Losing your donors in the numbers

 DENNIS HOFFMAN, CEO ENGAGE USA

DENNIS HOFFMAN, CEO
ENGAGE USA

The most successful fundraising campaign in GoFundMe history has raised $2 million in just two years for a sweet little girl named Eliza.

At just three years old, Eliza was diagnosed with a rare and little known disorder, Sanfilippo syndrome.  Also called childhood Alzheimer’s, the rapidly degenerative disease causes fatal brain damage.  Sadly, there is no treatment and no cure -- those who are diagnosed with the condition rarely survive to adulthood.

But Eliza’s parents, desperate to fight for their daughter’s life, created one three-minute video in the hopes of raising the funds for a clinical gene therapy trial -- a trial in which they hoped to include Eliza.

That video was released in 2014.  By 2016, the video had gone viral.  Not only has the original GoFundMe campaign raised the most money in the history of the site, but the response was so strong, Eliza’s parents created the Cure Sanfilippo Foundation.  To date, the foundation has raised $4 million towards funding experimental therapies, medications, and spreading awareness of a disease many still don’t know about.

As for Eliza, due to the strong outpouring of support from across the world, she was the first child in the world to receive an experimental gene therapy her parents say has put “a new light in Eliza’s eyes.”   With the funding, Eliza’s parents hope do the same for many more families and children dealing with the disease.

But Eliza’s story wasn’t the first.  In fact, there are a handful of charitable organizations reaching out to donors to help fund research for this condition. 

One of them, Team Sanfilippo, reported receiving $117 thousand in donations in 2012.

With several organizations working toward the same goal, what is it about little Eliza’s story that’s compelled so many people to give so much in such a short time?

Just watch the video and you’ll understand.

What this short video did that so many letters, brochures, and websites fail to do is make a condition that touches few families in reality touch hearts across the globe.

Two average people describing the dream life we’re all after turned upside down in the blink of an eye.  These could be any parents.  This could be any child.  This could be any of us.

Eliza’s campaign illustrates two critically important concepts in charitable fundraising:

Your cause must have an identity.  In the case of rare illnesses such as Sanfilippo syndrome, most of us without personal experience with the disease have only facts and statistics to understand the horror of this condition.  But after viewing this video, I will forever associate this condition not with the descriptions of the illness I read, but with Eliza’s face and her family’s remarkable story.  That story inspires me more than numbers ever could.

Secondly, by removing the statistics than can often make donors feel helpless to truly offer impactful assistance, they are much more likely to contribute.  Often we see in fundraising that the bigger the cause, the more people that need help, and the more broad the goals the organization wishes to achieve, the more overwhelming the task seems. 

Your donors can feel lost in all of those numbers -- what is their five or ten dollar donation really going to do to fix the damage caused by a natural disaster or famine?  That small amount could be a large sacrifice to your donors, and without assurance that it will truly make an impact with your cause, they will be much less likely to make that sacrifice.

This campaign started as a simple fundraiser for one little girl to receive a treatment she desperately needs.  Donors got to hear her family’s story, see her face, and were given the simple and immediately achievable goal of funding one specific clinical study.  Rather than raise money initially for all children suffering with this illness to put toward researching a cure -- a cure that sadly may take time -- the family rallied donors around one child and funding one trial and later created a foundation of their own.   

As you prepare to tell your donors the story of your cause, be sure not to lose your donors in a sea of statistics and numbers.  Although you may think they ram home the desperate need for funding and support, they can just as easily have the opposite affect on donor psychology -- they can make your donor feel hopeless, too.

And above all, you must tell a story.  Give your donors faces and names and real life experiences to put an identity to your cause.  These faces, names, and stories are relatable -- numbers aren’t.

If you’re interested in supporting Eliza and her family’s fight to put an end to Sanfilippo syndrome, you can view their original fundraiser here.