In this video, I’m joined by Tim and Sarah from Big Shoulders Fund. Big Shoulders Fund supports schools with demonstrated need which provide quality, values-based education for Chicago’s children. This mission is made possible thanks to support from its Chairmen's Advisory Council, which is made up of professionals who help support Big Shoulders Fund's 72 schools and 20,000 students through volunteering, building mission awareness, helping drive strategic initiatives, and raising critical funds. You’re definitely going to want to tune in and learn how this inspiring organization used team fundraising to surpass its $50k goal on Givebutter! Tim and Sarah dive into:

  • What made them turn to Givebutter for their peer-to-peer campaign
  • What made this event so successful (Hint: Personal team pages and stories!)
  • Tips, tricks, and lessons learned for empowering team fundraisers to raise support for your cause
“We just loved [Givebutter]! We saw the ways that Givebutter was really appealing to our donors who wanted to be able to give with the click of a button on their Venmo, PayPal, Apple Pay, etc. It was really just a great experiment for us, and we loved it very much. It really gave our donors a new platform for storytelling, for recruiting new partners in our mission, and it was awesome. We're obviously going to keep using Givebutter, but these campaigns have really shown us the appeal of Givebutter.”

Get ready to be blown away by this Windy City organization!

Campaign at a glance

View campaign

Full video script

Rachel: Hey everybody! It's Rachel here with Givebutter. Thanks for joining for another Success Story from the Givebutter community. Today, we are featuring the Big Shoulders Fund in Chicago. Recently, their Advisory Council raised over $87,000 on Givebutter to benefit Big Shoulders Fund who are helping address the digital divide for thousands of schools, students, and families. If you're looking for a successful team fundraiser or peer-to-peer example, this one is for you. I have Sarah and Tim here with me to share how they made this campaign so successful as well as tips, tricks, and lessons learned. Tim, Sarah, thank you so much for joining us today and sharing your inspiring story.

Tim: Thank you. Excited to be here!

Sarah: Thank you for having us!

Rachel: Excited to dive in! To start, why don't you guys both go ahead and introduce yourself and a little bit more about your organization's mission.

Tim: Sarah, go ahead.

Sarah: I'll let Tim dive into our mission, but my name is Sarah Tang. I work, obviously, at the Big Shoulders Fund. I'm on the Development Team on the operational side of things. I'm one of the Database Managers on our team.

Tim: Yes! My name is Tim Liston. I'm the Director of Donor Partnerships and Engagement. Part of what our role is—together as a Development Team—is we're kind of unique at Big Shoulders Fund. Oftentimes, when people think of development, they think purely of the fundraising, which is of course critical to our mission. But, we really believe in the power of engagement and getting our supporters involved in our mission and experiencing it firsthand and really making an impact at the school and student level before the fundraising. We find that when we do that, the support follows along with it. Just to give a brief overview of our mission, we serve 72 schools here in the city of Chicago which supports about 20,000 students. We are spread out all over the city of Chicago, so we touch just about every neighborhood that you can think of. We have four pillars within our mission. We were founded as a scholarship-granting organization about 34 years ago, and that's still our bread and butter: scholarships. Students and families who want to go to a Catholic school here in Chicago that might not otherwise be able to afford it, we work with them to provide those scholarships to access that quality education. That's the first pillar. Our second pillar is our academic programs, ensuring that not only our schools and our teachers have access to great programming, but also that we work alongside them to help build and drive that curriculum forward. When you think about some of the emerging fields such as STEM and financial literacy and tools that these students will be using not just today but well into their adult life in their careers, we're building those programs out in a way that they're able to access those and benefit from those. Third is our operational improvements within our schools. That takes a lot of different forms. The two key areas are that a lot of our schools are pillars in the community. They have been there for 100 plus years in some cases. Working with them to make sure that the school is a safe, welcoming environment that families want to send their students and schools to and that are also up to date on things. Technology and a lot of the resources that you need for education. That's one part of it, but the other part of it is also working with the principals and the leadership of these schools to identify some strategic initiatives. A number of our principals will come into the role as former teachers, so things like budgeting and personnel and strategy plans might not necessarily be their subject matter experts. We work with them to help develop those and help strengthen those core elements of running a school. Then, our fourth one—like any other organization, our schools are only as good as their leaders. We have a Leadership Development Program that takes two tracks. One is working with our principals to not only be a resource for them and help to improve some of those leadership development skills that they're looking to acquire but also our teachers, making sure that they have all the resources as a teacher in not only how they build out their curriculum, as I said, but also working with families and working with students and having some of those soft skills of a teacher. Many of our staff members are former teachers themselves, so they can relate too. Those are our four mission areas. The Chairmen's Advisory Council and Auxiliary Board—which we'll talk about in a minute—are instrumental in that support. That's our mission in a nutshell!

