Success Story: Soaring Spirits International raises $85k during 24-hour Livestream with Givebutter

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Rachel MillsWhite arrow icon

Success Story: Soaring Spirits International raises $85k during 24-hour Livestream with Givebutter

In this video, Michele and Jenny from Soaring Spirits International share how they used Givebutter Livestream to provide 24 hours of community, connection, and hope for widowed people worldwide. Through this fundraising event, they’ve raised $85k to support Soaring Spirits’ innovative and life-affirming events, groups, and online programs. They also share:

  • Insights from behind-the-scenes of Livestream Fundraising
  • Vision for an event that gives back to supporters while also raising support
  • How Givebutter stood out from other fundraising platforms
  • What made Soaring Spirits’ fundraising campaign so successful (Hint: Live Supporter Feeds!)
  • Helpful tips for engaging with supporters during Livestream Fundraising events
“We've had a lot of experiences with a variety of platforms. Oftentimes, Jenny will say to me, “Okay, this is what I think it does.” And Givebutter was one of the only platforms we have ever used that delivered on every single thing they said they did.”

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Full video script

Rachel: Hi, all! Rachel here with Givebutter again. You are going to really enjoy today's Success Story. In fact, you may have seen it: we've shared it in our newsletter that we send out every week. This is going to include a livestream fundraising example, which I know everybody's talking about, is excited to use, or has just recently tried for the first time on Givebutter because it's brand new to our platform. I have Michele and Jenny from Soaring Spirits [International]. They are going to share about their incredibly successful livestream fundraising campaign that is still live and is going to wrap-up at the end of this week. Their goal is to raise $100,000 and they have raised over $82,000 so far. We want to know, how are they doing that? Are there tips, tricks, or things that we can be using to make our campaigns even more successful, whether they're live or going to be launching in the near future. I would definitely keep listening if you want to learn more about how to make the most out of Givebutter's livestream or if you just want to be inspired by an incredible story. The work that they're doing is really powerful. They're providing community-based resources for widowed people. I think you're going to want to hear more about that because it's a really touching story and there's a lot to hear from the two of them today. So welcome! Thank you so much to both of you for representing Soaring Spirits and for joining us today.

Michele: It's such a joy to be here. We have really loved our interactions with Givebutter, so to be able to take it to another level is really fun. Thanks.

Rachel: Thank you so much. To start, could both of you introduce yourself, share what your role is with Soaring Spirits, and a little bit about what you guys do: your mission and vision.

Michele: I'm Michele Neff Hernandez, and I am the Executive Director and Founder of Soaring Spirits International. Our work is to provide resource-based programs for widowed people as they rebuild their lives after the death of a spouse or partner. I'm joined by Jenny.

Jenny: Hi guys, I'm Jenny. I am our Global Operations Manager, and I help run the day-to-day operations for our programs: be they in-person, online, or fundraising. Michelle, will you just give a quick update on how the organization started?

Michele: Yeah! Actually today's our 12-year anniversary, which I shared with Rachel earlier, so it's a perfect day to be sharing the work of Soaring Spirits. I was widowed in 2005 when my husband was killed in a cycling accident. I didn't know where to find other widowed people, and I really just wanted to ask them some questions. From that basic desire to connect began the idea–and the impetus–for the work that Soaring Spirits does. We really do focus on those peer communities. We focus on making sure that every one of our programs is about connection. While we do offer very valuable resources–we work very hard to make sure we're providing things that people can use for healing–we also stay pretty focused on making sure that we are encouraging connections and lifelong friendships. Our community is for widowed people by widowed people. Our leadership is all widowed themselves. We've all walked through this experience, so when we speak about it, we speak about it personally.

