Case Study: Love Without Boundaries, Amy Eldridge

Background

In 2003, Amy Eldridge and five friends founded Love Without Boundaries. They were all adoptive parents who wanted to do more to support children living in Chinese orphanages. They weren’t interested in building an organization; they just wanted to help kids.

Five years later, they are supporting more than 1,500 children in 100 orphanages across China. The organization has an annual operating budget of $2.1 million but no office, administrative staff, or significant overhead costs. Their volunteer network has expanded to about 100 volunteers.

Amy continues to work sixty to seventy hours a week for the organization as a volunteer. She says, “As the organization has grown, I'm doing more administration. We have coordinators for each of the programs—like a school in an orphanage. My role is administration, fundraising, and promotion. I'm a volunteer executive director.”

The organization uses a network model with a flow chart, job descriptions, and one annual meeting. By necessity they are dependent on online communications technologies to make their organization work. As Amy puts it, “Our foundation is a virtual organization and like an online community. We love anything that can improve our system.”

For example, the organization has a website with three separate blogs that link to it. They use Skype to talk to their contacts in China. They sell crafts and auction art online as fundraising events and accept donations online. They follow and participate in dozens of Yahoo! Groups dedicated to adoptive parents.

Starting the Challenge

Even though they considered themselves somewhat tech savvy, Love Without Boundaries did not have a social networking presence before the contest. As a result, this new territory was fraught with technical and emotional challenges for Amy.

She told the Care2 blog, Frogloop, that “I am the mom to seven kids, five of them teens, and I don’t think they were very excited about mom joining Facebook in the beginning, since it was always pretty exclusive to students in the past. But once they realized what a great tool it was to spread the word of our foundation, they really got behind it.”

Solving Technical Problems

Still, even with their Facebook page up, Love Without Boundaries didn’t jump into the Challenge. But then the mother of invention struck in an unexpected way. During the height of the holiday giving season, the Love Without Boundaries' website was hacked, making it impossible to receive donations directly through their site. One of the volunteers in China reminded Amy that actively participating in the Challenge would be a great way to get donations while their site was down.

So, a little bit late, a lot daunted, and quite a bit desperate, Amy and her volunteer colleagues jumped into the Challenge with willpower, energy, time, and social connections as their only currency.

It was not a smooth beginning. “We didn't think we could win,” Amy says. “I was looking at some of the big charities on there and thought it was impossible for us.” They were confused about the need to set up a new Cause on Facebook just for the contest, and ended up putting up a big sign on their old Cause reminding people not to donate for the Challenge there. Plus, they didn’t realize initially that there were daily prizes as well as final rewards.

Harnessing Human Power

Beyond the technical challenges, there were human ones to overcome as well. And perhaps no challenge was greater for Amy’s group than the one of connecting older donors to newer tools.

“One of our key challenges was the fact that many of our key donors are older and less likely to even know about social networking sites like Facebook,” she explains. “The high school and college-aged kids of these parents were a great help in spreading the word, however, and helping us with the technology. The contest was a real bridge builder between the generations! It was great to see grandparents, parents, young adults, and teens all working together to support orphaned children.”

Love Without Boundaries won a daily prize, and it helped their confidence grow. Amy and a small team of eight other volunteers began to spend all day, every day working on the Challenge. Then they added college students since, as Amy put it, “they were the ones with the 800 friends.” Ultimately more than one hundred volunteers worked on the Challenge for Love Without Boundaries.

Using Social Media to Get Out the Word

The Love Without Boundaries team wrote about the Challenge on their own blog, and asked their volunteers and contacts to do the same on their personal blogs. They watched the word spread through the blogosphere using Google Alerts. Yahoo! groups for adoptive parents became particularly fertile ground for sharing the word about the Challenge and raising donors.

They also sent e-mails to their list of 8,000 supporters with specific instructions for donating and addressing the privacy concerns that older donors had. And they asked their supporters for their participation and help – particularly the help of their teenage children who were so fluent with social networking sites.

Their on-land efforts were equally important to their online activities. Sororities at Ohio State and Rutgers University went door-to-door in dormitories to raise friends and funds for the Challenge. Nurses set up a laptop at a hospital and asked people to donate. A manager at a McDonald’s did the same. In Amy’s words, “The old-fashioned approach to fundraising really made a difference for us.”

As was common for successful champions, Amy became her cause’s chief cheerleader and technology-problem-solver, providing advice and making the effort bite-size for volunteers and donors. She sent out encouraging messages, answered technology questions, and posted examples of strategies that were working particularly well.

