Thursday, May 13, 2010

Fundraising in Hard Economic Times: how one person’s story saves the lives of starving children

Fundraising in Hard Economic Times: how one person’s story saves the lives of starving children

Carrie Christos

Just how hard is it to raise $20,000? Ask Stephanie Janssen, who raised $12,000 and then another $8,000 for Kids Against Hunger, a Cincinnati based program that supplies nourishing, life saving food to hungry children here and around the world. At 25 cents a meal, the $20,000 Stephanie helped to raise provided around 80,000 life-saving meals to children. At the Kids Against Hunger “factory”, currently located in Blue Ash, Ohio, teams of volunteers pack four ingredients – fortified soybean, essential vitamins and minerals, vegetables and rice – into each Kids Against Hunger packet.

In November 2009, Stephanie witnessed this packing firsthand when she served as a chaperone for her church youth group. Seeing the excitement of the group as they packed, and impressed with how tangible the results were, she began to talk with another chaperone and friend, Joel Mortensen, about organizing a future pack. That evening, while the youth group enjoyed ice cream, they talked further and agreed to raise $12,000 for the pack. Later that night, she looked up Kids Against Hunger online, contacted Larry Bergeron, founder and executive director of A Child’s Hope International, the umbrella for Kids Against Hunger, and communicated her interest.

The first $12,000 was not difficult, she says. She found a donor willing to match $6,000, then both she and Joel agreed to each try to find six people who would donate $500, for a total of 12 donors to come up with the remaining $6,000. They found five donors of $500, and made up the rest with smaller donations. Those not able to contribute treasures were asked if they could volunteer the day of the pack and bring family and friends with them, or help raise money with her. The turnout of 200 volunteers at the first pack was amazingly inspiring, and at the first pack, the sentiment of both kids and adults was, “We have to do more, we can’t just leave it at this.” A second pack was arranged, one that would raise an additional $8,000 for a total of $20,000.

Stephanie believes that while anyone can raise money, the key to fundraising success is not in finding large donors or having experience, but in being excited about the cause and then personally sharing the message. Most people are not approached individually, she says. “When Cub Scouts sell popcorn, part of what they learn is that 7 out of 10 people asked will buy popcorn.” Similarly, when people tell their friends, neighbors or acquaintances, “I’m working on this project, I’m raising money right here in Cincinnati for this thing that I’m doing, can you help out?”, she has found that almost everyone will help out in some way.

In this economy, everywhere you turn these days someone seems to have their hands outstretched for funds. Individuals are bombarded with fundraising messages via email, direct mail, television, and radio asking for money for a special and albeit worthwhile cause. Stephanie’s personal approach especially paid off for the second pack, since she had exhausted many of the big donors she used for the first fundraising campaign. “Some can afford to do $5, some can do $500, many can do $20, $25 or something in between, but the most important thing is that they are asked personally.”

Another key to fundraising success is believing in the message. Stephanie is impressed with the amount of time that has been put into the research and development of the Kids Against Hunger food mixture, which was invented by Richard Proudfit in collaboration with Kids Against Hunger, Cargill, Pillsbury, General Mills, and Archer Daniels Midland. Designed to reverse the starvation process, help restore health, and improve a child's mental and physical alertness, it is sometimes the only food they will receive that day – or that week. Without this food, children in Haiti and other struggling areas often rely on “mud cookies”, full of dirt, vegetable oil, salt, animal waste and parasites, simply to stop the pain of starvation. She’s touched by the stories founder Larry shares with his packing volunteers, such as a recent trip to an orphanage in Haiti where he distributed food. “They may not have eaten for 3 or 4 days, and may not eat for another 3 or 4 days, but everyone waited patiently. There was no pushing or shoving to get food faster. Everyone waited their turn for their food and savored each bite.”

Back home, as the food pallets line up to be shipped to those in need, kids here can visually see how the dollars are being used. Parents love the opportunity for their family to go and do something together. So many families are so busy. “It doesn’t require a huge time commitment. You don’t have to organize your own pack, and you don’t have to contribute $500 if you can’t. You can come to the factory, pack for two hours and leave feeling inspired and knowing you’ve made a difference.”

For more about Kids Against Hunger, visit