When a community rallies together after a disaster, the collective power is undeniable. Directing that power effectively is essential for recovery and rebuilding. And no matter how strong a community is, in the aftermath of a disaster it needs real assistance from the outside.
A relief fund can help you rally your own community, and help others offer vital support and services. With our crowdfunding platform, YouCaring has helped many communities do just that. Relief fundraisers can take many forms – you could raise money to rebuild homes after a flood, fund emergency medical care for survivors, or help get your neighbors back on their feet in hundreds of useful ways.
Following the horrific Ghost Ship fire that claimed 36 lives and injured hundreds more in Oakland, California, the community came together in full force to rally support, using crowdfunding to raise over $1.5 million of much-needed aid for the tragedy’s more than 300 victims.
In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, JJ Watt also stepped up to help his city. The Category 4 tropical storm wreaked havoc across Greater Houston, displacing thousands of residents and destroying countless homes.
The all-star Defensive End started a fundraiser on YouCaring to provide food, water and supplies to victims, and kicked it off with a personal donation of $100,000. JJ reached his original goal of $200,000 within just a couple hours, and has since raised over $31 million, making it the biggest fundraising campaign of all time, thanks to donations from over 200,000 people.
A week later, former NBA star Tim Duncan started a relief fund in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which dealt a destructive blow to the US Virgin Islands. In response to the immense devastation of his birthplace, he donated $250,000 and offered to match donations up to $1,000,000, reaching his fundraising goal in a little over 24 hours.
Based on the success of these relief efforts, here are our six essential tips for running a successful fundraiser.
1. Set up a relief fund that’s clear to those inside and outside the community
Set up a relief fundraiser on YouCaring – unlike other crowdfunding sites, we don’t charge a platform fee so more money goes to fundraisers. It only takes a few minutes to set up a fundraiser of any kind on our platform, and you can start collecting donations instantly.
In the description section, explain what happened and how it hit your community – writing to reach not just friends and family, but others who may not know the full story. Donors from outside your community will also want to know how their donations will be handled. Write a timeline for fundraising and distribution, clearly showing how funds will be distributed effectively.
JJ Watt set out to help Houston-area flood victims by creating a dedicated fundraiser with a clear objective. Donors knew their contribution would be used wisely, as JJ provided a clear plan of action on how his nonprofit would administer and allocate funds.
Others in your community will likely set up fundraisers that complement yours. In Oakland, several fundraisers launched soon after news broke about the Ghost Ship fire – some for specific individuals and their families, and some for the survivors as a whole. Connect with others raising funds to make your combined efforts as effective as possible – including those efforts described in the steps below.
2. Use your social network to spread the word
Promote your fundraiser on social media. It’s proven to be the most immediate and effective way to announce your relief fund to your community.
Encourage your friends and family to share your fundraiser link. The extra exposure can boost both traffic and donations, and increases the likelihood of your fundraiser going viral.
On Facebook, make sure that your posts about the relief fund are made Public, rather than Friends Only – unless a post is Public, it cannot be shared by people you don’t know. Only a Public post can go viral.
On Twitter, tag your posts with the most popular hashtags associated with the situation – for example, #GhostShip.
JJ urged his followers to share and donate to his fundraiser by posting video announcements on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. By rallying his supporters and keeping everyone up-to-date on his efforts, more people felt compelled to get involved. His vast social media presence also guaranteed the fundraiser would go viral. Tim Duncan, notorious for being media-shy, also came out of hiding to share his impassioned plea for help. He created a Twitter account dedicated to the relief fund, posting updates and words of encouragement for those affected.
— JJ Watt (@JJWatt) September 5, 2017
3. Reach out to media for extra exposure
When a disaster strikes a community, it often creates a flurry of media attention. It’s important to take advantage of that attention while it lasts.
In addition to sharing your relief fund on your own profiles and pages, share it on the social media pages and accounts of relevant organizations. Reporters are often happy to shine a light on relief funds, which offer viewers or readers something positive and actionable to do.
You can also reach out directly to local publications and media outlets (TV, radio, and online news sites). Ask them to add your fundraiser name and link to their stories, so people know how they can help.
If the disaster has been covered on news websites but the articles don’t link to your fundraiser, email the reporter or post author, asking him or her to update the story with your relief fund link. Another approach is to post your link in the comments section of both the story itself and any social media posts about it.
Find the Twitter and Facebook pages of your local news organizations, and post links to your fundraiser on their pages. If they approve and/or share your post, it could reach a large local audience. If the event is covered nationally, use the same approach with national outlets.
After Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, the New York Times and hundreds of other outlets published articles on how people could help victims, including links to JJ Watt’s and Tim Duncan’s relief funds as well as various other crowdfunding campaigns. If the disaster has been covered on news websites but the articles don’t link to your fundraiser, email the reporter or post author, asking him or her to update the story with your relief fund link. Another approach is to post your link in the comments section of both the story itself and any social media posts about it.
4. Host a fundraising event
Fundraising events do more than generate donations – they physically engage your community, increase awareness, and reach new kinds of donors.
Local residents will look for ways to support the relief effort with more than just monetary donations. Fundraising events allow such people to bring donated items, meet like-minded people, and team up on relief efforts. They can also inspire ideas and projects that could be good outlets for your funds. Many of the fundraisers for Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma were spearheaded by athletes with strong ties to their local community, who rallied support through offline fundraising events.
If you plan an event, focus on fundraising event ideas that create a direct link between your community and the cause. The majority of the Ghost Ship fire victims were artists and musicians, and Oakland supporters hosted several fundraising events featuring art and live music from local artists.
You can also partner with fellow community members or local organizations to host fundraising events supporting your cause.
Local businesses and organizations take pride in their community and will invest in its recovery. They typically offer help after a disaster in one of several ways – most often matching donations, providing space for fundraising events, or donating a percentage of proceeds from products or services to fundraisers.
After the Ghost Ship fire, individual fundraisers saw their efforts bolstered by the Gray Area Foundation, Sutter Health, the Oakland A’s, the Golden State Warriors, and the Oakland Raiders. Along with generous matching donations, these groups used their influence to greatly expand the number of potential donors to relief funds.
Hurricane Harvey relief funds also saw their efforts bolstered by generous organizations, including Wal Mart and Major League Baseball. Along with promising to match donations, these groups used their influence to greatly expand the number of potential donors to relief funds.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) August 31, 2017
6. Keep your community updated
When they donate to your fundraiser, donors become financially and emotionally invested in helping the victims. They often expect updates about the relief fund’s progress and its positive impact. Be sure to post regular fundraising updates to keep people engaged and informed about recovery efforts.
JJ Watt made sure to post video updates every time he hit a major milestone, thanking donors for their generous contribution and encouraging others to get involved. He also shared his plans for how he would administer the purchasing and distribution of relief supplies. Tim Duncan also posted updates to his fundraising page, expressing gratitude to his many generous donors. Such updates can give campaigns new life, inspiring donors to share with their social network once more. Updates can also be a good place to maintain clear communication between victims and supporters.
In Oakland, the Gray Area Foundation posted updates describing its plans for distributing funds, along with a corresponding timeline. In an attempt to reach all the victims, the foundation also explained how family members of those killed in the tragedy could apply for relief funds.
A powerful tool to help restore your community
In disaster and its aftermath, people have an innate desire to help others. If your community is recovering from a disaster, a relief fund can be a powerful step toward recovery. Whatever challenges you’re facing, we hope that these six steps can help you recover as quickly and effectively as possible. For more tips read Developing and Financing a Family Disaster Recovery Plan.