Success Story: PEER Services steps up for substance use recovery and raises over $53k through virtual endurance event on Givebutter

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Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

Success Story: PEER Services steps up for substance use recovery and raises over $53k through virtual endurance event on Givebutter

In this video, I’m joined by Anne from PEER Services. PEER Services hosts an annual charity stair climb to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and raise funds to provide substance use disorder treatment for all in need, regardless of their ability to pay. This year, instead of meeting in-person to scale 20 stories at the Orrington Plaza office building, participants found creative ways to “Step Up” in their own homes or communities to support this important cause. Corporate sponsors, team fundraisers, and powerful storytelling really helped this campaign climb to success! An added bonus: donors covered 84% of their credit card fees! In total, PEER Services only paid $126 to cover credit card fees on Givebutter. When they hosted their last virtual fundraiser on a different crowdfunding platform, they had to pay $990 in credit card fees (plus a monthly fee!). Hear all this and more from Anne as she shares:

  • Why they chose Givebutter for their virtual endurance event
  • What helped them drive donations (Hint: Engaged team fundraisers!)
  • Tips, tricks, and lessons learned for taking donor engagement to new heights
“There definitely is a very human element to [Givebutter]. When I’d think, “Oh, I just wish I could customize this,” I could send either an email or a chat to Givebutter and they'd usually get back to me the same day. They'd either say, “Okay, great suggestion. We're going to put that on our queue.” Or sometimes they'd say, “Okay, we're going to do it,” and just make that change right away. I really appreciated that Givebutter is a learning organization and is really prioritizing the needs of nonprofits and is very responsive to nonprofits. And that queue is moving along! I just really appreciate {Givebutter’s] responsiveness to nonprofits.”

You’re going to want to follow this campaign every step of the way!

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Full video script

Rachel: What's up, everybody? Rachel here with Givebutter. Thanks for joining for another Success Story from the Givebutter community. Today, we are featuring PEER Services. Their nonprofit raised over $51,000 for their stair climb event, aimed to reduce the stigma surrounding addiction and provide substance use disorder treatment for all in need. If you are looking for inspiration for your virtual endurance event, this one is going to be really inspiring for you. I have Anne here with me who is going to share why they turned to Givebutter as well as—you know ‘em, you love ‘em—tips, tricks, and lessons learned, so that we can all give better. Anne, thank you so much for joining and sharing your success with the entire Butter Fam.

Anne: We just really appreciate you reaching out! Thank you.

Rachel: Excited to dive in! To start, why don't you go ahead and introduce yourself, your role with PEER Services, and a little bit more about who you all are and what you do.

Anne: Sure! I am the Development Director at PEER Services, and I started my role at the very end of March after the pandemic had started. We're in Evanston, Illinois. The stay-at-home order had gone into effect. I had been home with my kids for a week when I started my position. I started remotely. Then, we had this fundraiser coming. We had to cancel a few things that had been planned for the spring, and then we had this fundraiser coming that was scheduled for the fall, October 4th. So we thought about, “What are we going to do? It's been an in person stair climb for years.” It took some time to figure out what we were going to do, but let me tell you first what PEER Services is. We are a 45-year-old nonprofit that was founded in Evanston to address the opioid epidemic in the 1970s. Sadly, we are still addressing the opioid epidemic and other substance use issues that continue to change in nature over time. We provide substance use treatment, and we provide prevention services in the community. We stayed open for our medication assisted clients throughout the pandemic, which we are really proud of, and we've been providing a combination of telehealth and in-person therapy for other clients.

Rachel: Thank you all for the incredible work that you all are doing. Going back to your event—okay, I'm just putting myself in your shoes—you just started this new role with this incredible nonprofit, COVID hits, you're looking ahead to the fall like any good Development Director already is, and you're thinking “How are we going to go virtual?” Tell us more about what the event was prior to its virtual this year because you said you had done it in years past. What do you mean by stair climber?

