The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation raised $28,735 through 92 donors on Give to the Max Day, and won a $1,000 Platinum Ticket for most dollars raised during the 4 p.m. hour.
“It was a very unexpected blessing,” said Vera Maher, manager, Washington Nationals Dream Foundation. “To generate $30,000, we would normally have to do a jersey raffle or a golf tournament, and we usually net $20,000 for an event like that. When I think of the amount of work we put in for $10,000 or $20,000, it was really impressive to see what could be done online.”
The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation couldn’t spend a lot of time preparing for the event, in part because they had heard about it relatively late in October, 2011. After vetting the contest with local nonprofits and garnering approval from Major League Baseball Advanced Media (MLBAM), the Foundation only had a couple of days to get ready.
As a result, when setting up their fundraiser page, the Foundation simply promoted the larger Give to the Max Day effort with communications centered on their core mission. The requests focused on what Nationals fans would most identify with: teaching boys and girls about baseball and providing academic after-school help through its Baseball Academy. The photo used for their Give to the Max Day profile page featured a boy in mid-air about to touch his foot on first base, and clearly captured the spirit of the Academy.
MLBAM helped launch the effort by sending out an email blast to 100,000 people locally. The Foundation also created personalized emails that it sent to 700 of its major donors, recent gala attendees, and employees of its parent company Lerner Enterprises. In addition to soliciting donations, the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation asked people to update their Facebook and Twitter pages. And the Nationals used their Facebook and Twitter pages to let people know about the event and encourage them to support the Foundation.
The Washington Nationals Dream Foundation dollar per donor ratio of $312 was almost three times higher than the Give to the Max Day average of $114 per donor for the whole contest. The personalized email to established donors made a big difference, and two donors provide substantial gifts in an effort to help the Foundation win.
One annual donor eager to help the Foundation win tickets and grand prizes made her $9,000 annual gift during Give to the Max Day. Another donation of $5,000 came from a Lerner partner.
Generally, it was unclear how the social media assets worked in comparison to the very successful personalized one-to-one outreach. But one thing was clear: enthusiasm was felt across the Nationals efforts in different mediums.
“Based on comments on the fundraiser page, people were psyched,” said Vera Maher. “The one day regional fundraising effort was well explained in the personal emails and the Nationals fan email blast. The competitive nature of the fundraiser made it fun for donors, and clearly several people were excited by it, and left messages on the fundraising page.”
When it came to donations, people gave enough to make the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation the seventh best performing nonprofit overall. In large part, the primary call to action was the photograph of the Academy at work in Nationals Park. This conveys that even without a story, using a strong visual asset that clearly communicates the personal nature of a cause can make a difference.
“The photo worked really well,” added Vera. “That’s one project that was very dear to people. It was very close to what we do, and it’s baseball and kids. Competing against so many humanitarian causes, it showed us helping out in low-income areas.”
Because of the short window, the Nationals did not participate in any of the social media capacity-building training events offered during Give to the Max Day. But they did use some of the web site training materials and pre-packaged templates like the Give to the Max Day press release to get up to speed quickly. And overall, six staffers participated in the effort: two foundation staffers, two Nationals communications staff members, and two Nationals marketing and broadcasting staff members.
What the giving day did do was demonstrate to the Foundation that online giving can be a useful fundraising channel. “We hadn’t had the experience of online being a blockbuster before,” said Vera. “We never raised more than a few thousand bucks in any given point and time. With more power behind Give to the Max Day and the contest’s gaming structure, it was great to see what online fundraising could do.”
Some of the specific lessons the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation learned using the social tools and email included:
As the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation moves forward with its fundraising, it expects to add more online activities. Further, given the nature of the foundation, it may incorporate and expand on the game elements used in the contest.
Next year the Washington Nationals Dream Foundation says it will sign up early, and apply its lessons learned. They look to be a favorite for the 2012 Give to the Max Day: Greater Washington contest.