Amy also counseled anyone who would listen that “the best thing to do is to just find one person—and [have them] ask one person. If you have 3,000 people in your cause, your numbers will escalate.”

The frantic pace of the Challenge didn’t lend itself to careful planning. Instead their efforts had a war-room quality. Every day Amy and her lead volunteers had to figure out what was and wasn’t working, and what new strategy they could try. They tracked how they were doing and constantly monitored the leaderboard.

Was It Worth It?

Winning the Challenge had many positive implications beyond the financial rewards for Love Without Boundaries. According to the donor survey, thirty-four percent were new donors to the cause, which means that they successfully broke out of their pre-existing donor silo. They more than doubled their e-mail list, whichcontinued to grow past 7,200 names after the Challenge ended.

Love Without Boundaries also connected in meaningful ways during and beyond the Challenge with a large community of adoption agencies. They learned techniques and strategies by watching other groups during the Challenge that will be useful for the next Challenge or online fundraising event.

In addition, they assigned one volunteer to be their ongoing Facebook coordinator, responsible for keeping their Facebook profile up to date. This volunteer spends an hour a day reading the blogs and Yahoo groups and adding any stories or information to their Facebook page.

Amy is still stunned by her cause’s success during the Challenge. In her words, “I still wonder how in the world we did it – it was a total God-send.”

Donor Profile

Demographics

Age Range
 
16-17
1%
18-21
3%
22-24
2%
25-29
2%
30-34
8%
35-39
17%
40-44
27%
45-49
18%
50-54
12%
55-59
4%
60-64
2%
65 or older
3%
Prefer not to answer
0%
 
 
Gender
 
Female
86%
Male
12%
Prefer not to answer
 2%
 
 
Income Range
 
Under $25,000
30%
$25,000 - $49,000
 7%
$50,000 - $74,999
15%
$75,000 - $99,000
19%
$100,000 or more
33%
Prefer not to answer
23%
 
 

Charitable Giving Behavior

  • 90% frequently or sometimes donate to causes/organizations.
  • 78% had made an online prior to making an online donation to the Cause during the Giving Challenge.
  • 91% had made an online donation through the website of a specific charity or organization.
  • 10% had made an online donation through a social networking site.
  • 4% had made an online donation through a charity badge, widget, or SixDegrees.org.
  • 4% had made an online donation through other method.

Relationship to the Champion and to the Cause   

  • 90% were aware of the Cause prior to the Giving Challenge.
  • 66% had donated to the Cause prior to the Giving Challenge.
  • 15% had volunteered their time with the Cause prior to the Giving Challenge.


Q: By what means were you contacted and asked to donate to the Giving Challenge?

E-mail
59%
Event
0%
Flyer
0%
Phone call
3%
Message via social network
38%
Text message
0%
Instant message
0%
Blog/Web page
29%
Other
10%
Don’t recall
 3%

 

Q: Which of the following best describes your relationship to the person who asked your to make a donation? 

Friend
 30%
Family member
 14%
Work colleague
 4%
Classmate
 12%
Casual
 10%
Don’t know
 29%
Don’t recall
 1%

 

Q: Was the person who asked you to make a donation to the Cause the person who was ultimately competing the Giving Challenge? 

Yes
24%
No
38%
Not Sure
39%

 

Motivations and Barriers

Why they donated

  • 41% said to support my friend, family member, or colleague in the Challenge.
  • 97% said the work of the Cause.
  • 69% said I have a personal connection to the Cause.
  • 67% said the ease of making an online donation.
  • 50% said the amount requested was minimal.
  • 29% said knew many others were donating.

Barriers

  • 88% agree the process of making an online donation to the Cause during the Giving Challenge was simple.
  • 7% agree they had technical difficulties when making an online donation to the Cause during the Giving Cause.
  • 83% agree it is easier to make donations online than it is to make donations offline.
  • 18% agree that they had concerns about the security of online donations.

Giving Challenge Impact

  • 91% are likely to make a donation to the Cause in the future.
  • 38% are likely to volunteer their time with the Cause in the future.
  • 89% are likely to tell others about the Cause in the future.
  • 45% learned something about the Cause during the Challenge.
  • 95% feel their donation during the Challenge had an impact.
  • 79% prefer to donate online rather than through another method.
  • 58% joined an online social network as a result of the Challenge.