I had been working in the nonprofit sector for about 2 decades when I started working for Ronald McDonald House. My first month on the job a fellow called and he told me he was going to do Ironman and he was going to collect pledges from his friends to raise money for RMH. I think during the first phone call I almost fell off my chair, I couldn’t believe that someone wanted to do a fundraiser for us. None of the other charities I had worked for in the past had groups or individuals do what I later learned was called third party fundraising. What a great concept this was- a fundraising event held on our behalf, raising our profile and visibility and it didn’t cost us a thing. What could be better? We needed to figure out how to increase the likelihood that more people would do third party events for us. Over the next few years we did figure out ways to have more people do events for us, but here is one of my favorite stories of a third party event:
In 2008 our society was considering building a new Ronald McDonald House in Red Deer. At the time it was to be the first new Ronald McDonald House built in a new Canadian city in over twenty years (all of the existing RMHs had been built in the 80’s). One of the mom’s whose family had used the Calgary House stopped in for a visit one day and had asked to see me with her 10 year old daughter Jenaya. I came out to the living room to meet with Lisa and her daughter. They lived near Red Deer and had heard we were thinking of building an RMH there. Lisa told me that their family had been appreciative of the support the House had provided their family and that they wanted to help other families to be able to experience the same support. Jenaya and her friend Caitlyn has come up with the idea of selling hot dogs at their school one Friday afternoon to raise money for the new House. Ultimately the capital campaign target was $12 million dollars so it was not like I was going to say no, however I did think the girls would be lucky to raise $100. None the less we loved this family and the idea was really cute. Who wouldn’t love the idea of kids helping sick kids in their community? I thanked Lisa and Jenaya and told them we would be thrilled if they would sell hot dogs for us. The girls planned to sell the hot dogs for $2 each, a local grocery store was going to donate the buns and they might have a lead on someone to donate the hot dogs. A week or two before the Friday the girls were going to sell the hot dogs, Lisa called me and said some of their friends were not able to make it to the school the day of the hot dog sale, could they write us a cheque? “Sure” I responded, this hot dog sale seemed to be getting bigger. I told Lisa we had a “donate now” button on our website, they could tell some of their adult friends they could donate using their credit card. We suggested that their friends just type “hot dog sale” into the memo line on the on-line donation page. We didn’t have a lot of experience with peer to peer fundraising at the time and we certainly didn’t have our own software to allow people to set up pledge pages for us at this time. Well the girls managed to get themselves in the newspaper and on the radio. A local business man made a pledge on the radio and challenged local businesses to match his pledge. I don’t remember how many actual $2 hot dogs were physically sold but the girls ended up raising over $20,000 by the end of the day on Friday. I would have been thrilled if they raised $100 but the final total of about $24,000 made us pretty confident that we would ultimately be able to raise the funds we needed to in Red Deer to build a new RMH.