Rachel: Amazing! It's just so evident that you are taking a people-first approach and you’re holistically serving your students, teachers, and families in the Chicago community. Thank you for the important work that you're doing! I can absolutely see how this campaign is relevant to your mission: addressing the digital divide. Walk me back to the beginning. How did this idea get ignited? Where was the spark? Have you done a campaign like this every year? Was it a COVID thing? What were the first initial conversations like?

Tim: It really started from the Executive Committee of our Chairmen's Advisory Council (CAC). Each year, over the last several years, we've identified what we call a “core initiative'' that we want to address at the CAC level but that would hopefully spread within our organization as a whole. We've worked on areas such as diversity and inclusion—that was a few years ago. We've worked on Board collaboration, which is also a key component to how this was successful because we actually learned from our Auxiliary Board a lot of the tips and tricks of how to set up pages and utilize Givebutter. We learned from them, and that is all part of that kind of collaboration. This year, we took a focus on addressing the digital divide. For those who might not be familiar, the digital divide refers to the disparity between resources of schools that have the resources and those that don't. We serve a population of students that often are in under-resourced communities, especially during COVID, but this is something that's gone on now for a decade plus at some of our schools. Having access to high-speed internet and having access to updated hardware and software that they can use to not only access the curriculum that they need to access, but that they can take home and work on homework because every year our school curriculum gets more and more digital. To be able to stay ahead of the curve, you need to have all those resources. The CAC began to identify this. A number of stories and studies have come out of what the digital divide can do to set students back. We wanted to be in front of that, so that was a core area. We started this whole campaign by putting together a Technology Working Group. That was comprised of a number of our CAC members who have technology backgrounds. They said, “Let's start from the beginning. Let's identify what some of those major needs are.” I referenced a couple of them: definitely the access to high-speed internet is a big one and upgraded hardware. You'd be surprised that some of the students are working on laptops that might be three or four years old that haven't been updated. They run very slowly, and they have trouble accessing certain software. Those were a couple of the key ones. Another one that emerged—that again, wasn't necessarily surprising, but really came through in a number of the surveys that we sent out—was having the training for teachers to be able to share this with their students and share this with their families. This is what we're working on, these are the platforms that we're using, and here's how you can access them in an effective and efficient way. That Technology Working Group—through some work here internally with our staff—really helped develop this survey that went out to 30 of our schools. The results came back, and we poured through those and started to prioritize what some of those needs are. That helped to build the case statement for the campaign that was to come. The Technology Working Group then connected with our Development Committee which does a lot of our fundraising initiatives in addition to our annual giving and some of our special events that we run annually. The Development Committee thinks about some of these initiatives that they want to run with the CAC. They collaborated; those two committees collaborated. The Tech Group gave this case statement. The Development Team said, “Okay, let’s build out this campaign.” They started to form teams and those teams then reached out to other CAC members to say, “Hey, will you join my team? In doing so, will you reach out to your networks and tell them the story and share with them the importance of this? Share with them the impact they could potentially make.” There was a lot of groundwork that was done in advance of the campaign going live. I think that created a really high-level buy-in of those that are on the CAC and it makes storytelling to your network that much easier when you truly understand what the need is and why we're doing what we're doing.

Rachel: That is genius, Tim. I don't know if I've heard of a team fundraiser on Givebutter yet that has had team leaders or teams be so involved in a programmatic level—not just for fundraising. That is genius! Sarah, I'm assuming that you took all that wonderful vision and finessed it into the nuts and bolts on Givebutter. What made you turn to Givebutter and how did you pull that off logistically?