Anne: Yeah! It was a virtual stair—I'm sorry. It was an in-person stair climb in the tallest office building in Evanston which is a 20-story office building. We had done it for five years. It was on a Sunday morning. People got together at the office building. Families would come who had been impacted—some families impacted by the loss of a loved one to substance use disorder or families who were in support of folks who were either in recovery or seeking treatment. It was just a real celebration. As our Executive Director describes it, it was one of the few times that we were able to open our doors and really bring people in and connect with them. Because the nature of our work is so confidential, we don't have that many opportunities. From what I've heard, it was just a really beautiful point of connection and coming together, celebrating recovery and those folks who are taking the really challenging steps to be in treatment and fight toward recovery. So it was a very fun event and very much an in-person event focused on connections. We were trying to decide, “How are we going to do this?” I had participated in a number of webinars about virtual fundraising and was trying to get my head around, “What is this going to look like?” I had in mind that we would need to do a virtual event—some kind of online event that people would attend. I watched some that were really well done, yet I was still struggling with, “What is that going to look like for us?”

Rachel Right!

Anne: A cousin of mine is on the development team at the—I think it's Leukemia and Lymphoma Society in Wisconsin. She had sent out a Facebook invitation to their virtual stair climb—it just so happens—that was supposed to be in Seattle, but they were doing it nationwide. They had a short video that explained what the event was and then a thank you video. I just thought, “Oh, wow! We don't have to do the event. We can find ways to connect and get people excited about it and bring people together without having to be together synchronously.” That just felt like the right thing to do, so we decided to do that. I, at some point in this process, watched a Givebutter webinar—it was in partnership with Boomerang which is the fundraising software we use—and saw that you all had a way to have livestream events on the campaign site, but you also had a way to post videos. We got excited about creating a video. That was something that I spent some time on this summer, in July and the beginning of August, with a wonderful videographer who I know and editor and with a bunch of people all over the globe who agreed to be in this video and help us, saying “I'm stepping up for recovery.” That was really fun to create, and it also allowed our Executive Director to speak and share a little bit more about our mission. I think at the event itself it was hard to do that because people are gathering in a big lobby and sound is difficult. I think that was nice too that she was able to speak directly to our supporters and share a little bit about our mission and what the Step Up for Recovery event means to her.

Rachel: Definitely. I'm going to go ahead and share my screen, so people can see your beautiful campaign that you were just referring to. Your gorgeous video that's at the top. I'm not going to play it right now, but everybody who's following along, I'm going to link to this campaign page so you can watch the two-minute video. It is a masterclass in nonprofit storytelling. It is so well done, clear, concise, to the point, motivating, and inspiring. Would be a great example for anyone to look at if they’re wondering, “How do I do a promo video before a virtual event?” Then additionally—you were also just mentioning—not only was video an important component of the success of this campaign, but you also were masters at incorporating the team fundraising or peer-to-peer element. Tell us a little bit more about how did you rally those team fundraisers?

Anne: As I was preparing to talk with you, I was making a list of some of the individuals and organizations that really helped make this campaign work, and it really was a team effort. If you scroll back up to our beautiful logo, that was created by one of our Prevention Staff members, and she is just Incredible at design. When we were talking about virtual, I was brainstorming with Ria and we were trying to think of what it would look like. She really came up with this design which she had talked about, “Let's make something pixelated because it's virtual.” Then she really went with it and made it look like a vintage video game stuff. Our theme sort of became a vintage video game. Then my videographer and video editor—who is a friend of mine—really went with that as well. So at the beginning of the video you hear the—I'm not going to be able to duplicate it but the click, click, click, click, click of an old-style video game. So that was fun. I think one of the things I liked about the Givebutter platform when I found it—at first, I was a little intimidated because some of the examples seemed a little too fun. We've got a really heavy topic which is substance use disorder and recovery. But as I played around with it a little bit more and talked with my staff we realized we wanted this to be a celebratory event and a fun event. We wanted to mix the two: addressing a challenging topic but doing it in an upbeat way. I think the platform really worked well for that. Then, you were asking me about team-to-team—I definitely wanted to give Ria the shout out because she just creates beautiful artwork, and I think that was so important to this campaign and creating the brand for the campaign.

