If you’re reading this you know funding an adoption is hard work (thank you, Captain Obvious). My wife and I are adopting from Ghana, and are currently waiting on a referral (11 months and counting). We reached our fundraising goal of $25,000 in four months; $4,000 of that was from a grant and almost all of the other $21,000 came through direct fundraising, or asking people for money.
During that time I found that doing fundraisers involving a good (i.e. t-shirts, Etsy shops, food, trinkets, etc.) could be helpful towards filling up our fundraising bar, but were not the best bang for our buck. I’ve watched many other adoptive families take on half a dozen of these types of fundraisers at the same time, pouring lots of time and energy into something with not a lot of return. Some of these are definitely worth it; after we reached our goal, we had a garage sale that brought in over $3,000. However, I’d like to bring to your attention some reasons to think intentionally before starting your next adoption fundraiser. Here are two things to consider.
1) Most of the time, adoption fundraisers don’t give you the biggest bang for your buck.
Sounds crass, doesn’t it? But think about how much time and effort you will spend spreading the word about the t-shirt fundraiser where your friends spend $20 for a shirt and you get $10 (I’m being generous with this example). By the time you sell 25 t-shirts, you’ll have $250 in your account and will have spent quite a bit of your vision capital with your friends and family.
What I’m suggesting is you ask that same network not to buy anything, but to ask people to straight up give money towards your adoption. Selling goods can yield a couple hundred dollars, or even $1,000 if the fundraiser is exceptionally successful, but that’s a drop in the bucket for those of us who need to raise serious amounts of funds. In my opinion, if you focus on asking people for money you’ll get a much better return.
What are some helpful ways to do this? Ask for specific dollar amounts on social media. Threaten to shave your head or grow a mustache and have people give to either make that happen or prevent it from happening. Have people pledge a dollar for every point scored in the big game. Aggressively promote your fundraising cause on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, and have your friends do the same. Recruit people who you know will give a large dollar amount to treat their donation as a matching grant. Your people will eat this kind of stuff up.
2) Not only are these not the most efficient way to reach your fundraising goal, but they can also reinforce our cultural consumeristic tendencies.
I think this is even more important than the first point. If I buy a t-shirt for your adoption fundraiser, I’m going to feel good about myself and you are going to get $10. A drop in the bucket for you, and I feel like I’ve done my part. I totally did this with the Gap Product Red t-shirts. I bought a shirt and felt like I made my contribution toward ending the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS. Not only that, but I got to wear it proudly and have other people see me literally wear my generosity on my sleeve.
In no way am I suggesting people do this overtly. Your donors probably know that getting stuff in return for a donation isn’t the point, but what if you framed your fundraising ask this way: what you receive in return for giving towards our adoption is a) a lifetime of feeling awesome knowing you have directly contributed to giving a child a forever family and b) the satisfaction of helping us grow our family through adoption.
That’s what people get for giving towards your adoption. Pretty satisfying, I think.
The frustrating thing we found with this approach is that many people who we really thought we could count on for a generous donation stayed on the bench when it came time to respond. Honestly this was pretty hurtful. On the other hand, we were bowled over with gratitude by receiving surprising donations in large amounts from people we didn’t know all that well or people we knew were making a big sacrifice. The difference? The people close to us who sat out didn’t resonate with our vision for fundraising, but the people who stepped up really did. What you need to do as the fundraiser is find the people who deeply care about orphans and understand their role in healing this broken place in the world.
I know, I know. There are lots of counterpoints to these arguments. By buying a t-shirt you are showing your support to your friends adopting. By wearing that t-shirt you declare to the world you are on their team. I completely agree. And all this is really easy to say for someone who is fully funded before even receiving their referral. The money part was my biggest hold up for even starting this process. God made my biggest fear look puny and now I’m finding that, for me, the waiting is the hardest part.
The biggest reason for sharing these two points is so you really think intentionally about your approach to your fundraising. I’m not saying all adoption fundraisers are bad—we tried a couple ourselves. Just try to get the most money you can with the effort you’re spending so the fundraising hurdle won’t be such a cause for anxiety. And be careful to not reinforce people’s tendencies towards consumerism; instead call them to something much bigger than themselves.
What do you think? Do sales fundraisers cramp the vision of adoption? What’s the biggest hurdle for you in doing a straight ask for donations?
Curtis Honeycutt is a graphic designer who lives in Fishers, Indiana. His articles have appeared in various places around the internet like Stuff Christians Like, World Next Door and Burnside Writers Collective. Curtis and his wife, Carrie are currently adopting from Ghana. You can read their adoption blog at whenatlast.com or find Curtis on Twitter: @curtishoneycutt