Jenny: I can attest to the wonderful support that the programs give because I came to Soaring Spirits very early after the death of my fiance six years ago through a late-night Google search when I couldn't sleep. I was looking for some support for widowed people and it turned out Soaring Spirits was having one of their in-person events in my backyard here in San Diego. Ten weeks after the sudden death of my fiance, I walked through the doors. From the very beginning I was greeted with this community of people who are now some of my second family and best friends, even six years later, because that peer support is so important and valuable. Especially when you're dealing with such an upheaval of your life.

Rachel: Thank you both for introducing yourselves and also the incredible work that your nonprofit is doing. To jump a little bit deeper into your campaign: Michele, can you share a little bit more about your Livestream Phone-a-thon? What was your fundraising strategy? Tell us more.

Michele: It was so brand new. It brought us to Givebutter specifically because we were looking for a platform that would allow us to livestream. We were in the midst of having just canceled a huge in-person event–actually, we transferred it into an online event. We knew that we were facing a number of fundraisers that were not going to be done in the way that we had planned them. That equaled about $100,000 of funding that was critical to our mission. But we also were in this space in the world where we wanted to give back. We wanted this to be an uplifting opportunity for people to connect, to share what matters to them, to be able to share themselves with their community, and in so doing share their loved one with the community. We started with the concept of, like a concert, but we didn’t know any famous people who might want to do a concert. Since we weren't going to do a concert, the idea of the Jerry Lewis telethon came to me. To be honest, it was an inspiration from Mrs. Maisel, the popular show, right?

Rachel: Yes!

Michele: So there's the episode where she's on the telethon, and people are calling in. Nobody expects that they're going to make a lot of money on her segment, but they do. I just had this vision: what if we ran 12 hours of content straight and we encouraged people to have a sense of interacting. Not only with our community, but also with their own communities. Having the idea of, you know how when you're scrolling social media and you see a video? You stop for a second. If people were doing all kinds of different things every time you stopped, maybe it would bring people into our mission. It also gave us the opportunity to share some powerful testimonials. It was a blend of testimonials and programs that we were able to share, mixed in with comedians, dancing, singing, and really just a variety show. It was phenomenal. Really, the crux of it was being able to stream live.

Rachel: Wow! How long did it take you to plan and execute your live stream?

Michele: How many days did we have Jenny? I think nine days.

Rachel: Days? Wow, that is so impressive!

Michele: Because we knew that we were going to be coming to the end–or at least to an adaptation of–shelter in place. By this time, people had been inside for so long that we imagined, like when a park opened, people were going to be like, “I am out of this house. I'm not looking at another video.” We felt like the shuttling up to that was coming, and we didn't want to miss the window. Then that was going to be followed immediately by the nonprofit movement that became the second Giving Tuesday, Giving Tuesday Now. We wanted to really get in a space where that telethon could also take us through Giving Tuesday, in whatever way that was going to pan out–which was at that point unclear. The timing became critical. When the idea was finally formed, it was like, “Can we pull this off in nine days?” And the answer is, we did. Like I said to you earlier, all the technology gods participated, so we were really grateful.

Rachel: Wow! It sounds like it was a lot of factors coming together that built up to this: it was the right time, there was the cancellation of other events that led to your ultimate goal of $100,000, and it was capitalizing on one of your organization’s strengths: community. Something that you said that really is so unique to me is you wanted to give back to your supporters. As you created your livestream, you wanted to create an experience that was enriching for them. And that shows because you were so creative in what you did. Again, I just think it's so impressive that in nine days you pulled off your first livestream and hours and hours and hours of variety content.

Michele: 30-minute segments. We had a 24 each day; 48 total. Some of them were getting booked as the rest of the livestream was going. You're watching me online, and I'm also typing over here to be able to answer the person who said they could do tomorrow at three o'clock. There were a lot of pieces to it. As you said, when you walk into fundraising with a goal of also giving back, it adds an element to people's experience that they find it within themselves to decide why they want to give. You're giving them all of these different reasons. Basically you're saying thank you for being a part of our community, and this is why we care about it. And then you’re giving them the opportunity to discover why they care about it. Many of our current supporters said it was the first time they felt that they had the opportunity to share Soaring Spirits with their community because it wasn't grief-based. It wasn't about widowhood. It was instead this variety show. Many of the people who were participating were widowed themselves, so there was this beautiful blend of all of the pieces of our lives, including being able to remember people in a public way that was positive and uplifting. I think people really responded to that. Another reason why the livestream on the Givebutter platform was so important for us was that people were sharing their loved ones’ pictures and making their donations in honor of their person. It was, and still is, a beautiful stream of love just covering up the whole page.