Rachel: Absolutely. And so understated! Having a brand identity for your campaign to make it memorable is huge, so kudos to her! It looks great.

Anne: So then, in terms of teams. This is a fundraiser that our board really takes to heart, and it's central to what they do. It's one of the biggest ways that they participate in fundraising. We have had the team aspect in the past, and when they were in person, they would actually rally their friends to come and be with us on a team climbing the stairs. Since we weren't in person, we decided to continue still the team aspect and board members created team pages. Some of them just did an incredible job with outreach. We were doing these videos that we’re saying, “I'm stepping up for recovery,” and “I'm stepping up for recovery because . . . “ Then, they could sort of fill in whatever that was. Several of my board members created videos that really told their story. One of them shared that video out with his friends of him cycling. We did decide, as a virtual event, we didn't need to just stick to stair climb. I climbed up my front five stairs 80 times to reach 400 stairs. You can see we put in numbers. Climb 400 stairs, walk 4000 paces, but we weren't picky. It was whatever is a challenge for you, whatever is meaningful for you. One of our board members is a big cycler, so he sent out this invitation to his friends with his video included. I think that just was really personal. He spoke about a story involving his son as a teenager, so it was personal and meaningful. Tom Schneider, who is the champion of our leaderboard, raised over $5,000 from friends and family—just totally amazing. They gave so generously because they really respect Tom and value his work. He's a former probation officer in the city of Chicago who worked with youth and was acquainted with PEER Services through that work. The reputation he has built and his regard for PEER Services and belief in and support for PEER Services really came through and his people responded to it. Then, we have Team Golub. Golub & Company is an international real estate and facilities management company. They are the owner and property manager for the Orrington Plaza and office building which is the 20-story building that we have climbed for the past five years.

Rachel: Oh wow!

Anne: I reached out to them early in the summer to talk about a potential sponsorship. First of all, to let them know that we had decided—we had to make a decision at some point, so in July we decided we're going to do it virtually. We had sort of said, “Do we run a campaign in both ways and decide later?” But by July, it was pretty clear that it was not going to be safe by October to have a bunch of people climbing stairs in close proximity with one another. So we reached out to them and were in conversation with them on and off for a few months—or I guess a month and a half. Then in late August, they decided to sponsor us. They became our presenting sponsor. They decided not only to be our presenting sponsor, but also to really make this event a team event within their company, spanning multiple sites around the Chicago area. They kicked off this September campaign where they got people excited about supporting PEER Services. Lee Golub donated money on September 11 and walked up a bunch of stairs and commented on that in the stream which was really moving and meaningful. Just a bunch of—so many participants from Golub participated, donated, raised money from others. That was just what a wonderful thing to see. We had some other sponsors who also formed teams. We're definitely going to think further about, “How can we form more teams going forward and get people more involved?” Both sponsors and others—like fitness centers and things like that because the focus is on fitness and wellness, so there's some natural opportunities there.

Rachel: Absolutely! It sounds like you were really able to captivate that excitement and energy and passion people had when you had your event in person; you were able to translate that to peer-to-peer. Some of your teams were incredibly successful and engaged and had many donors, many large donations, and meaningful conversations that were happening around de-stigmatizing substance use disorder. So you were able to not only raise funds, but also create awareness and build donor engagement. You were able to retain quite a few people from prior year events. You were doing a lot of wonderful things all at once. One other thing that I wanted to point out that you did was a really great job with your storytelling. It was very clear, very concise, you gave people a couple steps—here's how to participate and get involved—and then a link to your site to learn more. That may seem really simple, but for everybody who's watching, these are great best practices to keep in mind. Simple is better, so that people are able to capture and read and participate in the whole story. So great job to you and your entire team!

Anne: Thank you!