Sarah: Yeah! First of all, thanks Tim for that wonderful illustration of the context. I just also wanted to add that I think this project and campaign really shows the need for nonprofits like ours to be agile and flexible. Big Shoulders, as a whole, really pivoted to meeting basic needs for our families and schools with meal distribution as well and some rent assistance funds that we had throughout the COVID year. Tim and the CAC really had to be flexible and identify with awareness that these are compounded issues. The digital divide is definitely compounded when it was during COVID days when students had to be at home. That existing issue had become worse because there was no flexibility around making turnarounds and how to make that work in the school. When students had to be at home, that was really important. Kudos to Tim! I would have to give the credit to our Auxiliary Board liaison, Kevin Pits, for finding Givebutter. He was the one who told me about it. We first started with his campaign. Really thinking through that this is a very flexible platform for us to use. That was such a great appeal to us because the pivots go like this! [Sarah snaps fingers]. It's within an hour, a day, or within a couple days you have to make it work. He was the one who showed us the platform. We first used it with his campaign called the Big Give with the Auxiliary Board. We just loved it! We saw the ways that Givebutter was really appealing to our younger donors who wanted to be able to give with the click of a button on their Venmo, PayPal, Apple Pay, etc. It was really just a great experiment for us, and we loved it very much. It really gave our donors a new platform for storytelling, for recruiting new partners in our mission, and it was awesome. We're obviously going to keep using Givebutter, but these campaigns have really shown us the appeal of Givebutter.

Rachel: Amazing! I’m going to go ahead and share my screen here because I know everyone who's following along is like, “Please, let me see it!” And yes, it’s as beautiful as you were imagining it to be! Obviously, this campaign is closed; however, we're going to link this below so everybody who's following along can check out your team pages, team member pages that some people chose to make more personal. Then, of course, your beautiful story section. You have lots of love in your supporter feed as well! What are some tips, tricks, and lessons learned as we're looking at your campaign here that you would be willing to share with everybody?

Tim: I would say a few important ones—and you talked about the story and the supporter feed. I think those are two great examples because one of the things that the Development Committee did so well is they said, “Hey, make this personal! We're all going towards one common goal, but your connection to this mission is very different than the person next to you, so make it personal.” Anytime you're doing any sort of fundraising or campaign like this, the person who's reaching out to their network, it has to be that connection. I think the stories, as you mentioned, were so important. If you look at some of the individual ones, they could say, “Oh, my grandfather went to a Big Shoulders Fund school,” or “I've been a mentor for 15 years and that's why this is important to me.” It really varied in so many different ways. That tells not only the breadth of the organization and all the ways that people are connected and involved, but it also shows those individual stories to their broader network. I think that's one key lesson and that was something, again, I give credit to Kevin Pits who's Sarah and my colleague. He really did some of the research to say, “Hey, this is how you use the story. This is where to put it. This is where the individuals can put it.” He did a lot of that legwork in identifying the tools that you could use within Givebutter. Then, how the CAC ultimately applied those was very beneficial to the campaign. The supporter feed—I have got to tell you, this is relatively new to me, and I loved it! You can see some of them and not only are they cheering themselves and they're recognizing their own donors, but we also have Co-Chairs as well of the CAC. One name that you probably saw multiple times is Kathy Buck. She did all those GIFs of, “Hey, we're doing it!” What I think was great was it helps with the momentum and it makes it fun. But also, it was recognizing all the people that were giving. Everyone was calling out each other in a positive way to say, “Hey, way to go! Hey, you got us one step closer!” When we ultimately reached our goal and then exceeded it, it was all that supporter feed that I think really brought the energy to the campaign that might not otherwise be there. I would also say, another key component of that was having all that data and those survey results—all the back-end groundwork for the campaign—that helped. As I mentioned, that took a lot of time, but I think it equipped our individual members with the story that can be cumbersome to tell because it's different for each school. It's different for each student. But when you can say, “Hey, we know that of these 30 schools, 80% of them are lacking x-y-z within the realm of technology.” When you can point to that and say this is data that we've received from the schools, then it makes it that much easier to tell that story. Another thing that I would say in terms of the tips and the tricks is, we would send...because this was only two weeks. When you think of some campaigns that might drag on—I don't say “drag on” in a negative way—but when there's not as much urgency, I think people are like, “Oh, I'll get to it next week.”

Rachel: For sure!