Rachel: I'm going to go ahead and share my screen right now, so that everybody who's watching can take a look at your beautiful page and some of these incredibly touching pictures and messages on your live supporter feed on the right hand-side. A lot of donations were made in memory of, which I was just so moved by, as I’m sure everyone who’s watching right now is too. All the pictures. Jenny, I'm going to pass it to you to talk a little bit more about the logistics of running this impressive livestream campaign on Givebutter. What was your experience like?

Jenny: Givebutter was honestly a godsend in this circumstance, honestly. It actually started because we were looking for a simple text-to-give. I stumbled across Givebutter in an early search, knowing that I didn't have a whole lot of time to put this whole thing together. I saw the text-to-give option and dove in a little bit deeper. Sure enough, there in front of us was the livestream option. I did a double-take because I was like, “Oh my gosh.” This could actually give us the ability to reach so many more people and to share what we're going to be (hopefully) hosting from Zoom to our Facebook page. Then from Facebook to Givebutter. I have a lot of love for your customer support team. They were so fantastic throughout the process, answering questions at all, literally all, hours of the night. At one point I responded to, I think it was Tori, “What are you doing awake right now?” She wrote, “I could say the same for you!” So it was just that level of community, customer service, and support that really led us into being able to work out all the kinks. And the kinks were not on Givebutter’s site: it was the Zoom to Facebook and the question “How are we going to get it all linked up?” It started with a question and ended with what you see on your screen. We're just so grateful because the experience was seamless. It really truly was.

Rachel: I'm so glad to hear that. So Jenny, was it another Google search for you?

Jenny: Oh yeah! Google saves my life apparently all the time. Another Google search, yep!

Michele: I do want to say to you, Rachel, we've had a lot of experiences with a variety of platforms. Oftentimes, Jenny will say to me, “Okay, this is what I think it does.” And Givebutter was one of the only platforms we have ever used that delivered on every single thing they said they did. That's huge! For any nonprofit, anyone who's ever used any platform, knows that it might say this, but it might mean that. Or you might have to do this in order to get what you thought you were going to get. That didn't happen at all with Givebutter. We were so impressed by the fact that it could do all of the things that it said that it would do.

Rachel: Thank you so much for saying that. I'm glad to hear that you found Givebutter to deliver on what we said we would deliver and be there to support you through that process. Jenny, what was the onboarding process like for you in setting it up? How long did it take you? What was your experience on the back-end of running a campaign like?

Jenny: I was in touch with the customer service team and in between responses I immediately started tinkering around and playing with it. We created a test campaign that we could use to figure out the connection between all of the different platforms and Givebutter. Setting up this page was so easy. Everything's easily laid out, very user-friendly, and very intuitive. There were no real questions like, “How do I get this thing to work?” It was more minor questions here and there. Things like, “Are you sure it's going to work?” That kind of stuff. Setting up on the back-end was super easy and seamless. Setting up the test campaign was a great idea because we could then use that as a way to test the connection for the livestream. Beyond that, the actual day of was populating as it happened. Literally as it happens, the donation pops up in the thread. There is a slight delay when you're doing a livestream between what you're actually doing on Zoom and how that shows up on Givebutter or Facebook, but that was not a problem at all. Even the after-campaign stuff–such as getting the money from you guys to the bank account–all of that was seamless. 100 percent seamless.

