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.
In the immediate aftermath of 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.
Based on our experience with the Ghost Ship fire and other relief funds, we’d like to share six essential steps in 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.
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.
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 the Ghost Ship fire, for example, the San Francisco Chronicle published a list of fundraising events for the Gray Area Foundation’s relief fund.
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.
Many local people 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.
If you plan an event, focus on fundraising event ideas that create a direct link between your community and the cause. Many 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.
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. 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.