That time I ran a donation campaign for charity and nobody donated

So I had this idea. I wanted to help promote a friend and local Arlington startup, NachoBirthday, and Dallas Startup Week was a few days away. The idea was crowdfund donations and give 100% of the proceeds to Vogel Alcove.

With only a few days to plan any marketing I assumed that promotion and adoption would be no problem. I would have various people and companies send out tweets, and Facebook posts, we even a local podcast offered mention the campaign. Everything began to line up perfectly. That is, until it didn’t. But not because the community didn’t care.

It’s really easy to get lost in all the noise of a big conference like that. Sure we had some flyers (with sloppily hand written links to the donation page), we had a booth set up at the ‘premier’ events each night. By the end of the week we had saturated the#DSW16 twitter stream, most had at least heard about the campaign, and seemed genuinely interested in the charity. Donations were still sitting at about $100, a long way from our $10,000 goal.

The idea that I could, in the course a weekend, just string together these semi-half baked plans for gathering donations is, at least, a little silly. In hindsight there are any number of things I wish we had done differently, that I feel would have better supported both NachoBirthday and VogelAlcove.

Donations

We were asking attendees to find a tweet we had sent, and then pull up a URL (http://bit.ly/DSWVogel), then navigate to the donate button, pull out their credit card, fill out the form, and finally submit the donation. With conference attendees walking around networking, I don’t think there is any chance anyone would want to take the time to do that. Even if they are super supportive of the charity, it’s just too many steps during a time with so much else going on.

About mid-week, I looked in to a text-to-donate feature. I thought this would have been a much better idea for gathering donations, it would literally take almost no time on the users part. They would only need to remember a six digit number, and not an entire URL. I reached out to a few companies, but since bank transactions were involved there was no way we could set up anything in that sort time-span. So while the idea is a good, it will probably be added to the NachoBirthday road-map, for another day.

The Booth

At a conference spread throughout a city like Dallas, setting up a mobile booth would have made so much more sense. We had a table, two stand-up posters and a large Vogel Alcove photo banner. It wasn’t practical to bring all of this equipment around to each ‘premier’ event every night. So instead some events just didn’t have any promotion, and we just lost traction on those days.

On the first night, we set up the booth across from what would be the registration table, and by the time everyone had registered, they wanted to move in to the cocktail hour for drinks. Standing in the entryway would mean a delay to their refreshments. We all know what is really important at conferences, and the booth was on the outside looking in.

Social

This was the one area, I feel we did a good job. Everyone I had talked to, said they would push out almost anything I needed. For the first two days of the conference we had our message out all over the place. If you were on a laptop or you were stationary for anytime, you could have donated no problem. Clicking on a link while at a laptop is easy, but when you are running across Downtown Dallas getting to your next session, it becomes lost in the shuffle. Although the social media reach was great, even many of those that supported the campaign, and helped promote didn’t feel the need to donate, If those helping promote aren’t invested, I don’t think anyone would be.

Tweet from Dallas Startup Week #community

Presentations

We dropped the ball here a few times, before various evening events at the beginning of the week, we had asked to take a few minutes to speak in front of whatever group was there, to explain what was going on. This wasn’t just a startup looking to make money, NachoBirthday would not have been taking any percentage of the donations, like they normally would. This was 100% about getting the community to come together and donate to a local cause. Due to lack of planning we didn’t know exactly how each session was going to go, so we missed a few chances to address the attendees in person, which loses any emotional connection to the charity.

Now what?

Welp, we still have 10 more days until the 2 week campaign is officially finished, maybe we’ll scrounge up a few more donations from our family and friends. But, at least, I think I learned a thing or two about what it takes to not fail miserably at something, and the startup community loves to champion failure. You learn more from failure than success.

Should anyone feel the desire to donate during the next week or so, even if it does take a bit longer than you’d like, please feel free! You’re only helping homeless children in Dallas receive an education.

Donate here

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