In this video, I’m joined by Thom from New Hope for Families. New Hope for Families recently surpassed its $50k fundraising goal through its fun and fast-paced HOPE-A-THON. This live stream event featured live entertainment, special guests, and heart-warming stories of New Hope for Families' incredible work for children and families in crisis in the Bloomington, Indiana, community. This organization raised over $76k to continue to provide crucial services to local families impacted by homelessness during an unprecedented time, and Thom’s here to explain how. He shares:

  • Why they chose to host their first-ever telethon on Givebutter
  • How they used Givebutter to streamline their fundraising efforts
  • Tips, tricks, and lessons learned for seeking out strategic partnerships to increase your impact
“[Givebutter] was so customizable. It really did allow us to make it look like a product of our organization... There's so much, in fact, customization that you can do within Givebutter for any specific event or campaign, my greatest recommendation is give yourself lots of time to go through those settings in Givebutter. Familiarize yourself with all of the different options of what all is possible and what you can do because I feel like this tool could very easily do events of different types. It worked perfectly for us in this case because we really dug into all those settings and options and made it work for us.”

You’ll want to have this inspiring telethon on speed dial!

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Full video script

Rachel: Hey everybody! Rachel here with Givebutter. Welcome back to another Success Story in the Givebutter community. Today, we are featuring New Hope for Families. Recently, this organization’s HOPE-A-THON live stream event raised over $76,000 on Givebutter for it's life-changing services to provide emergency shelter for women and children—and that's above and beyond their $50k goal. If you're looking for an interactive, fast-paced, successful campaign that uses live stream, live entertainment, or a straight up 80s-style telethon, this one's for you. I have Thom here with me who's going to share what made this event so successful as well as tips, tricks, and lessons learned like always. Thom, thank you so much for joining us and for sharing your success with the entire Butter Fam.

Thom: Thank you, Rachel! I appreciate being here.

Rachel: So excited to dive in and hear more behind-the-scenes of your success. To start, let's hear a little bit more about who you are and your organization's mission.

Thom: Sure! To start, New Hope for Families is a homeless shelter here in Bloomington, Indiana. We serve the city of Bloomington and the greater Monroe County area, which includes all of the surrounding counties. We are a homeless shelter for families, specifically. That could be a family really of any kind or description: a single mother with children, a single father with children, a mixed-sex couple, a same-sex couple. Really in Indiana, in particular, obviously not only is it difficult to be homeless with children, it's actually illegal to be homeless with children. The child services will come in a situation like that and separate the children from their parents and place them into foster care. That's really what we want to avoid. Our mission is two-fold: to keep families together and to help families out of homelessness and back to stability. That's been our mission for the last 10 years and we're continuing to grow and evolve and serve more families on an annual basis. My name is Thom Atkinson. I’m the Development Assistant here which, like the title implies, means that I assist our Development Director. We’re mainly focused on fundraising but really we approach development for a much broader sense of donor relationships and building on those relationships over time in the hopes and with the ultimate goal that the money will come from that. We're a very small organization. A very small staff. Often, in addition to assisting the Development Director, I assist everybody in whatever the needs of the moment are. Obviously over the last year and a half during the coronavirus pandemic, those needs have been very broad and very diverse. I've been doing a lot of things from heavy lifting boxes of sheets and toilet paper to the usual, more development-oriented things you think of in terms of processing checks and making deposits and writing acknowledgement letters. It's a small organization. Very nimble. We're very active in the community, working with other agencies focused on the homelessness issue. The coronavirus pandemic really threw us a lot of challenges as an organization and Givebutter provided some elegant solutions to the challenges that arose over the last year.

Rachel: Well, that's amazing! Thank you so much for what you're doing personally to contribute and your entire team. Here at Givebutter we like to say ‘small but mighty.’ You are doing incredibly important work there and a part of that is, like you said, raising funds to support your critical mission. You did it with an 80s-style telethon that just made me smile ear-to-ear watching it. Walk us back to when you first started talking about maybe doing something like this. It seems like, from what I saw, it was totally new for your organization. How did the conversation even get started? Who threw that idea of a telethon out there?

Thom: It was so long ago I don't remember who specifically was guilty for first broaching the idea, but I can certainly lay out the context in which that conversation took place.

Rachel: Yes please!

