Grassroots Giving


By Maria Walters, Guest Contributor

When faced with disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti, it’s easy to feel helpless and overwhelmed. What can one person, thousands of miles away, do to help in a crisis that big? Relief groups and charities appreciate individual donations, but how much help are we really giving when you’re looking thousands dead or hurt and billions of dollars needed?

You don’t have to be a lone voice. It’s surprisingly easy to put together a fundraiser or donation drive.

The Atlanta Skeptics, for example, meet once a month at a “Skeptics in the Pub” event. If you are part of one of these groups, contact the organizer and discuss turning your next event into a charity fundraiser. There are several ways to do this.

1. Use or other online organizing tools has some great tools to collect funds. Meetup even put out special instructions for turning your event into a Haiti relief event, which allows you to track how well your group does in comparison to other groups raising for the same charity.

Meetup allows you to notify all the members of the group and collect donations prior to the event via PayPal. This convenience appeals to people, and you can also collect additional funds in cash during the event by just having a donation jar somewhere prominent.

Keep in mind that you can do this with any event. You don’t have to have a speaker or special program. Do you attend a book club meetup, tweetup, or bar night? Turn the next one into a charity event and see what sort of response you get. And if you are not coordinating via Meetup, simply contact the members and let them know to bring some cash for donations during the event.

2. Plan a special event

If you don’t have an existing meetup that you can piggyback on, plan a separate one. You can make it an informal event in a bar where you collect donations in a social setting, or you can set up a more formal event, such as a speaker or trivia night. Which brings me to . . .

3. Give people incentive to donate

People can be great about donating to a good cause simply for the sake of donating, but if you provide an added value, they’re more likely to donate a bit more. Some ideas:

•    Organize a trivia night. Create a list of 20 to 30 trivia questions related to your group and let people team up and compete for a prize. Ask for a $5 donation from every person to participate.
•    Hold a raffle. Ask local members to donate small prizes and raffle them off. A small raffle is a great way to encourage every member to donate a few dollars in exchange for the chance at winning a prize.
•    Have a speaker and charge an entry fee. If you can track down a speaker or someone to lead a workshop or discussion, people will be willing to pay a small entry fee for the event. Check out local universities, theater groups, or bookstores for local speakers, authors, or performers who are willing to speak for free publicity.

There are thousands of great causes, and most individuals can’t donate more than a drop in the bucket. But increasing the amount you donate is often as simple as creating a setting that gives other people the opportunity to give.