On April 9, 2014, college basketball lost its #1 superhero: 9-year-old Lacey Holsworth to childhood cancer.
Over the course of a few years, she built a heartwarming relationship with Michigan State University basketball player, Adreian Payne, that touched the nation. Her story was featured on ESPN, USA Today and CBS Sports, as the inspirational 9-year-old to consistently make grown men cry – myself included.
With a family member who suffered through the loss of a child to cancer, I felt personally connected and wanted to help. An idea came to me surprisingly quickly, so I took action. A few hours after Lacey’s family gave the heartbreaking news to her Instagram and Twitter followers, over 78,000 people, I created a Teespring campaign in her memory that donated 100% of profits to childhood cancer research.
In 24 hours it sold 400 t-shirts, totaling $8,000.
Two weeks later the campaign closed at 959 shirts, totaling over $19,000.
I saw an opportunity to turn something bad into something good and took action. It became more successful than I could have imagined, and I’ve learned a few strategies in the process that I’d like to share with you.
Transforming Bad into Good
First, I want to state what an inspiring story Lacey led. Her story struck an emotional chord with thousands of people.
As a foreword, I’m giving insights into effective fundraising tactics, but this is only a small aspect of this story. This article isn’t merely advice into raising money, but also a genuine tip of the hat to Lacey’s family for their incredible strength dealing with this tragedy. My respect goes out to the fullest to her family and other families whose children have suffered from cancer.
Let’s be clear about one thing – non-profits and research facilities will always need fundraising help. This problem isn’t going away. So please, I ask, do not believe this was some shrewd business experiment.
Hopefully this unconventional fundraising strategy sparks new ideas.
Timing is Everything
Acting quickly on a news story is a common tactic for bloggers and journalists, frequently dubbed as newsjacking. It’s a term coined by marketing consultant and author, David Meerman Scott, who defines the term as,
Newsjacking is the art and science of injecting your ideas into a breaking news story and generating tons of media coverage and social media engagement.
The first publication to write or broadcast the story, granted its quality of production is respectable, typically captures readership and credibility. For a peek inside the urgency and tension associated with journalists covering the news first, this clip from the HBO series The Newsroom couldn’t demonstrate it better:
In summary, the first to cover a story is the first to gain readership. Marketers and media gurus call it newsjacking.
I call it causejacking.
Causejacking is the action of transforming breaking news, both positive and negative, into a crowdfunded product where 100% of profits are donated to a good cause.
No, not 90%. Or 95%. Or even 99%.
Because if you’re transforming a sad story, such as the Lacey tragedy, into something beneficial… you’ve earned no personal privilege to inflate your wallet. Your wallet shouldn’t inflate when other’s emotions deflate.
Causejacking works because instead of asking blindly for donations, you’re providing value to the other party – merchandise or a product. Utilizing a crowdfunding resource, such Teespring, avoids sunk costs to unsold merchandise or inventory.
Causejacking is smarter because it benefits everybody:
- Your organization. Money is raised for societal or environmental welfare, depending on your organization.
- Your donators. Purchasers, or donators, receive a product in return instead of a straight donation. It gives them a further incentive to support your cause.
- You. Personal gratification for doing something meaningful.
If you’re leading fundraising efforts for an organization and you follow this business model…
follow the news -> quickly causejack product -> influencer promotion
… I’m confident you’ll be successful.
Let’s take a closer look into the timeline of the Love Like Lacey crowdfunding campaign.
Love Like Lacey Timeline and Tactics
Understanding the power of newsjacking, or causejacking in our case, it’s vital to act quickly with crowdfunding campaigns. Although my anticipation of the campaign’s success was high, by no means did I expect those sales in such short time. Again, timing is everything.
After filtering through different design concepts and receiving peer feedback, I decided on this design:
After publishing the design, I posted the campaign to my Facebook. Within a day or so, it reached 44 shares which helped organically jumpstart the campaign.
48 hours after publishing the design, it sold 600 shirts. The remaining 288 hours, or 12 days, it only sold 359. So why did 63% of sales happen within the first 2 days?
Timing is everything.
Emotions decrease exponentially with time after a major event. We’re psychologically motivated to take action when our emotional state peaks – which is highest immediately following a major event.
Think about any major news story – 9/11, Edward Snowden and the NSA, school shootings, etc. You were emotionally invested immediately following the news. Perhaps for a day, perhaps a week, a month or a year… depending on the situation. But your emotional connection to the story naturally fades with time.
When you’re fundraising using the causejacking strategy, time is of the essence. Once you’ve figured that out, the next step is product promotion.
Leverage Your Influencers
Influencers are a powerful resource for fundraising campaigns. It limits your advertising budget and naturally scales your promotion from trusted sources. The influencers for this campaign were the Michigan State University alumni leaders in various cities.
MSU has an incredible support network. Alumni and students across the nation came together after Lacey’s passing, remembering the inspiration Lacey provided us.
As a member of the San Diego MSU Alumni Club, I realized the San Diego alumni coordinator has access to every MSU alumni email in the San Diego region. As do alumni leaders for ALL cities. So I hopped on the MSU alumni database to capture emails from the extensive list of cities – such as Detroit, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, etc.
Then I sent an email to numerous leaders using this email template:
It worked like a charm. Alumni coordinators were ecstatic to send out to their list.
If you can find influencers who relate to your cause, leverage them. It’s a scalable process, sending one email to someone, who has access to hundreds of emails for alumni members in that city. TextExpander is a powerful tool (yes, they have a free version) for saving yourself time against manually copying and pasting.
If you’re unfamiliar with remarketing, it’s when you’re shown a banner advertisement for specific product you recently viewed. Does it ever feel like those shoes on Zappos or that book on Amazon are stalking you online? That’s remarketing. And it works.
I spent approximately $40 on Facebook advertisements, then realized Teespring automatically runs remarketing advertisements for current campaigns. To my surprise, I came across this banner advertisement after day 5:
After discovering the free advertising, I pulled my Facebook ad campaign.
Because free advertising is the best advertising.
There was no need to continue pushing advertisements when the platform automatically pushes it themselves. However, remarketing campaigns are something you should strongly consider for time-sensitive or crowdfunded products.
Be The Difference
If I can be completely transparent with you – I hated the direction my life was going a few years ago. I was graduating with a marketing degree from a top business college where we studied nothing but corporate marketing.
Learning about P&G’s positioning strategies to con middle-income moms into purchasing their laundry detergent. Kellogg’s advertising to children for very unhealthy cereal using cartoon characters. Tyson torturing chickens, pumping them with hormones, then showing advertisements of the classic American family meal eating around the table.
I asked myself… what am I doing in marketing? Where is the value in these products?
This was until I discovered the art of fundraising, socially-responsible companies and supporting businesses that make the world a better place for everyone.
So far, I’ve only raised $19,000 following the causejacking business model, but I’ll be experimenting with different strategies throughout 2014 to evaluate the most effective methods.
So I want to challenge you to turn something bad into good. How creative can your causejacking campaign be?
But most importantly — what difference can you make?