Thom: Like many organizations, we have hosted an annual gala event which is really the temple for our annual fundraising efforts. It was incredibly common for that event to raise 10–20% of our annual operating budget just in one night. In 2020—yes, our gala’s always in the middle of February. Our Gala was actually the last major community event before the entire community and the entire nation went on lockdown due to COVID-19. It's ironic to think back. At the time, we were really concerned about people getting the flu and not being able to attend our event because of that, not knowing that a month later we would all be locked down in our homes because of COVID-19. The next year came along—and it was great that we were able to get that event done and out of the way before that happened. But then 2021 came along, and obviously we couldn't bring people together in the way that we had in past years. What are we going to do? This is really an important event in the annual life of the organization. It raises very real dollars that are very important to our operating budget. What are we going to do? The ideas were diverse. We've seen, obviously, a lot of organizations in our community and across the country moving to virtual galas or events like that. We wanted to do something different. We saw this as not just a challenge, but an opportunity. The idea eventually came about that we would pivot from doing a high-ticket gala event—with formal attire and a plated dinner and all of that—and do something more traditional but also more cutting edge. We decided we'll do a telethon. When you need to raise money fast from a lot of people, you do a telethon! Very much in the vein of Jerry Lewis and Shriners telethons of old. We thought we'll stream it online—since we and really not a lot of people have access to a television studio—we can stream it online. People can call in and make donations, or they can give online. We’ll have entertainment and we'll just do a whole big show that people can participate in from the comfort of their home, keeping in mind the COVID-19 protocols of the day. People could stay home, stay safe, still participate, still feel like they were part of something larger, have an experience, show their support, and then share that with other people at the same time.

Thom: We thought the telethon idea just checked all the boxes for us, but we had no experience doing a telethon. I don't know if people really do telethons much anymore. We didn't know what to do. We got this idea, but how do we execute? We looked at lots of streaming platforms. We were going to use YouTube, we were going to use Facebook Live—all these things. Then we remembered that our local PBS station is based here. We’re a college town. We have Indiana University, a major college campus, right here from the campus of which a PBS station broadcasts. Every year they do the big PBS Telethon. We're like, “Hey, they're experts. They know how to do this. Let's partner with them! Let's see if they'd be willing to partner with us and help us out in this way.” The result was just heaven sent. I mean, it was really a perfect coming together. The stars aligned. Because of COVID-19, they were very limited in what they could do. They didn't have a lot of projects going on at the time, so they were left wanting for things to work on. We had this idea that they would be perfectly suited to help us, so we forged a partnership. They actually provided us with a professional TV studio from which to do the event. We tapped into their experience and their expertise and really took what was a crazy idea and made it look absolutely professional like what you would see tuning into the annual Shriners Telethon or the PBS Telethon. It was just really fantastic. It really took it to another level. Given the modern age of broadcasting, they're also experts in streaming. They were very relaxed and comfortable doing that and helping us migrate this idea onto the streaming platform. Really, what we were left needing was a way to integrate the fundraising effort. To have the running thermometer-like tally of our telethon progress. That's part of the excitement. That's the part of the experience, the moment.

Rachel: Right, the momentum!

Thom: That's really what Givebutter provided to us and what drew us to the product.

Rachel: So well done! I'm sharing my screen here because I know everyone who's following right now is like, “Please just show me! What does it look like?” Here it is guys! If you want to watch the entire production from start to finish, you can actually hit play now. Of course, we will link this campaign for you to check it out. You could tell that there was high-level production, but it still felt really warm and approachable. It didn't feel overly produced when you watched it back. I thought your partnership did such a good job collaborating on that with a mix of pre-recorded and live. Even though it had an 80s throwback feel—which just made it fun and entertaining—it still felt really modern, here-and-now, today. Just a lot of balancing that you did so well. It's so hard for me to believe that this was your first telethon ever because you managed to find that balance for your organization really well. For everybody else who's wanting to take a look, not only was the actual production done really well, but their event description is so beautifully laid out as well as sponsorships. A really simple ‘About Us’ section for people to understand your story, the purpose, and where funds are going. Any tips, tricks, or lessons learned on Givebutter for this event for you?