Rachel: Your story looked absolutely beautiful, and then you incorporated logos of sponsors below which I also think looked great. Then one other thing that I wanted to point out is when you're going through donation—you can see that I was already playing with it to go through. You also had t-shirts and tributes just before your donors actually made their donation. I thought you made that checkout process really easy and really simple to think through and fill out for all your participants. Is there anything else that stands out to you as a tip, trick, or lesson learned as we’re looking at this page?

Anne: I think I would just highlight that no matter what—now this is virtual and online and the platform worked really well for us—at the core of it, it's still about relationships. Building those relationships offline and then bringing them to this platform that resulted in successful fundraising. Our relationships with sponsors are a huge part of our fundraising this year. We didn't know what to expect during COVID, so we had set a lower fundraising goal. We had set a goal for $30,000. Then, I think about three and a half weeks out, we hit our initial goal and decided to increase our goal. We increased our goal to $50,000. I did have a few nail-biting days right beforehand because I wanted to make our goal. It's really due to sponsors who stepped up. Some sponsors had to say no this year and we totally understood. A few sponsors had to give at a reduced level this year, but several others gave at an increased level. Some said, “I don't know if I can do this again, but this year we know how important it is especially.” COVID has caused a dramatic increase in substance use and overdoses, and people responded to that. There's a lot of financial uncertainty for nonprofits, so we are just so grateful for those sponsors and donors who stepped up and really helped us reach this goal that will absolutely help us make it through the winter. It just gives us a little bit more security to be able to keep our staff on board—to know that we can continue to provide these services. We're just extremely grateful.

Rachel: Absolutely. May I add, you are still getting donations to this campaign I can see, so that's exciting. Just to end here, I’m wondering what do you think is the future for virtual events for PEER Services? What are you going to take away from this experience that you think might shape future potential virtual events?

Anne: I think one of the things that we recognized was while there's something wonderful about getting everyone together in person, that can also be a challenge. Having this virtual event allowed people who wouldn't have been able to show up on a Sunday morning, or who couldn't climb stairs, to be able to participate. I think we want to keep that in mind. I think we're going to think about—we hope to be able to do this event in person next fall, but we want to have a virtual component to it anyway. I think this also really encouraged us to use video. I don't think—I know we hadn't done much with video certainly—I don't think our current Executive Director had done much with video in the past three years that she's been there. The opportunity to say “Let’s get on video and let's figure this out,” I think opens up some doors for us to be able to tell our story and continue to do that during COVID and beyond COVID.

Rachel: Absolutely. Anne, thank you so much for using Givebutter for this meaningful event and for letting us share your Success Story today. We're cheering you on, and we can’t wait to see what's to come for PEER Services.

Anne: Well, thank you! One thing I do want to say about Givebutter is there definitely is a very human element to it. When I’d think, “Oh, I just wish I could customize this,” I could send either an email or a chat to Givebutter and they'd usually get back to me the same day. They'd either say, “Okay, great suggestion. We're going to put that on our queue.” Or sometimes they'd say, “Okay, we're going to do it,” and just make that change right away. I really appreciated that. That Givebutter is a learning organization and is really prioritizing the needs of nonprofits and is very responsive to nonprofits. And that queue is moving along! There are updates that I get, emails about certain things. I think you now have a way for folks to say they want to pay by check, and I don't think that was there when our campaign began. I just really appreciate your responsiveness to nonprofits.

Rachel: Well, thank you for saying that! Your suggestions are what makes Givebutter what it is. Thank you for being an active participant and giving us ongoing feedback. Thank you everybody else who's watching and following along. Please remember to like, share, and subscribe to Givebutter’s YouTube channel. If we didn't ask something and you want Anne to answer it, just comment below and we'll try to get back to you. Thanks so much for joining and we look forward to seeing you next week for another Success Story. Bye everybody!

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Written By

Written by
Rachel Mills
Rachel is a fundraising and marketing consultant for nonprofits whose aspiration since she was 16-years-old is simply this: help others, help others.