Superstorm Sandy convinced me I should do something new: raise money toward hurricane relief. If it weren't for the ease of nudging my friends and family to contribute by way of social media and online fundraising tools, I'm not sure I would have done it. I do know I wouldn't have been as successful.
Of the several sites I could have used to organize my fundraising campaign, I chose Crowdrise because I could link my efforts with a broader campaign by the New York marathon's organizers to turn the event into a Race to Recover. These and other sites make it easy to choose a charity to support and send appeals to friends and family. The sites handle the credit card transactions and tax receipts, and they forward the money to the charities, after taking out processing fees.
After signing up for a free Crowdrise account, it became clear it wasn't just a fundraising site, but a social network for raising money. When you join a cause, you are grouped into a team with others. Those teams are grouped into larger campaigns - in my case, the New York Road Runners' efforts to raise hurricane-relief money for a dozen local and national charities.
The money I raised was added to the team totals, so I could see the cumulative impact of our individual efforts. Some campaigns let you see their totals, too. A few thousand dollars might be a drop in the bucket, but the millions collectively raised by people like me made a bigger difference.
Create or join a cause
To get started, I simply visited the New York Road Runners' Crowdrise page for Sandy relief. I could make a donation without signing up if that was all I wanted to do. I simply had to pick which of the dozen charities should get my funds and provide credit card information.
Because I wanted to raise money myself, I created an account and browsed through the listed charities. I chose a local group that would disperse funds to where the needs are, The Mayor's Fund to Advance New York City. The process is similar for other groups and events.
If I weren't already part of an event, I could have simply clicked "I'm a Fundraiser" to search for a cause and raise money as an individual. Crowdrise already has a list of more than 1 million recognized charities, using a database from GuideStar, a research organization specializing in nonprofits.
Send out appeals
You're given a fundraising Web page, where you can describe the need and make your plea in your own words. Too lazy? Simply keep what's already there. You also can add photos.
Crowdrise has a bunch of tools for sending out appeals using Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or plain old email. I ended up posting my own links on Facebook because Crowdrise's 420-character limit conflicted with my tendency to ramble.
I encouraged my friends and family to spread the word, even if they couldn't give themselves.
As my direct appeals (read: spamming) faded, I simply added a link to the bottom of my outgoing emails. It's there as a reminder, but also out of the way.
Track your progress
Donations trickled in following my various appeals. Crowdrise sent me a notification each time and recommended "dropping everything you're doing so you can send a personal thank you." From your account, you simply hit a "Send Thank You" link next to each donor's name. There's a "Thank All Donors" list, too, if you're lazy.
Getting people to part with their money isn't easy, particularly for ongoing needs that aren't revolved around a crisis continually in the news. Two weeks after the storm, many people have moved on. Contributions are slowing.
But Crowdrise does make it easier. I know I'm more likely to give - and give more - when I'm supporting a friend's direct appeal. I love seeing that orange goal bar move closer to the 100 percent mark. I can only imagine it's influencing others in a similar way.
The catch is Crowdrise charges a fee on each transaction, at least 5 percent of the donation amount. Other fundraising sites do so as well, and when you're giving directly to a charity, there are similar amounts taken out for credit card processing and other costs. Crowdrise gives donors the option of paying a separate processing fee - but doing so does nothing to increase the amount going to that particular charity.
Online help for raising funds
NYRR Sandy relief: crowd
American Red Cross donation page: red
Mayor's Fund donation page: nyc.gov/html/