Thom: Givebutter was great! We funneled interested individuals there to Givebutter to register in advance, so we could continue to push messages to them leading up to the day of the event to build some hype and build some excitement. “Hey, here's the announcement of who our performers are going to be! You don't want to miss that.” Letting them know, “Hey, don't forget it's coming up next week at this time. Be sure to tune in!” That was really great. Givebutter made that really easy for us to do, and it was so customizable. It really did allow us to make it look like a product of our organization. We got to use all the brand colors, the brand visual look that we've spent years investing in. That was great. The personalized URL so it reflected the identity of this event and of our organization. That was really top notch. There's so much, in fact, customization that you can do within Givebutter for any specific event or campaign, my greatest recommendation is give yourself lots of time to go through those settings in Givebutter. Familiarize yourself with all of the different options of what all is possible and what you can do because I feel like this tool could very easily do events of different types. It worked perfectly for us in this case because we really dug into all those settings and options and made it work for us.

Rachel: That's a great pro tip. You can tell that your supporters found it easy to use as well, in terms of donating, because you had a lot of fun little GIFs and comments, heartfelt memories. People were loving and commenting on each other. Like you said, that feeling of “We're all doing this together,” and “Something bigger than myself.” That interactive piece. It seemed like users found that easy as well.

Thom: Yeah! Another nice option that Givebutter offered was streamlining the whole process. During our early planning meetings, we had committee members throwing out great ideas. We have to make giving as easy as possible. We need to offer every possible payment method, so we should have a telephone number, we should have a web address for the web form, and we should have a Venmo for all of the Millennials who just want to Venmo their donation. This and this and social media and all that! We didn't have to worry about that. Givebutter brought it all together. Our professional partners and IU Radio and TV who helped put on the event made it look so professional. They provided us with the 1-800 number phone bank. We used the giving form built into Givebutter and it took care of everything. People who wanted to give via Venmo, it was right there. They could do that. They could use a credit card. They could make a pledge and then follow up by sending a printed check, which was also really important to us because it was a telethon. We wanted people calling in. We wanted to be able to take donations offline. We wanted to be able to enter someone's donation information that they called in to the telethon. Ultimately, that was the number one reason we chose Givebutter because while all of the online donations were processing in real time on the backend, I and a couple other users with manager privileges were able to go in and enter donation info that was coming in through the phones in real time. It added to our real-time tally, and it just really made the event possible from a technical standpoint.

Rachel: Wow, that's a great tip. I was going to ask you how you pulled that off. Just to close here, I’m wondering if you have one final piece of advice for others in the Givebutter community who are maybe getting together their first live stream fundraising event. You've already given lots of great tips, but if you could give them one piece of advice, what would it be?

Thom: Yes, absolutely. The number one piece of advice: find someone who knows what they're doing and partner with them. We had a crazy idea. We had no idea how to execute. We found a freelance multimedia producer who came in and managed the project for us. We found the professionals at our local public broadcasting station who were familiar with this kind of event and what that would take to put on. We just worked together from day one. They helped us. They told us what they would need to make an event like this work. We told them what our ultimate goal was and they helped us every step of the way to execute. That was essential! Without those key partnerships of a dedicated producer and the professional team at our public broadcasting station, we never would have been able to do it—at least at the quality that we ultimately attained. I agree with you, Rachel. You said that it really does look professional. It looks like a professional production; it really does. That's entirely due to the partnerships that we engaged with. The realness of it, the fact that you can genuinely feel the heart of the organization coming through, that was from our volunteers, our Executive Director, and the guy we got to host the event—who is the guy who owns all of our annual galas. He's a professional auctioneer. He does an auction event for us in the fall as well as the gala event for us in the spring. He is so knowledgeable about the work that we do and so committed to the importance of it. They brought the real emotional content there and it really shined through. My number one piece of advice: find someone who knows how to do it and partner with them.

Rachel: Yes, excellent piece of advice. Collaboration is so key. Thom, thank you so much for joining us again and sharing your incredible success with us today.

Thom: Yeah, happy to do it! We're really grateful to all the people at Givebutter. We had so many questions going into this and the staff at Givebutter was so responsive. Everything we asked, any hour of the day, I knew we would get a response right away. Boy, it really helped in the execution of this.

Rachel: So happy to hear it! Thom, thank you. We are so proud to have hosted your event. For everybody else who's following along—hey, thanks for joining us! We hope to see you next week for another incredible Success Story. Don't forget to like, share, and subscribe to Givebutter’s YouTube channel, so you never miss a story again. Until then, happy fundraising! We'll see you next week. Bye!

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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.

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