead time to plan, but they still gathered around 100 virtual walkers. This time we walked around the Christel House world with the support of 560 walkers and over 700 donors, including over 500 who were first-time donors. We raised over $400,000!
What did we learn from this successful virtual crowdfunding project? And how can you apply it to your future fundraising? Here are our top tips!
1) Invest in your community and they will invest in you
The most successful Virtual Walk participants had genuine and deep relationships with the organization, which motivated them to encourage their families to participate.
Michael was a Virtual Walk participant who has supported Christel House for over 15 years. His team included remote friends and family—something only possible because a virtual event made it easier to join in. Learn more about Michael’s story in this blog post It’s a great example of how our investment in making it simple and easy to participate allowed our community to invest in return.
2) Explore new platforms, but choose wisely
Not all crowdfunding platforms are created equal. We were fortunate Christel House found a partner in Charity Footprints, a virtual walk platform with social sharing features, connectivity with fitness trackers, and an easy user interface. Even with a great platform, there are certain things you only learn when you are in the weeds. We knew that we had “postcards” and a “chat” communications feature. However, we didn’t realize until later that links wouldn’t work in the chat feature, which hampered our efforts.
Christel House created community quizzes and competitions. Some contests utilized the Charity Footprints platform, and some took place outside of the platform. The contests that could occur using the scrapbook feature in-platform were the most successful at engaging participants. We learned through this to design experiences that would keep users within the platform, rather than linking them off.
When exploring crowdfunding platforms, keep the lines of communication open with your vendor. Think about how you want to share with users and focus on the user experience. Always place the user at the heart of the system, do your research, and ask lots of questions!
3.) Uplifting your people uplifts your organization!
Anne Dewey—a Christel House teacher who smashed her fundraising goals—told us, “I may not personally have the finances to put forth the dollars, but I know a lot of great people who love to give back, and who adore my passion for teaching these kiddos.” Whenever we had the chance, we highlighted individual participants and gave them a public platform they could share.
Different types of posts performed differently on different platforms. Posts highlighting specific walkers did best on Facebook, posts highlighting specific students did best on Instagram, and posts highlighting corporate sponsors did best on LinkedIn.
Know your platforms, know your audience, and adjust tactics accordingly.
4) Engage sponsors and collaborate so everyone feels ownership
The Virtual Walk Around the World’s leading sponsors collaborated with us in our planning. We coordinated social media efforts with presenting sponsor RCI and ceremony sponsor Holiday Inn Club Vacations. Staff from all three organizations were featured in Opening and Closing Ceremony videos livestreamed on all three Facebook pages. Collectively, we lifted each other’s social posts—like when Christel House remixed amazing photos of some four-legged Virtual Walk participants with Maynard, the Christel House therapy dog. RCI even hosted internal company-wide competitions each week which performed well on our shared channels!
We included sponsors in our planning so they felt ownership, then reshared each other’s riffs on content.
5) Keep the fun in fundraising by creating “hybrid” virtual & safe, in-person opportunities!
We began planning the Walk Around the Christel House World in February as an all-virtual experience due to COVID-19 restrictions. The increasing rate of vaccinations meant opportunities for limited in-person activities. RCI brought their Indianapolis employees onto the campus for a masked outdoor sunrise walk and Christel House India supporter Anita Lerche organized an outside dance class to raise funds for #TeamBhangra.
Christel House is a global nonprofit, and they are exploring options to expand next year’s Virtual Walk to be even more global participants. Just because the main event is virtual and global doesn’t mean there can’t be supporting events to bring local communities together and raise funds! We live in a “hybrid” world where people participate in both virtual and in-person experiences. Crowdfunding plans must reflect that reality.
6) New types of projects require new tactics!
Christel House has a Google Ads grant. We found with this campaign, organic social shares and personal outreach did more to move the needle than paid social and search ads. We know the Christel House audiences well, so we were surprised at first that our usual tactics weren’t having the same effect. We learned the immortal lesson that new types of projects require new tactics.
7) Internal communications shapes external communications
1909 DIGITAL as an agency has handled communications for virtual events before, including supporting the Museum Computer Network for their first-ever virtual conference. We learned through our previous project how important it is to keep communications organized internally, especially when you will be communicating with participants in different platforms.
We kept in touch with participants via the chat feature, a Facebook event, and weekly updates on our page on the Charity Footprints website. We sent out 6 emails, made countless Instagram stories, wrote 6 blogs, organized social ad campaigns, and wrote over 100+ organic posts across four channels. We used a campaign brief and communications map to keep everything organized, and relied on our trusty project management system ClickUp to help us cat-wrangle ourselves and our clients.
It was a tremendous amount of content, but organizing well in advance made the weeks of the campaign feel easy.
Organizing communications is never an easy task—particularly when there are many partners involved!
We were successful because we took time upfront to streamline and organize our communications. Helping raise $400,000 from crowdfunding is stressful, but with our knowledge of audiences, our project management, and our flexibility with platforms, we actually had a lot of fun!
Want to talk to us about your nonprofit project? Say “hello!” and let’s learn how we can work with you.