Tim: Everyone was so adamant. They were like, “Hey, we have two weeks. We have got to get on this. Everybody, get your thing out right now. We sent some template emails. We sent some template social media posts.” Everyone jumped right on! The final thing that I would say that was really helpful was having those team leads because they would check in on their teams and say, “Great job! Keep it up! Hey, how can we help? What else can we do to support you? Have you had any questions? Have you run into any roadblocks?” I think having those team leads made it organizationally a lot easier because I didn't have to check in on 80 different people. I was checking in on 10 people who were each checking on eight people. I think the team leads elements of it and how it's laid out on the pages to show it was really cool. They can say, “Oh I'm on Kristina's team. Oh, I’m on Greg's team. I'm going to go to them and this is what I'm going to give.” It was just a very visually easy-to-use platform. That was something that we really were drawn to. As Sarah said, Kevin when he did all that research was like, “This is super easy.” Some giving sites can be a little bit tougher to use, but with this, it's all right on that first page. I think that's what also helped just from a logistics standpoint of making the ask, getting them to the page, and getting the donation, and then getting that acknowledgement immediately. We can then follow up with individuals. In that follow-up outreach, I personally thank everyone just to say thanks, but I would often copy the team leads to say, “Hey, thanks so much. Tom is a great guy!” Some of them were parents or some of them were bosses. That always feels good when you’re recognized in that way. I think it was a number of things that worked really well. One thing in particular—and this is an individual shout out to a member of our CAC who works at EY, Ernst & Young. They kicked things off. When we came to the Executive Committee and said, “Hey, this is an issue. We should think about making it our core priority issue for the year.” Molly Cook—who's at EY and is involved in a number of ways and is just an incredible supporter and volunteer—said, “Well hey, let me see if I can get the EY to kick start and we'll do a match if we reach our goal.” They very generously did that, so that was the carrot on the end of the stick. “Hey guys, we don't get this match unless we hit our goal!” I think that also really gave a lot of momentum and a lot of inertia to everyone else saying, “We have to get this if we want that additional match.” I give her credit as well as being a spark to get everyone excited in addition to all the other members that were really instrumental in building it.

Rachel: Yeah, those are great tips! Sarah, would you add anything to that?

Sarah: We also really loved the flexibility of adding questions to the payment transaction form—the step-by-steps. We were able to have questions there about if they want to stay in touch as new donors to Big Shoulders. That was really helpful for us to be able to tailor that and customize that and retain that engagement. We also had outreach to donors who may not be comfortable on an online platform. Givebutter really allowed us to have that flexibility to say, “We also actually got a $10,000 check!” We could add it to the total and things like that that were very clear in the transaction reports. It made my life a lot easier when I was doing the import to Salesforce. I think those were two things that I think especially stood out to us during this campaign. We've had some great engagement numbers. We even had about 10% of re-engaged donors for this campaign. People who are able to shoot a text to their friend, being able to do that on the phone, I think it really helps with reengagement because it's just that much easier to take that action. These are the things that really stood out to us.

Rachel: Amazing! Yes, these are such good tips and tricks of the trade that you're both mentioning. One thing that I'm hearing you both say is it's really important for a successful peer-to-peer campaign to have a strong foundation, good buy-in from your team leads, and support for them. Build momentum, trust the process, and use all the features that you possibly can to keep it simple. I feel like this was just a textbook example of all the things that build team success and community success. It's clear that your supporters are rallying as one voice together for one cause. It can be really easy to be sidetracked from that mission, and your team did that so well. Congratulations on this campaign! We can't wait to see how you use these funds and the lives that will be impacted in Chicago. For those that are following along and that have, of course, fallen in love with Big Shoulders, where can they find you?

Tim: Our website and their social media handles. We're @BigShouldersFund for our media handles and then our website is You can find us pretty much on any major platform that you can think of. We are still on Givebutter. We're using that for further outreach efforts as well. Honestly, the big thing that we always encourage people to do is find out about us, but really find out about our schools and our students and the people that we serve. It's one thing to hear from us, it's another thing to see it firsthand and to see these communities that believe so strongly in the value of a quality education. Once we get you in, we really want you to come into the school, see the students, spend time with them, and get involved in one of our programs or get involved in one of our Boards. As I said at the beginning, engagement is at the core of everything that we do. It's why I think our supporters and our volunteers believe so firmly in this mission because they experience it firsthand. I really do hope that you will find us and get involved. If education is important to you—and we hope that it is—this is a great way to access that and to get involved in a nonprofit that you're interested in.

Rachel: Yes! We will link below. Tim, Sarah, thank you so much again for doing this and for using Givebutter to make an impact.

Tim: Thank you so much!

Sarah: Thank you!

Rachel: For everybody else that's following along, don't forget to like, share, and subscribe to Givebutter’s YouTube channel, so you never miss an inspiring story again. We will see you next week for another, and until then, happy fundraising. Bye everybody!

Tim: Thank you!

View campaign: Addressing the Digital Divide

Get started on Givebutter - it’s free →

This is some text inside of a div block.
Rachel Mills

Rachel Mills

Givebutter Marketing & Contributing Writer

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

Never miss a thing

Stay updated on our latest insights, events, and good news
Success! Check your inbox, good news is on its way 💛
Oops! Something went wrong while submitting the form.