Rachel: Good! I'm so glad to hear that. It sounds like you're saying that in addition to being seamless, it was really user-friendly. You know what stands out to me too? It seems it was like that for your supporters as well. You said it was your first time using Givebutter, and I would have thought this was your 10th campaign, looking at the comments! They had no problem figuring out how to use that thing. I saw there were pictures that were drawn, photos uploaded, stories, and messages. They seemed to just find it really intuitive as well.

Jenny: Yeah, we had nothing but good feedback.

Michele: You can imagine that's particularly important if they're wanting to make a donation or wanting to make this in dedication of their loved ones. That kind of experience, for us as an organization, adds another layer of care from Givebutter for Soaring Spirits.

Rachel: I'm going to go ahead and ask my final question here; this is for both of you. For any nonprofit that's watching right now, or reading along with this Success Story, what would be your tip, trick, lesson learned, or word of encouragement to them? Lets say if it's their first livestream as well. What would you say to them to get the most out of livestream on Givebutter?

Michele: I'll go ahead and share two tips that I think were really important to our success. The first one is to really know your community. Plan something for the people that you serve. You know their values, you know what they care about, and you know why they care about what you do. Then you plan around those values and that dedication they have to the mission. That was one of the reasons why our campaign was so successful: because we knew that our people would be grateful for the opportunity to share their people, the person they love, the person who's died. There's not always an opportunity to do that in a public way that's positive and uplifting. We were certain that our community would really value what we were doing. What was a surprise was how much they shared it and how their community–their personal sphere of influence–was involved in the effort. That was super cool. It was a super cool side effect. I think it starts with knowing your community and being able to plan something that they will care about. Then the second thing is to be real. Have an experience that's a live experience. We had no idea what was going to happen over these 12 hours. 24 different acts and every 30 minutes we were changing them out. There were times when we had three people in the waiting room: two of them were there at the wrong time, one of them was there early, and none of them were supposed to be there at all! We just had all these crazy things going on. I would just say, “Well there's a few people in the waiting room and while we're waiting for them, we'll talk about…something else.” It just made it so that people felt like they were part of an actual livestream. Because crazy things happen in life, crazy things also happen on livestream.  Allow space for that, and free yourself from the need for it to be picture-perfect. Instead, allow it to just be fun and life-driven. When you do that, people are just really welcoming of that experience. They totally understood that something crazy might be going on in the background and appreciated that we were basically saying “The show goes on no matter what.” Make sure that you have fun and that you allow it to be as crazy as it might be, without letting it get you off course.

Jenny: On my end, I would suggest to really get dirty with the testing. We spent hours figuring out the Zoom to Facebook livestream capabilities. The turning on of the cameras and turning off of the cameras means that on the livestream, even though I was running the tech, I wasn't on screen. Really take the time to get to know the intricate details of how to work it.Aside from that, have a team to support that effort throughout the length of your campaign. I think it made all the difference in being able to usher in the new act, if you will, while also having a steady support there to help with the tech side of things was key to our success. We also had a number of people watching the Facebook livestream as well, because that's where a lot of the commenting would happen with the people that were watching on that platform. We had a team ready to respond to their comments and questions, which really helped make the whole thing seamless between all the various platforms. Just have fun with it! If you're completely scared or nervous, all of that will wear off within the first 30 minutes or so. Just have fun because, especially during this time, we're trying to promote positivity and light-heartedness on top of everything that's going on in the world right now. The more you can have fun with it, the more your folks will have fun with it. And hopefully will support the campaign.

Rachel: All right. Thank you both so much for those words of wisdom. I think lots of advice for people to take with them as they're launching their campaigns or are in the middle of them. I'm Rachel with Givebutter. Thanks so much for joining us for another Success Story. I know you're going to walk away just as inspired as I am to go promote positivity and do more good. Thank you both for representing Soaring Spirits today in the nonprofit community. Really appreciate it.

Jenny: Thank you Givebutter. We'll be back!

Rachel: Take care!

View campaign: Soaring Spirits Telethon for Hope

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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.