Becoming King of the Throne: How Ronald McDonald House Crowdfunded 60 New Toilets

Should your organization try crowdfunding? Although relatively new to the nonprofit fundraiser’s arsenal, crowdfunding has a low barrier to entry, is typically low-cost, and is a great way to mobilize your organization’s supporters. Last year, Ronald McDonald House Charities® of Western Washington & Alaska used the crowdfunding platform Start Some Good to buy new toilets for over 60 rooms in our residence. We earned $15,000 for the project in just 14 days. Just how do you pull in over $1,000 a day in donations for your next project? Here are some helpful tips and tricks we learned while running this campaign:
1. Pick a Crowdfunding Site Based on Your Needs:
There are a bevy of crowdfunding sites to pick from, such as Indiegogo, Fundly, YouCaring and many more. We chose Start Some Good for the easy-to-use platform and excellent customer service. Since we hadn’t run a crowdfunding campaign before, we wanted to ensure that this experience ran smoothly and having the additional support was helpful for us. Most crowdfunding sites do take a percentage of the proceeds that you raise, so do your research to find a site with a reasonable rate for your project.
2. Ask for Something Specific and Name a Price:
While we’ve previously tried general donation solicitations in our eNewsletter, we found that our audience really mobilized around this specific ask for toilets. Because we told our audience the exact cost of a toilet ($300), our average gift was around $230.
3. Highlight the Community’s Investment:
One of the most important parts of our campaign was our partnership with other organizations to pay for thetoilets. Not only did we negotiate a lower price on toiletswith a local plumbing shop, but we also established a matching program. Once donors realized that our neighborhood Metropolitan Market grocery store would front 1/3 of the cost of a toilet, they were motivated to give.
4. Emphasize Impact:
In our appeal, we showed how the installation of new toiletswould directly impact the lives of the families who stay with us. For example, our facility often houses severely immune compromised children, so toilet overflows and associated issues pose serious health hazards. We found that donors responded positively and strongly when they knew exactly how their money would be used.
5. Add an Incentive:
Most crowdfunding campaigns give a donor something back in return for their gift. It’s an expected part of the overall crowdfunding experience, so your organization should plan for any additional costs associated with these freebees. To mitigate cost but still offer a gift, we used items that we already had on hand, like stickers, temporary tattoos, shout-outs on social media, and special photo thank you cards.
6. Make it Fun:
Since infrastructure projects, let alone toilets, are not the most exciting projects to fund, we used humor to attract prospective donors. We labelled our levels of support with fun names like “Overflowing with Gratitude,” “Honor Roll,” and “Straight Flush.” We also had a toilet graphic which tracked monetary progress like a thermometer in our email updates.
7. Get Social:
We used social media to build excitement and anticipation in our followers. Although the campaign started slowly, we built up momentum through toilet project specific emails, which gave a running tally of our funds. We also updated Facebook near the end of our campaign when anyone made a donation, to keep our followers up to date on how close we were to the goal. When we met the goal, we made sure to announce it and our thanks to our supporters on multiple channels.
But don’t just take our word for the effectiveness of a good crowdfunding campaign. According to the Crowdfunding Industry Report from 2015, global crowdfunding of social causes and the arts pull in over $5 billion, which is no small change. By 2025, total crowdfunding of for-profit and non-profit projects is estimated to be a $90–96 billion dollar industry worldwide.
Additionally, this is a popular fundraising method for millennials, who are notoriously hard to recruit through traditional mailed or even emailed appeals. Considering 84% of millennials made a charitable donation in 2014, using a platform they already know and trust is a great way to establish a relationship with the next wave of donors.

About the Author

Michelle Scharlock is the Communications Manager for the Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Washington and Alaska. Previously, she worked in PR on the Microsoft Big Data account at Waggener Edstrom, where she developed a love of data and metrics. She also spent several formative years after graduating from McGill University working for performing arts nonprofits, including the Metropolitan Opera National Council Northwest, the Seattle Shakespeare Company, the Seattle Opera, the American Handel Festival, the America’s Music Festivals radio series, and the Fisher Ensemble just to name a few. In her spare time, she can be found hunting for antiques, attending aqua zumba classes, and writing plays. Insatiably curious, she is probably raiding your local library right this minute. You can reach her at: michelle.s@rmhcseattle.org.

About Ronald McDonald House Charities of Western Washington & Alaska

We support seriously ill children and their families who are far from home for their child’s treatment. By providing a place to live, full of support, community, and hope, the Seattle Ronald McDonald House® becomes a “home-away-from-home” for families so they can stay close to their child during treatment at little or no cost. We also provide a van service for families staying in Anchorage while their children receive medical care. For more information, visit www.rmhcseattle.org and follow us on Facebook at:www.facebook.com/rmhcseattle

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